Pre-spring analysis: Prospect of Chubb-Michel spells excitement at tailback

Opponents will have a hard time holding back the Bulldogs if both Nick Chubb (27) and Sony Michel (1) are back in action to start the season this fall.

ATHENS — There are still 179 days until Georgia opens the season against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome and more than a week before spring practice begins. But start talking about the Bulldogs’ prospects at tailback this season and it’s easy to feel the tingle of excitement for the upcoming football season.

We’ve heard as coach Kirby Smart poured cold water on expectations for Nick Chubb getting back quickly from last year’s season-ending knee injury. We’ve heard him bemoan the lack of depth at the position. But that’s his job, to keep expectations low and the opposition guessing.

We’re here to talk in terms of objective reality, with a little abstract reasoning thrown in. And there are reasons for optimism with regard to the Bulldogs’ star attraction.

It has been 148 days — or approximately five months — since that fateful day last October 10 when we all grimaced as Chubb was hit as he fell out of bounds by Tennessee’s Jalen Reeves-Mabin. That resulted in Chubb’s left knee bending in a way it shouldn’t.

We were told afterward that Chubb had suffered a rare tear of the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), along with some residual damage. We were also told that’s generally better than an ACL.

According to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, rehabilitation from surgery to repair a torn PCL “typically takes six to 12 months.” There will have been 349 days  — or 10 months and 24 days — passed from the time Chubb went down in Knoxville and Georgia kicks off against North Carolina on Sept. 3.

There was also this from the AOSSM: “Although (rehabilitation) is a slow process, a commitment to therapy is the most important factor in returning.”

There are a couple of key words in that statement: “Typical” and “commitment to therapy.” Anyone who has witnessed anything Chubb has done would not apply the word “typical” to any of it. Any kid his size (5-10, 220) who squats 585 pounds like he was stopping to pick up a quarter is anything but typical.

If everybody’s healthy, of course. And stays that way. Big ifs.

Let’s have a closer look. …

TAILBACK

  • Returning starters: Nick Chubb, Jr.; Sony Michel, Jr.
  • Others returning: Brendan Douglas, Sr.; A.J. Turman, Jr.; Tae Crowder, RFr.
  • Early enrollees: None.
  • On the way: Elijah Holyfield, Fr.; Mecole Hardman, Fr.
  • Analysis: Wrap your head around this for a second: Georgia’s starting tailback last season rushed for 1,908 yards in 12 games. That tailback was, of course, a combination of Chubb and Michel. They started six games each, while Douglas started the Kentucky game. That production would rank first on Georgia’s all-time charts, ahead of Herschel Walker’s 1,891 in 1981. So while only one tailback can play at a time, Michel and Chubb — dare we call them, McChubb? — both deserve the label of “returning starter.” As the depth chart stands at the moment, the talent level drops considerably behind those two. The senior Douglas is the only back with any experience and the dynamism quotient goes down considerably when he’s on the field. Douglas has played in a lot of contests (36), but his per-carry average (4.1) is significantly less than Chubb (7.4) or Michel (5.6). Neither Turman nor Crowder have a college carry.
  • Bottom line: Chubb won’t participate in spring ball, and it remains to be seen how much work Michel gets. This fall, Michel will be the man early in the season just as he was at the end of the last one when he carried the ball an average of 23.4 times over the final five games. But as has been proven time and again in the SEC and at UGA in particular, one back can’t carry the load all year. Georgia will be as conservative as it possibly can with Chubb’s return, but expect the highly-motivated junior to set some rehab records trying to get back on the field. In August, look for highly-touted signee Elijah Holyfield to battle for backup reps. And don’t count out the cornerback signee Mecole Hardman getting some looks. Just Google his ball-carrying highlights from Elbert County High for some insight.

Next: Quarterbacks.

Previous stories in our series:

NextUGA RB Sony Michel says he’s ‘taking a big step’ in 2016
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