The Green Team

The Green Team

ATHENS – Jeff Owens calls himself the captain of the green team.

As the veteran among 18 Georgia players out for the season with injuries, it's an honor he would prefer not to have, but one he has embraced just the same.

 The green teamers – a name derived from the green non-contact jerseys they wear on the practice field – meet daily in Georgia's training room. Their numbers have fluctuated throughout the year, but for the most part, it has been a steadily expanding crew.

 "I think the green team could play against the red team, and we'd be successful," Owens said. "We just need a quarterback."

 Actually, for a Georgia team that has lost nearly a dozen full- or part-time starters to injuries this season, the last thing it needs is to send a quarterback over to the green team.

 It has been a unique year, said Ron Courson, Georgia's director of sports medicine. From fall camp when it seemed nearly half the team donned those green jerseys to a season full of bumps, breaks and bruises, the Bulldogs' training staff has had its hands full.

 "They're probably the biggest help under the radar," said wide receiver Kris Durham, who has worked his way back from an ankle and knee injury this season with the help of Georgia's training staff. "No one realizes they put just as much time in over here as we do. They're here every morning and every afternoon getting everybody ready. They put just as much work in as we do."

 Their work starts long before an injury occurs and lasts well beyond the time a player goes under the knife. Trainers spend more than 100 hours per week with players, working on preventative care, rehabilitation and education – all in an effort to keep players on the field in a game that makes injuries inevitable.

 "Football is obviously a contact sport and despite your best efforts at prevention, you're going to have injuries occur," Courson said. "But this has really been an inordinate year."

 The injuries started early this season. A handful of players, including fullback Brannan Southerland and wide receiver Tony Wilson, were hurt before camp even began. Lineman Trinton Sturdivant and safety Quintin Banks never recovered from injuries they suffered in the preseason. Owens' year ended after just nine snaps thanks to a torn knee ligament, and a wave of other injuries has followed.

 Consider it the luck of the draw, Courson said. Sometimes these things happen in sports, but his staff takes significant precautions to try to minimize the numbers.

 Before players set foot on the field at Georgia, they go through a screening process in which Courson and the trainers attempt to identify injury trends. They look for any old injuries a player may have suffered in high school and take preventative measures to combat a recurrence.

 Players are fitted with corrective devices such as arch supports or custom footwear. They are armed with state-of-the-art knee and ankle braces to lessen the impact of inadvertent twists and turns on joints that were never meant to bend in such a direction. A detailed schedule of preventative rehabilitation exercises is set up to insure players are as healthy as possible before they take a hit.

 It's a vigilant battle against injuries that keeps the training staff on top of their game at all times.

 "There's new equipment, new technology," Courson said. "It's no different than sports. You're competitive. You want to be aggressive and push that edge as fast as you can and as hard as you can."

 Of course, despite the best efforts of Courson's staff, the injuries still happen, and this season, they have happened all too frequently.

 If a rash of hamstring or hip flexor injuries occur, the training staff may change its program accordingly. This season, however, there hasn't been an explanation for increasingly high number of green team members.

 While Courson can't diagnose the reason for so many injuries, he is tasked with the chore of fixing them.

 Once a player is hurt, it becomes the job of the training staff to get them back on the field as quickly as possible.

 Courson meets with players and describes the injury and rehab process in detail, often using props of skeletons and diagrams of joints and ligaments to help players understand.

 He then sets up a rehab program unique to each individual player. Even for players recovering from similar injuries, the process of getting back on the field is different. A kicker and quarterback can each suffer a knee injury, Courson said, but their needs after the injury are unique.

 So Courson and his staff – which includes three full-time athletic trainers, two graduate assistants and eight students who are working toward a degree in physical therapy – take the time to get to know each player individually and tailor their treatment according to that player's needs.

 "Just working with them all the time, you build a close relationship," said defensive tackle Kade Weston, who has played through a knee injury which required surgery just days before Georgia opened its season. "It's like you've got a best friend and you all are just hanging out consistently. It's not nice that you're in the training room, but once you're there, it's fine."

 That's exactly how Courson wants players to feel. He doesn't expect anyone to be excited about being on his training table, but once they're there, he wants them to know they're getting the best care possible.

 "When I talk to them, I feel like they're giving me advice not only to get back on the field here, but also lifelong and for my health 10 years down the road," Southerland said. "They look after you like you're part of their family."

 While Courson is far too often the bearer of bad news for players and their families, he never looks at the task as simply a job. After spending so much time with the team throughout the course of the season, he often takes the bad news as hard as some of the families do.

 To Courson and his staff, the players are family.

 "The majority of our staff are dads," Courson said, "and they want to treat our athletes just like their children."

 

POSSIBLE INFOBOX MATERIAL: List of Georgia players who have missed games due to injury this season.

 

Justin Anderson (RFr, OL)

INJURY: Foot (plantar fasciitis)

EXPECTED ROLE: Was starting right tackle beginning in Week 4.

GAMES MISSED: Second half of Kentucky, has not returned.

 

Neland Ball (RFr., DE)

INJURY: Hamstring

EXPECTED ROLE: Reserve defensive end, special teams

GAMES MISSED: Injuries held him back early, keeping him out of the Georgia Southern game, and he has never played a significant role.

 

Quintin Banks (RSo., SS)

INJURY: Knee

EXPECTED ROLE: No. 3 in safety rotation, special teams

GAMES MISSED: All but Tennessee. Banks injured the knee in fall camp, missed six weeks then suffered a setback one game after returning.

