Asked about Georgia’s long list of injuries this week, Mark Richt sought out the insight of former Bulldogs’ coach Vince Dooley, who was sitting among the reporters at Richt’s weekly news conference.
The two coaches started their careers at Georgia nearly 40 years apart, but some of those coaching headaches are universal.
“It seems like they happen in bunches, as I recall,” Dooley said.
It sure has happened that way for this year’s Bulldogs.
It started in fall camp, where more than two dozen players were dressed in green non-contact jerseys at one point.
Defensive ends coach Jon Fabris was forced to use several of Georgia’s tackles as fill-ins for practice when he was down to three healthy players, and the wide receiving corps had more green jerseys than red ones for much of the preseason.
Since then, the injury report has grown far quicker than the Bulldogs have been able to rehab, and more than 20 players listed on the team’s preseason depth chart either have or are expected to miss at least one game due to injuries or suspensions.
Those numbers include starters like Jeff Owens and Trinton Sturdivant, who are both out for the season, along with reserves like Quintin Banks, who has yet to play this year but should be ready for action against Tennessee.
Not included among the casualties, however, are stars like Dannell Ellerbe, who could miss this week’s game with a knee injury, and running back Knowshon Moreno, who battled injuries throughout the preseason and left Georgia’s last game early with a sore elbow.
“We play a physical game, and that’s what it really comes down to,” Moreno said. “Guys get banged up playing physical, and there’s really nothing you can do about that other than get into rehab and get back on the field.”
Some of Georgia’s most crucial players, however, haven’t been able to do that.
Owens and Sturdivant were the biggest losses early in the season, but wide receivers Kris Durham and Tony Wilson won’t be available this week, and Tavarres King could miss the game, too. Defensive end Jeremy Lomax has battled a toe injury all year, but has managed to stay on the field. Rod Battle hasn’t been so lucky. A neck injury has sidelined him since the second game of the season. And this week, Georgia will start a redshirt freshman at tight end after both Tripp Chandler and Bruce Figgins suffered shoulder injuries.
“I don’t know if it’s just the way we work out or something like that, but it’s happening everywhere that guys are getting hurt,” linebacker Darryl Gamble said. “I don’t take it as that we’re not getting it done, it just happens. We just have to bounce back from it.”
Gamble is the likely starter at middle linebacker this week if Ellerbe isn’t ready to play, and he serves as a good example of Georgia’s answer to the litany of injuries.
Depth has been the Bulldogs’ biggest asset thus far, with players like Gamble stepping into more significant roles as the injuries pile up.
Aron White will get the start at tight end with Kiante Tripp, who switched from the offensive line just two weeks ago, serving as his primary backup this week.
Like many of the injury-depleted positions, the solution isn’t ideal, but Moreno said it’s up to the players to make the best of it.
“We’ve had the depth,” Moreno said, “and the guys behind them have to step up and fill in their job. But it hurts."