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Zamir White was the No. 1 ranked running back in the country for the 2018 cycle

Why Zamir White playing special teams is the best sign yet regarding his recovery

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Why Zamir White playing special teams is the best sign yet regarding his recovery

When most learned that 5-star running back Zamir White tore his ACL last fall, they were crushed. The No. 1 ranked running back in the 2018 recruiting cycle would not be taking the field for the Bulldogs after his second ACL injury in less than a year.

Then when some learned that the injury occurred on punt team, they got furious. Many couldn’t comprehend why a talent like White was being used on special teams.

Of course, most seemed to forget that the likes of Sony Michel and Roquan Smith both played special teams for Georgia during the 2017 season. At Georgia, Kirby Smart has pretty routinely shown he’s going to put his best players on special teams.

That’s what made Smart’s Monday comments about White so inticing. The coaching staff feels comfortable enough with White in his recovery process that they’re willing to expose him to the most violent aspects of football.

“Zamir’s worked really hard. Conditioning-wise, he’s one of the hardest workers on our team. He’s played in a lot of our special teams in roles,” Smart said. “He’s done a good job in the scrimmages. I think he’s very confident with his knee and his health so he’s rip-roaring to go.”

There’s a reason why the people trying to make the game of football safer are attempting to legislate certain parts of special teams out of the game. You have players — bigger, stronger and faster than ever before — running at each other at full speed. There are going to be a bunch of human car crashes and injuries on punts and kickoff returns.

The coaching staff wouldn’t expose White to that potential danger if they weren’t fully comfortable with him managing all that comes with it, in addition to his running back duties.

Related: Zamir White runs through another Georgia linebacker in drill video

It also shows where White’s confidence in himself heading into Saturday’s game. You’d have to think he would tell the coaching staff if he weren’t comfortable with doing anything on the football field given his injury history.

“I’m just really proud of him,” safety J.R. Reed said. “Coming back from an injury like that and having the confidence to be out there. He’s confident in himself and he’s ready to get out there and play. And that’s something very difficult for someone to do.”

As far as a usage plan for White, Smart wasn’t willing to outline what’s going to happen with the 5-star running back just yet. The Bulldogs have rotated running backs pretty consistently the past two seasons, and have produced four different running backs who have topped 1,000 rushing yards.

And given running back D’Andre Swift’s practice availability in the month of August, you can imagine Georgia is going to want to spread carries around.

“I don’t have expectations for him per say, to say, ‘you’re going to do this in the second quarter at this time and this play,’” Smart said. “He’s just going to go with the flow of the game and sometimes that changes and I can’t tell you how that will be for him or what that will be from him but I can tell you is that he’s an unselfish kid that has worked his tail off to get back.”

In the month of practices leading up to Vanderbilt game, White has stood out in scrimmages and practices. And given Georgia has Swift, Brian Herrien and James Cook in the backfield, the Bulldogs can pick and choose when to deploy White.

Related: The 6 big winners from Georgia football offseason

Smart has reiterated time and time again they are going to be cautious with White and how they use him. Much like when you get your car out of the shop, you’re still a little nervous something will go wrong on the ride home.

When White takes the field on Saturday, it will be the first time he’ll have played in a game in 20 months. He spent all of 2018 watching his teammates — his friends — go through last season while he stood helplessly on the sideline. There’s a very good chance White would’ve helped Georgia in some way a season ago.

Reed went through a similar process when he had to sit out the 2016 season after he transferred from Tulsa. And as a difficult as that season was for Reed, it ended up helping him become the player he is now — a First Team All-SEC safety.

“I knew I had the talent to be out there,” Reed said. “But I knew that I was here for a bigger purpose and if I could stay working hard on scout team and keep busting my but and putting in the work I knew I could play.”

By all accounts, White took a similar approach to his lost season. Smart pretty consistently calls White one of the hardest workers on the team. And his work ethic is a big reason why just about everyone is excited to see him take the field on Saturday.

We likely won’t hear from White directly before his debut on Saturday, given the media does not get to speak to freshmen or redshirt freshmen. But teammates and coaches alike vowed White is going to be ready to play competitive football again.

Whether that be on punt team or at running back.

“Zamir’s going to be ready to go. I know he’s excited,” quarterback Jake Fromm said.  We’ll see what happens when his number gets called.”

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