There is one notable, and incredibly important, player who won’t be available this spring. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t one of the most talked-about topics on the first day Georgia was set to start practicing again.
Running back Nick Chubb is still recovering from multiple ligament tears and cartilage damage sustained in last season’s Oct. 10, 2015 game against Tennessee. His recovery has gone as planned, although it’s still way too early to determine if he’ll be available for preseason practice in August, let alone the Bulldogs’ season-opening game against North Carolina.
But Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has enjoyed what he’s seen with Chubb’s recovery, and even stated he could possibly be ahead of where the training staff expected him to be at this juncture.
"This guy is working tremendously hard. He is dead-on schedule," Smart said. "If you ask (director of sports medicine) Ron (Courson), he’d probably say he’s a little ahead of schedule as far as what we expect of him."
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Since Georgia returned from spring break last week, Chubb has added cutting to his workout routine. Previously he was only running in a straight line. He has been able to participate in some weight-room activities, and has impressed his teammates thus far with what he’s been able to do just five months removed from the injury.
But Georgia will play it safe with Chubb’s recovery, given the ramifications of rushing him back too soon.
"We’re excited about where he is and he’s progressed really well," Smart said. "He’s a kid who overachieves anyway, but he’s overachieving in rehab as well."
Chubb was a potential Heisman Trophy candidate before the knee injury. Including his lone carry against Tennessee, he finished his 2015 season with 747 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in six games. This followed a true freshman campaign in which Chubb totaled 1,547 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, and that came with beginning the year as the fourth-string tailback.
He didn’t earn his first career start until Oct. 11, 2014 against Missouri, in which he showcased his ability with a 38-carry, 143-yard performance with a touchdown.
Chubb’s presence on Georgia’s offense has made a huge difference over the past two seasons. In 2015, Georgia averaged 38.4 points in its first five games of the season. Including the Tennessee game, in which Chubb was injured on the first play from scrimmage, the Bulldogs averaged only 18.8 points in the final eight games without him.
"Obviously, he’s a pretty important key," center Brandon Kublanow said. "If he doesn’t make it, he doesn’t make it. Ron is doing a great job with him."
With Chubb out for the spring, Sony Michel will assume lead tailback duties over the next five weeks of practice. Michel, in relief of Chubb in 2015, totaled 219 carries for 1,161 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Michel said Chubb remains in good spirits and that he’s optimistic about his recovery.
"I have faith that he’s going to come back and be healthy, strong and as fast as ever," Michel said.
Chubb still has a long way to go before anyone knows what his status will be for the start of preseason practice in August. Smart wasn’t ready to go there yet when asked if he expects Chubb to be full-go then.
But so far, Smart seems pleased with what he’s seen out of the running back he hopes to count on in his first season as Georgia’s head coach.
"He’s on schedule for where he’s gotta be right now," Smart said. "Again, I’m not forecasting forward, saying he’s going to be 100 percent for practice and fall camp. I think we have to determine that as we go."