ATHENS – Georgia fans could collectively exhale on Monday when free safety Tray Matthews returned to practice.
It is another strong indication that he could be ready to play for Saturday’s opener at Clemson.
Coach Mark Richt said late last week he thought there was a good chance Matthews would play, but when the freshman took to the practice field in a regular jersey, it was a positive sign for the Bulldogs secondary.
Now, Georgia hopes the projected starter can just make it through the rest of the week without a setback after missing all three scrimmages and the bulk of practices with a strained hamstring and shoulder injury.
“He practiced so that was good,” Richt said. “It was mostly scout team work and the tempo wasn’t just blazing, but he got into some competitive drills. He looked fine. When a guy’s coming off a hamstring, it’s going to be a couple of days because you really feel like he’s over the hump. Hopefully he will be.”
Matthews had been at meetings and watching practice, Richt said.
“He’s going to do good, but he’s just got to keep looking over the plays and learn what to do and be able to be at the right spot at the right time,” cornerback Sheldon Dawson said.
Safety Shaquille Fluker also returned after missing time with a strained groin and an illness.
Langley among freshmen cracking defensive depth chart
Georgia released its first new depth chart on Monday since before preseason practices began.
Brendan Langley is listed as a starter in a four-defensive back look along with cornerback Damian Swann and safeties Matthews and Connor Norman.
Given that Georgia should use at least five defensive backs for most of the time against Clemson, sophomore Sheldon Dawson should get plenty of playing time, if not start.
Langley and Matthews would both start as freshmen, but Georgia has six other true or redshirt freshmen that have cracked the two-deep depth chart on defense.
Listed as backups: defensive end John Taylor, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, inside linebackers Reggie Carter and Tim Kimbrough, cornerback Shaq Wiggins and safety Quincy Mauger. Another backup is a newcomer: junior college transfer nose guard Chris Mayes.
“Some guys are playing by virtue of the lack of depth and some guys are playing because they’ve earned the right to move ahead of some veteran,” Richt said. “Any time you lose as many starters as we did, you’re going to have inexperienced guys jump in there.”
Richt said Langley is “a guy with ability, a guy who can learn and a guy is dependable, a guy who is focused on wanting to come in as a freshman and play like a veteran.”
Marshall Morgan is still listed as the top kicker, but that doesn’t mean that a suspension is not coming for him for his boating under the influence arrest.
Adam Erickson from Clarke Central is listed as his top backup and Patrick Beless is behind him.
Of Erickson, Richt said “if he was called upon, I think he could function and do well there.”
The starting offensive line listed is the same as Georgia started for most of last season: left tackle Kenarious Gates, left guard Dallas Lee, center David Andrews, right guard Chris Burnette and right tackle John Theus. Kolton Houston is expected to get work as well at right tackle.
Malcolm Mitchell is listed as the top kick and punt returner. Todd Gurley is the No. 2 kick returner and Rhett McGowan and Damian Swann the backup punt returners.
Long-time chaplain remembered
Vince Dooley remembers the Rev. Claude McBride as “the eternal optimist.”
The long-time chaplain for the Georgia football team died Friday at his home in Athens at the age of 81.
“I don’t care what the situation he was always upbeat, always could find something positive even to an extreme in my memory,” said Dooley, the former Georgia football coach and athletic director.
There was one season where Georgia’s defense struggled to stop opponents. The result was the Bulldogs led the nation in kickoff return yardage. McBride bragged about that, but Dooley told him it wasn’t good to be tops in that category.
McBride would perform a service the day of a game or he would arrange for someone else to lead it. He was associated with the program for some 40 years.
“He was always there for different things that came up among the players,” Dooley said.
He officiated for marriages of some players and helped them with social problems.
“He was just part of the staff, part of the team, he traveled with us to all the games,” Dooley said. “He always gave the devotional on the road.”
He even took a piece of Georgia’s famed hedges and taped it onto a card of a poem he would pass out to the team.
A memorial service for McBride is planned for Sept. 22 at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church, where he was Pastor Emeritus.
This and that
How about it, Georgia fans? Ready for the Sugar Bowl or a rematch with Nebraska? ESPN.com’s Mark Schlabach projects Georgia to play Oklahoma State in the Sugar Bowl and Brad Edwards has the Bulldogs playing Texas in the Sugar. Same time next year? SI.com’s Stewart Mandel projects Georgia to play Nebraska on Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla. The Bulldogs beat the Cornhuskers on this past New Year’s Day 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl.
Offensive guard Chris Burnette did not practice on Monday. He said it was a precaution following offseason shoulder surgery. “At the end of the day, I’m going to try to play as much as I can,” Burnette said. “I’m going to leave it up to the coaches because it’s a long season.” Theus worked at Burnette’s right guard spot and Kolton Houston at right tackle. There could be a three-man rotation on the right side. …Former Georgia offensive lineman Austin Long, who was ruled academically ineligible this season, is playing now for Union College in Barbourville, Ky., an NAIA school where he can play this season.