Smart opened up a good deal about the status of Georgia’s running backs yesterday. More than anything, it sounds like a race against time for the opener.
Returning from a broken forearm usually takes eight to 10 weeks after surgery depending on whether he broke one or two bones, according to orthopedic surgeon Barry Boden of The Orthopedic Center in Rockville, Md.
Michel playing in the opener “will be close,” according to Boden. That will depend on what x-rays revealed, but also depends on a follow-up x-ray four weeks later.
“A lot of the injury is how does the muscle repair itself,” Smart said.
Smart said Chubb, who tore three knee ligaments last October against Tennessee, will be tested most the first time he does “full-live contact,” Smart said.
An injury like Chubb’s usually has a nine to 12 month recovery, but players don’t always return to 100 percent.
When camp begins, Chubb “will do pretty much everything,” Smart said. “He’ll do drills. The thud work.”
Smart said Chubb won’t be able to do everything right away when it comes to being tackled in a scrimmage.
“The psychological factor of him taking the first hits and going through the tackling is going to be a big part of it,” Smart said. “We’ve got people working on him with that aspect.”
What’s interesting is Michel’s more recent injury seems to have introduced a little hesitancy into what has been up until this week a growing tide of confidence in Chubb’s recovery in time for the start of the 2016 season. Here’s Andy Staples and Zac Ellis, as an example of that.
What’s even more interesting is how the discussion of Chubb’s and Michel’s recoveries leads into speculation about how that affects Georgia’s quarterback battle. Staples and Ellis talk about that. Groo suggests that the less likely the top two tailbacks are to play, the more that points to a true freshman quarterback playing.
The less likely Chubb and Michel can play a significant role in the opener, the more likely we are to see Eason. Lost production from the backfield will have to come from the passing game, and I think we’ll need more than we saw towards the end of 2015. Kirby Smart, as a new coach, has the goodwill to take that kind of risk in the opener, and he’ll then have two winnable games to prepare the offense for what could be the toughest stretch of the season.
I grant you that Groo’s point about Smart being able to spend some goodwill in the opener has validity, but there may be other factors in play in the decision about who starts against North Carolina. For one thing, at least if we’re to take Smart at his word, the timing may not be convenient.
Smart said Lambert, Ramsey and Eason were “pretty balanced in the reps they took,” in the spring.
“The options we’re going to weigh are going to be what gives us the best chance to win,” Smart said.
He noted the distinction that he didn’t say simply “we’re going to play the best player. We’re going to play the best player that gives us the best opportunity to win football games. And I don’t know who that is. If I knew, I promise you, I would tell you. I would give you the information. But I don’t know that.”
Smart said he will sit down with offensive coordinator Jim Chaney during preseason practices to make the big decision.
“We’ll make that decision hopefully sooner than later,” he said.
I don’t doubt that they’d prefer to settle on a choice as soon as is practical. As we saw last season, August reps are valuable, especially when you’ve got a new offensive coordinator installing his system. In this specific case, that may be even more so. There’s going to be considerable uncertainty with the running back rotation, with a strong likelihood that at least one true freshman will garner playing time. If you’re Chaney, do you want to compound that with a quarterback rotation that goes all the way into the season opener (and perhaps beyond)?
And if you’re going to settle on a starting quarterback early enough in August to gain some stability, how are you going to be able to judge then what Chubb and Michel will be able to contribute in two or three weeks?
Now Smart, to his credit, claims that’s not how he’ll assess things.
“Well, you say if you don’t have either back, which I certainly hope that’s not the case, does it become a situation where you’ve got to go throw the ball better? We’ve got to go look at the long term, not just the first game. There’s more to this season than the first game. We’re not putting all of our eggs in the first game basket. We’ve got to figure out who’s going to be our best leader and give us the best opportunity to win. I don’t think that’s dictated by who the back is or if there’s a back healthy or if there’s two backs healthy.”
But I’m not sure what “the long term” means, exactly. Is he playing to win the division this season? Or is he simply using the season as a crucible to determine what talent he’ll build his program around for the next? The answer to those questions strikes me as having a much bigger impact on his decision than how many snaps Chubb will take in the Dome.