Georgia Working to get Healthy
ATHENS - Every coach says it or something like it every year: "We've got to avoid injuries. We can't afford to lose any players."
Sometimes it works out better than others. It hasn't worked out at all this year for No. 8 Georgia. The Bulldogs have already lost three starters -- defensive end Will Thompson of Northside High School in Warner Robins, All-SEC safety Kentrell Curry and running back Tony Milton -- along with key reserve wide receiver Cedric Haywood of Macon, for the season.
"All those guys would have been extremely productive for us," Coach Mark Richt said.
In all, Georgia has been without 10 starters for a total of 20 games and 22 players for a total of 52 games due to injury this year. "We've had more than our share I would say," Richt said. "I don't know why one year you have more than another."
The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 SEC) play at No. 13 Tennessee (4-1, 2-1) on Saturday. The Volunteers are familiar with the toll injuries can take. According to its sports information department, Tennessee had 19 starters miss a total of 71 games last year.
"It's difficult to manage sometimes with the continuity of the team and the leadership of the football team, but it seems to me they are handling it pretty well," Vols coach Phil Fulmer said.
Tennessee didn't handle it very well, losing five games for the first time since 1988 after entering the season ranked No. 4 in the country. The Bulldogs, so far, have held up better but a five-loss season in Athens isn't out of the question with games left against the Vols, Florida, Auburn and a schizophrenic Georgia Tech team.
Georgia's only loss this season came against LSU when top wide receiver Fred Gibson was out with a hamstring injury. The Tigers took advantage of Gibson's absence by playing mostly man-to-man coverage and blitzing quarterback David Greene. It was a very successful strategy and one that would have been much tougher to pull off with the speedy Gibson in the game, Richt said.
"I don't want to cry and make excuses but you always here coaches talking about matchups," he said. "When you have good players out, it's tougher to win those matchups."
Except for Richt's very occasional what-ifs, the Bulldogs have steered clear of the subject of injuries.
"You start thinking about those things and talking about those things and you're not doing your job," defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said.
"When one guy gets hurt you have to have another guy step up," said Greene, who missed two series in the LSU game due to an injured knee. "We've had a different guy step up each week."
Curry's injury actually had a silver lining. It forced the Bulldogs to move Thomas Davis from linebacker to safety, where he is having a breakout season with a team-high 51 tackles and three sacks.
Georgia has also had a walk-on, Ryan Schnetzer, make a successful start on the offensive line, seen linebacker Derrick White emerge into a starter after being forced into the role and gotten significant contributions from freshmen ranging from Danny Verdun Wheeler to Quentin Moses.
"We don't look at our team as being based around one person," center Russ Tanner said.
In addition to the injuries, Georgia was without nine players for a total of 17 games due to suspension. Still, they are one win away from taking over first-place in the SEC's Eastern Division midway through the conference schedule.
"We believe," said running back Tyson Browning, who was one of the suspended players and who is projected to start Saturday. "We never once thought with the injuries and suspensions we couldn't do what we wanted to do."
No one is patting himself on the back yet, though.
"I'll feel a lot better about it after this weekend if we can get a win against these guys," Tanner said.
Georgia injuries in 2003
S Kentrell Curry (leg)*
WR Cedric Haywood (knee)
RB Tony Milton (leg)*
DE Will Thompson (ankle)*
Out a month or more
DE Marquis Elmore (foot)
WR Sean Bailey (hamstring)
DT Darrell Holmes (shoulder)
DE Preston Pannell (shoulder)
Out two games or more
S Greg Blue (knee)
RB Kregg Lumpkin (hamstring)
DT Ken Veal (ankle)*
TE Ben Watson (ankle)*
Missed one game
DT Gerald Anderson (concussion)*
OL Josh Brock (ankle)*
WR Reggie Brown (hamstring)*
RB Michael Cooper (knee)*
WR Fred Gibson (hamstring)*
DE Marcus Jackson (thumb)
TE Martrez Milner (illness)
RB Ronnie Powell (neck)
WR Mario Raley (foot)
LB Tony Taylor (ankle)*
*Starter (some projected)
Georgia suspensions in 2003
RB Tyson Browning (three games)
DL Ray Gant (one game)
FB Chris Hickman (one game)
DB Tim Jennings (two games)
WR Bryan McClendon (two games)
DB DeMario Minter (two games)
FB Jamario Smith (one game)
DT Darrius Swain (one game)
WR Mario Raley (two games)
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