Blutarsky voices the concern that’s buried down deep in a lot of our subconscious minds: Georgia is counting on a lot of injured players to come back healthy at key positions.
It’s something I’ve thought about too. We know that as many as three potential starting offensive linemen missed spring. Sturdivant and Vance haven’t played period since last fall. The starting five most seem to agree on has never been on the field at the same time. Is this line suddenly going to materialize in three months and be ready for a road opener against a Top 15 opponent?
It’s not just a problem for the offense. Jeff Owens hasn’t played a snap since September. The defensive end position is even more unsettled than the offensive line. Other than the emergence of Justin Houston during the spring, can anyone even pretend to know anything about the rest of the group at this point?
When we talk about players like Sturdivant and Owens and their ability to change the game, we’re talking about them at their dominating best. Yes, even at less than 100% they can be very effective players. That’s not the same though as the elite level of play that’s going to make the difference against Georgia’s toughest opponents.
Of course the ability of the lines to play at their best impacts other positions. On offense you have a new starting quarterback who still has no idea what kind of protection he can expect. You also have a group of inexperienced tailbacks who won’t know for several months where the best holes will come from. It’s a similar impact on the defense. There will be two new starters in the secondary with a lot of young depth behind them whose success and confidence will depend on the ability of an unknown group of defensive linemen to get pressure.
I’ll put it this way: limiting the amount of practice time missed by linemen this August might be the top key to success for this year’s team. Most everyone should be cleared to play in plenty of time for preseason camp. If the lines can get several weeks of consistent work together, they might be able to make up a lot of the lost ground. But every day missed by even the most minor hamstring injury or stinger or complications from last year’s injury will hurt Georgia more than it would other teams because of the time already lost.
If we’re hearing things like "90%" and "probable" about potential starting linemen in the weeks leading up to the season, it’s going to be a big red flag. There isn’t time to rest and rehabilitate during the season, and those problems that nag during August tend to linger on into the season.
The good news is that the reports are all positive at this point. Everyone is ahead of or on schedule to return, and the players, Sturdivant and Owens in particular, seem to understand the importance of getting back on time and in shape. I don’t doubt the ability of coaches Searels, Garner, and Fabris or the resolve of the players involved. As talented and committed as they are and for all the talk of leadership and attitude and intensity since last season, everything’s still at the mercy of the human body and its limits.