It’s never ideal for a high-caliber player to sustain a significant injury a month before preseason practice is set to begin.
But that’s the situation Georgia’s football team is in, with its leading rusher from the 2015 season having his start of the upcoming season in doubt.
Running back Sony Michel sustained a broken left forearm in an all-terrain vehicle accident Sunday, with the injury being surgically repaired Monday. No timetable for an expected recovery was announced, and it’s not known if this injury could be something Michel could potentially play with, similar to the broken hand he played through last season.
It’s a big blow to Georgia because the Bulldogs are also waiting on star running back Nick Chubb to be cleared to resume full-contact football activities. Chubb is coming off a severe left knee injury in which his PCL, MCL and LCL were all torn along with damage to his cartilage. Chubb, however, has made great strides in his recovery and was able to shed his knee brace and cut some during the final week of spring practice.
But the truth is that Georgia is now down its top two running backs when preseason practice begins next month. It remains to be seen if either, or both, will be good to go for the Sept. 3 season opener against North Carolina at the Georgia Dome.
Broken bones, when typical, generally take a two- to three-month healing period. Georgia’s season is roughly nine weeks from starting, which does put Michel in that time frame to potentially be ready if this in fact a usual broken bone injury with no setbacks.
Michel got plenty of reps during spring practice and possesses enough talent to where he doesn’t necessarily need to be participating full-go during August practices. So if an injury such as this were to occur, it’s better it happened now than later.
But in the event Michel isn’t able to go in the opener, several unproven running backs sit behind him with a golden opportunity ahead of them this August.
When preseason practice begins, Brendan Douglas, who went through non-contact work this spring after wrist surgery, likely will start with the first team. But the running back to watch, in terms of making a quick leap up the depth chart, could be four-star prospect Elijah Holyfield, who is expected to have a chance to carve out a role in this offense during his freshman season.
Georgia has been no stranger to relying on true freshman running backs in the past. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall helped lead Georgia to an SEC championship appearance in 2012 as first-year backs. Chubb stepped in after injuries to Marshall and Michel, along with a suspension to Gurley, in 2014 and quickly solidified himself as one of the SEC’s top tailbacks in his first college season.
So if Holyfield is the real deal — no pun intended — Georgia potentially could survive the early season injury issue to Michel if he’s not ready to return by the North Carolina game.
Georgia also shored up its depth at the position this spring by moving Shaquery Wilson from receiver to running back and by staying patient with recruit Brian Herrien, who was a late NCAA qualifier out of New Manchester. Those two, along with sophomore Tae Crowder, offer Georgia additional options in the event they’re needed.
The Bulldogs will hope Michel can return in time for the North Carolina game. They’ll hope his counterpart and Heisman Trophy contender, Chubb, will be able to do the same.
In the meantime, Georgia is stuck playing the waiting game with yet another dramatic off-field occurrence taking place of significant proportion.
Then again, it could be much worse.