HOOVER, Ala. — Nick Chubb’s recovery continues to be good, Sony Michel’s injury may be a bit more serious than previously stated, but both star tailback’s availability for Georgia’s season opener is up in the air. And it’s going to take awhile before it is known.
That was the takeaway from head coach Kirby Smart’s session with reporters at SEC media days on Tuesday, where he updated the injury and rehabilitation status of his two star tailbacks.
Michel suffered what’s called an open fracture, and was in the hospital for a week. He was released last Friday.
The doctors “don’t know” about Michel’s availability for the first game, according to Smart. That’s because it’s not what he called a “normal football injury.” It’s similar to what tailback Kenyan Drake suffered at Alabama last year, but that was just one broken bone, and didn’t come out of the skin.
“So with Sony’s situation, there’s just a lot of unknown. How fast does he heel, how fast does the muscle repair itself?” Smart said. “I don’t think we’ll know availability until closer to the first or second scrimmages. We’ll know closer to then how long it will actually take.”
As for Chubb, he will have “no limitations” early in camp, when it’s not as physical. But it’s not certain yet whether Chubb will participate in the three scrimmages, or how much contact he’ll take when practices become more physical.
“The big thing with Nick is going to be full, live-contact tackling,” Smart said. “The psychological factor of taking the first hits and the tackling is going to be a big part of that.”
Senior center Brandon Kublanow put the tailback situation in a bit of perspective.
“Both of those guys will eventually be back, so I’m not worried about it as the season goes on,” Kublanow said.
Still, where does the team turn against North Carolina if neither star tailback is ready? The choices are between veterans and high-upside youngsters.
Senior Brendan Douglas has experience, especially as a third-down pass blocker, which can’t be discounted. Redshirt freshman Tae Crowder had a good spring, while true freshman Elijah Holyfield offers perhaps the most upside of any back besides Chubb and Michel.
“It’s going to be a new offense. It’s a lot on a freshman,” Smart said. “But I will say this, if you’re going to play a guy as a true freshman one of the easiest positions to do that is running back. Because you’re carrying the ball a lot, other than the protections you get to do just do what you do instinctively. Whether (Holyfield) is ready to do that or not I don’t know, we’ll find that out in fall camp. I know he’s excited about the opportunity, and he’s going to get ample opportunity to carry the ball in those two scrimmages.”
The tailback injury situations is going to have a ripple effect on how the offense prepares this entire preseason. The first half of preseason is about “establishing our identity,” as Smart put it. The next half is about preparation for the season and the opener.
Now … there are unknowns.
“It makes it tough. It puts a lot more stress on the coaches, especially the offensive coaches, as far as how we handle those first two scrimmages,” Smart said. “Our identity is big, physical, and we want to run the ball. Well the two backs that are best at doing that have two question marks by them. So it does give us an opportunity to get some other guys ready, and other guys prepared. And thank goodness we do have some other guys to get ready. But certainly those two guys are feature players, really good players that we want to have ready for every contest. But we’re going to do what’s best long-term for those guys.”