 

Rod Battle (Jr., DE)

INJURY: Neck, elbow

EXPECTED ROLE: Starting defensive end

GAMES MISSED: Missed games vs. South Carolina, Arizona State and Alabama and played sparingly against Tennessee and Vanderbilt with a neck sprain. In a green jersey again this week with a hyper-extended elbow.

 

Tripp Chandler (Sr., TE)

INJURY: Shoulder, knee

EXPECTED ROLE: Starting tight end

GAMES MISSED: Left Alabama game early, missed Tennessee, Vanderbilt and LSU, missed extended time against Auburn.

 

Sanders Commings (Fr., DB)

INJURY: Shoulder

EXPECTED ROLE: Possible nickel back and special teamer

GAMES MISSED: Applied for medical redshirt, has not played.

 

Darius Dewberry (Jr., LB)

INJURY: Groin, shoulder

EXPECTED ROLE: Part of two-deep on LB corps, special teams

GAMES MISSED: Missed first two games with suspension, missed significant time in fall camp with groin injury, left Florida game early and is not expected to return this year.

 

Kris Durham (Jr., WR)

INJURY: Ankle, shoulder

EXPECTED ROLE: No. 3 wide receiver

GAMES MISSED: Left Alabama game early, missed Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

 

Dannell Ellerbe (Sr., LB)

INJURY: Knee

EXPECTED ROLE: Starting MLB, preseason All-SEC player

GAMES MISSED: Left Alabama game early, missed Tennessee, Vandy and LSU, played sparingly against Florida.

 

Justin Fields (So., FB)

INJURY: Knee

EXPECTED ROLE: Third-string fullback, key special teams player

GAMES MISSED: Left Kentucky game with season-ending injury.

 

Bruce Figgins (So., TE)

INJURY: Shoulder

EXPECTED ROLE: No. 2 tight end, part-time starter

GAMES MISSED: Injured shoulder against Arizona State and did not play against Alabama. Has played with shoulder injury that will require surgery at season's end since then.

 

Kenneth Harris (Sr., WR)

INJURY: Ankle

EXPECTED ROLE: Began season as starting wide receiver.

GAMES MISSED: Left Georgia Southern game early and missed next two games.

 

Akeem Hebron (RSo., LB)

INJURY: Ankle

EXPECTED ROLE: Reserve linebacker, special teams

GAMES MISSED: Injured ankle prior to LSU game and will miss the rest of the season.

 

Walter Hill (RFr., WR)

INJURY: Wrist, knee

EXPECTED ROLE: Reserve wide receiver, special teams

GAMES MISSED: Suffered broken wrist in fall camp, a knee injury later and decided to leave the program without ever playing a game.

 

Tavarres King (Fr., WR)

INJURY: Ankle

EXPECTED ROLE: Reserve wide receiver, special teams

GAMES MISSED: Suffered ankle sprain in fall camp, played early but re-aggravated the injury against Arizona State and has applied for a medical redshirt.

 

Chris Little (RFr., OL)

INJURY: Various

EXPECTED ROLE: Reserve offensive lineman

GAMES MISSED: Suffered several injury-related setbacks and decided to leave the program.

 

Jeff Owens (Sr., DT)

INJURY: Knee

EXPECTED ROLE: Starting defensive tackle, senior leader on defense

GAMES MISSED: Tore his ACL on his ninth snap of the season.

 

Makiri Pugh (Fr., DB)

INJURY: Ankle

EXPECTED ROLE: Possible reserve DB, special teams

GAMES MISSED: Injured ankle in fall camp and fell behind. Ended up redshirting.

 

Christian Robinson (Fr., LB)

INJURY: Broken arm

EXPECTED ROLE: Linebacker likely to redshirt

GAMES MISSED: Missed entire season.

 

Brannan Southerland (Sr., FB)

INJURY: Foot

EXPECTED ROLE: Starting fullback

GAMES MISSED: Endured two surgeries on his foot and didn't return to his fullback role until the Tennessee game.

 

Trinton Sturdivant (So., LT)

INJURY: Knee

EXPECTED ROLE: Starting left tackle

GAMES MISSED: Tore knee ligaments early in fall camp and missed the season.

 

Vince Vance (Jr., OL)

INJURY: Knee

EXPECTED ROLE: Starting offensive lineman

GAMES MISSED: Tore his ACL in the first half against Tennessee, ending his season.

 

Marcus Washington (Sr., LB)

INJURY: Shoulder

EXPECTED ROLE: Reserve linebacker, special teams

GAMES MISSED: Missed entire season.

 

Kade Weston (Jr., DT)

INJURY: Knee, quad

EXPECTED ROLE: Top reserve defensive tackle

GAMES MISSED: Missed Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt and has been hobbled throughout the other games after undergoing knee surgery days before Georgia's first game.

 

Charles White (RFr., LB)

INJURY: Achilles

EXPECTED ROLE: Key special teams player, reserve linebacker

GAMES MISSED: Tore Achilles during fall camp and missed the season.

 

Tony Wilson (RSo., WR)

INJURY: Ankle

EXPECTED ROLE: Reserve wide receiver and key special teamer

GAMES MISSED: Suffered ankle injury in the spring that never fully healed. Underwent surgery after the Alabama game, ending his season.

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