ATHENS — By all accounts, Sony Michel wasn’t doing anything crazy. He wasn’t trying to jump a hay bale or clear a creek. He wasn’t racing somebody else or doing doughnuts. I was told he was just riding an ATV at a reasonable speed, hit a bump he wasn’t expecting and fell off.
Snap! Broken left forearm. And just like that, Georgia’s early-season outlook was muddled.
The timing is rotten, for sure. The Bulldogs haven’t yet said what the timetable is for Michel’s actual return beyond he’s expected to make “a full recovery.” But the number that is being circulated among folks with some knowledge of the situation is six to eight weeks.
That just happens to be about exactly how much time the Bulldogs have to get ready for the start 2016 season. They play North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff on Sept. 3 in Atlanta at the Georgia Dome.
Leave it to Georgia to build a little preseason drama. I mean, they were already heading into the first game of coach Kirby Smart’s first season with a rather notable question mark next to Nick Chubb’s name. Chubb, the starter before Michel, is also negotiating a rehabilitation timeline that looks like it might end right about time to kickoff against the Tar Heels. When the Dogs visit the Dome, it will have been 316 days — or roughly 10 months — since Chubb’s surgery last October to repair three non-ACL ligaments in his left knee.
Generally, nobody has been sweating Chubb’s full return for the opener because, well, everybody was sure the Bulldogs had Michel to carry the load. Now they don’t, or at least they don’t know if they will.
All indications or that Michel likely could play in that game. As one reader wrote to me in an email Monday, “it’s his arm, not his legs; he’ll be fine.” And I imagine there is something to that. It would seem that 60 days would be enough time for Michel to heal enough to play with a cast if the need be. He actually played most of the last third of the season last year with a removable cast on his right wrist, which he broke in the first quarter of the Florida game. He had only 45 yards rushing in that game but averaged 121 yards in the last five games.
But I’ll say this: For Georgia’s sake, both those guys need to be ready to go in Game One. On the off chance that neither is, that leaves senior Brendan Douglas to move into a starter’s role for the first time in his career. That’s unless, one of the young pups can get past Douglas and prove they deserve to start instead.
Whether they can or not is anybody’s guess right now. UGA’s coaches will know more about them after preseason camp but, as it stands, the rest of the Bulldogs’ backups — redshirt freshman Tae Crowder, converted receiver Shaquery Wilson and freshmen Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien — have zero career carries between them. That’s a precipitous fall from what Georgia had at one time in Chubb and Gurley and now Chubb and Michel. All three were 1,000-yard rushers.
And while North Carolina is not exactly known for their stout run defense — Baylor ran up 645 yards on the Tar Heels in last year’s bowl game, they were worst in the ACC and 121st out of 128 teams nationwide at 247.4 ypg — they have been supremely motivated to work on that in the year since under defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
No, for Georgia to be certain it has an advantage in the rushing game, it needs Michel to play. Chubb likely will, too, and Douglas should be over his broken wrist by then.
Surely nothing else could happen between now and then. Right?