The COVID-19 virus put an end to spring practice in 2020 in Athens, and it continues to affect teams' preparations and player availabilities into the 2021 season. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Georgia, Clemson dealing with potential COVID issues, Dabo Swinney mum on star defender’s status

ATHENS — Kirby Smart and Dabo Swinney have their hands full with the typical unknowns that accompany opening games.

The football staffs at Clemson and Georgia have spent an offseason contemplating personnel matchups, schemes and potential contest circumstances, and how they might adapt or adjust.

COVID, however, remains one of the biggest challenges and potential curveballs for coaches with the unpredictable and relentless nature at which the virus continues to exist and spread.

Thus, there are player availability questions as the 7:30 p.m. kickoff time approaches for Saturday night’s game between the No 3-ranked Tigers and the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs.

Georgia has the potential to have COVID-related absences after UGA head trainer Ron Courson was diagnosed with COVID earlier this week.

“We are above 90% [vaccinations],” Smart said at the beginning of the week, before AJC.com broke the news of Courson’s diagnosis. “Ron and his staff have done a tremendous job making sure that guys feel comfortable getting the vaccination. We feel really comfortable with where we are.

“My goal is always to be 100 percent, because I think that it is the safest thing for our players .... but you are only as good as your last COVID test.”

Based on Smart’s “above 90-percent” comment, there could be as many as seven players that could be at risk for contract tracing protocol should it be determined they had contact with Courson. Adding non-scholarship players into the equation, the number swells into double digits.

Swinney, meanwhile, refused to comment on the playing status of defensive tackle Tyler Davis when asked by a Clemson reporter to confirm that the preseason All-American is out for this game with COVID.

“No, we’re not going to confirm anything other than, Saturday, we’ll let everybody know who’s available and who’s not,” Swinney said. “Unless we have someone with a long-term injury that we’ve talked about, we’re going to roll with the same policy we had last year.”

Swinney acknowledged earlier in the week that COVID was an issue that teams were still dealing with.

“We’re all still living in a COVID world,” Swinney said. “There’s a vaccine. We’ve got very few guys on our team who have not been vaccinated, very few. And our staff is vaccinated, so that gives you a whole lot more comfort level

“Last year we didn’t have that. It’s not that you can’t get it, but it’s like knowing it’s freezing outside and you go out there and dress properly ... you can still get a cold, but at least you are doing everything you can to protect yourself.”

It’s not expected either Georgia or Clemson will reach a COVID crisis to the extent seen at times in college football last season, such as when Vanderbilt canceled out on playing Georgia twice citing COVID protocol while sandwiching a home game against Tennessee in between.

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SEC commissioner Greg Sankey recently announced a forfeiture policy for teams that cannot play because of COVID-19. The policy is in line with the other Power 5 conferences, including the ACC.