Kirby Smart doesn’t know when Nick Chubb will be ready to run for Georgia again.
What he does know is that Chubb has been working at a relentless pace to improve his standing for the 2016 season. Chubb has also impressed his teammates, who have noticed the star running back participating at a high tempo during strength and conditioning exercises, which has been seen as a good sign for things to come.
There’s no doubt Georgia is a better team with Chubb on the roster. Before the gruesome knee injury he sustained against Tennessee during the 2015 season, Chubb had been able to mask some of the other deficiencies on the offensive side of the ball.
Even offensive linemen kept telling reporters that Chubb made them look better. Initially seen as a humble compliment to the stud back, it turned out to be true. And that’s not to say Sony Michel didn’t do a great job shouldering the load as the No. 1 running back, considering he ran for 1,161 yards and 8 touchdowns as the go-to guy in the backfield once Chubb was out.
If Chubb is able to start game one against North Carolina with no restrictions then Georgia will be in great shape. Chubb and Michel are a top-notch duo and will once again be regarded as one of the best backfields in the nation.
Chubb was on pace for 1,937 rushing yards after his first five games. Getting that kind of rushing production back to Georgia’s offense will benefit it in a huge way.
"He wants to be back worse than you want him back – worse than I want him back," Smart said. "That’s really looking out for Nick Chubb’s long-term interest. He’s going to be a phenomenal player in the NFL and he’s a great kid as well."
As Chubb continues to rehab, he won’t be available for spring practice. That means Michel will continue to take reps with the first team, with a slew of other familiar faces filing in behind him.
Brendan Douglas is the likely No. 3 running back, although he was recently spotted still wearing a brace on the wrist that was surgically repaired before the TaxSlayer Bowl. Behind Douglas are Tae Crowder and A.J. Turman. Turman has been a standout in previous spring games but has yet to contribute anything on Saturdays.
For the TaxSlayer Bowl, Crowder was practicing ahead of Turman, and the possibility of burning Crowder’s redshirt was in play if anything happened to Michel or since-graduated running back Keith Marshall.
But despite what happens this spring, there’s a chance all of the running backs behind Chubb and Michel are leapfrogged by incoming freshman running back Elijah Holyfield.
Possessing the athletic genes of his father – former boxing champion Evander Holyfield – Elijah Holyfield has an ideal blend of size, speed and power that has the Georgia coaching staff excited about what he can do throughout his career. And given the fact that both Chubb and Michel are potential NFL prospects after this year, Holyfield will likely not be redshirted since he’ll need the experience since he could potentially be a starter as a sophomore in 2017.
For the spring, Georgia has one proven every-down back in Michel and a steady contributor in Douglas. With Chubb out and the need to preserve Michel, Georgia is likely to let the backups see plenty of reps during practice and during the G-Day Game on April 16.
But given what Georgia has on the roster at the moment at running back, recruiting the position will be important moving forward. That’s something Smart understands, especially given the dynamic Georgia will be working with this year.
"Backs are highly likely, because of the lengths of their careers, to come out early," Smart said. "They have opportunities to come out early. I think any time you’re working on a three-year span, or a four-year span, if a guy is redshirted, it’s a faster turnover. It’s not always a developmental position where you say a guy’s gotta come in and develop. He can usually come in and play. A lot of that turns over quickly. This year is no different than the following year. It’s a critical position which is why I’m glad we’ve got (running backs coach) Dell McGee recruiting for us. He’s really good at it."