The Starting Line

ATHENS – This fall camp Mark Richt should concentrate his team on the starting line rather than the finish.

After all, if a program that was beset with injuries last year concerns is concerned if Todd Gurley knows how to break a tackle, or if Malcolm Mitchell can do the same then the season is going to be long and miserable – and the Gator Bowl might look like the Super Bowl compared to where Georgia winds up.

Anyone who tells you that injuries were not the major reason Georgia finished the season 8-5 is a pure moron – and that’s being kind. No program can sustain the types of injuries the Dawgs did last season and expect success. Yes, everyone in football has injuries. They are a part of the game. But losing all of your skill players on offense for a month isn’t football – it’s a cruel carnival game that involves players dressed up in silver britches who look from a distance like SEC players, but when you get up close realize they are not.

Georgia still tried hard to have success – but consider that of Georgia’s five losses only two came in a game where Todd Gurley and Aaron Murray both started. That was at Clemson where the Bulldogs fell by three in the season opener, and you know what happened at Auburn.

Lest we forget that’s where the trouble started for Georgia last season. Clemson’s Memorial Stadium foreshadowed the injuries that were to come later in the year – on Gurley’s first run of the season no less.

Gurley scored a touchdown and Mitchell’s season ended on that 75-yard touchdown. Later that half, the Dawgs played offense without Mitchell and Gurley. It was a preview of what October would be like in Athens – not much fun.

That’s why it is critical to understand how important getting a healthy Gurley, Mitchell, Keith Marshall, Michael Bennett, Jay Rome, Chris Conley, Justin Scott-Wesley and company to the starting gates. That all of those players missed at least one SEC game speaks to the attrition that occurred in the 2013 season.

One has to also put into perspective that preseason injuries can happen. In 2004, Kregg Lumpkin looked like he would be the answer at running back for the Dawgs, but he was lost for the season after an August ACL.

I don’t think I need to remind anyone reading this that Georgia lost six players (five scholarship players and one walk on) to ACL injuries last fall. According to Marc Weiszer’s reporting in the Athens Banner-Herald the total number of ACL injuries in 2013 “nearly matched the previous three years combined. There were four in 2012-13, three in 2011-12 and one in 2010-11.”

Georgia has a very good shot to win the SEC East for the third time in four years, but in order to do that the Bulldogs will need all of their offensive weapons – walk-ons won’t do.

The question, however, is just how to get the team to the starting line without the injuries. Tackling to the ground is a normal part of life in football, and while it is the most common way players get hurt – it isn’t the only way. For instance, Scott-Wesley’s ACL injury last season at Tennessee came basically with no contact. Non-contact injuries happen all of the time in football.

So Richt can’t fear the repercussions of injuries, but at the same time he has to figure out how to limit the possibility of injuries while dealing with the realities of football: that it is a collision sport.

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