Dawgs Scrimmage... For a Few Plays

ATHENS – Head coach Mark Richt called Friday's scrimmage the shortest in the history of Georgia football.

It is tough, after all, to scrimmage when nearly a quarter of your team is wearing a green jersey – and that's exactly the situation facing the Bulldogs as they complete their fourth and final two-a-days session of camp.

"We've had guys in green jerseys before, and a good many from time to time, but it just seemed like it was two days here, three days there," Richt said. "This time, we're still waiting for them to come back."

Friday morning's practice session featured no less than 20 players wearing green no-contact jerseys, half of which did not participate in any drills. That number didn't include fullback Brannan Southerland and safety Quintin Banks, both of whom will miss the first few weeks of the season, or left tackle Trinton Sturdivant, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier in the week.

Star tailback Knowshon Moreno has spent the majority of camp in green. Preseason All-SEC linebacker Dannell Ellerbe missed the past two scrimmages. Top receiver Mohamed Massaquoi is battling a nagging leg injury. Highly touted freshman A. J. Green has missed practices, returned, then had a hip-flexor injury flare up again. At one point during the week, the Bulldogs had just three healthy defensive ends – Jarius Wynn and two walk-ons.

"It sets you back," Richt said. "It's just a domino effect for a lot of the position players, but it's probably even worse for the special teams players."

While the injuries to veterans like Moreno, Ellerbe and Massaquoi hurt, they are hardly the primary concern, Richt said. When the starters miss time, younger players are forced to shift up the depth chart, play out of position and create havoc for special teams coaches who had counted on the freshmen and sophomores to fill key roles.

"We've got so many guys banged up that we're putting some very inexperienced guys on our first teams," Richt said. "So that's a little discouraging, just not being able to see everybody work and learn and get better and get continuity."

The left tackle position has garnered the most interest because Sturdivant, a starter in all 13 games last season, will miss the entire year after tearing multiple ligaments in his knee. But the Bulldogs are also running exceptionally low at defensive end, wide receiver and safety, where starters Reshad Jones and CJ Byrd are the only two experienced players healthy enough to get on the field.

The injuries have left a handful of freshmen safeties with a chance to earn playing time and stave off a possible redshirt. Baccari Rambo, Sanders Comings and Nick Williams have all impressed coaches thus far, and Richt said there's a good chance all will play this season.

"I like their athleticism, their eagerness to strike people," Richt said. "They're not afraid to hit. They're desperately trying to learn what to do. Great attitudes. I haven't seen any one of them hit the wall yet."

Of course, at several other positions, it's the missing youngsters who are creating the most problems.

Freshmen wide receivers Green, Tavarres King and Walter Hill have joined Massaquoi, sophomore Tony Wilson and junior Michael Moore among Georgia's walking wounded.

The lack of practice time has left the handful of healthy receivers doing extra.

"The (receivers) who are practicing, it tells numbers about them," cornerback Asher Allen said. "Those guys are warriors."

The players on the sidelines aren't exactly thrilled about wearing those green jerseys either.

Many of the younger players missing practice were in line for significant playing time this season, and spending preseason on the sideline isn't helping their cause.

Defensive end Justin Houston was among the litany of injured defensive ends for the past few days, nursing a tight hamstring, but returned to practice for the Friday's afternoon scrimmage, racking up three tackles and two sacks.

"It's hurting us a lot because we need to get as many reps as possible," Houston said. "Coach wants to see us in midseason form by the first game, so it's hurting us to just sit and watch."

The upside – if there is one – is that the injuries thus far have not been overly serious with the exception of Sturdivant's knee. And while coaches would much rather see a full roster of players sporting red or white jerseys, linebacker Darryl Gamble said no one is ready to panic.

"A lot of people have little nicks and bruises," Gamble said. "We're not trying to put them in the fire. We've got a lot of depth, so it really doesn't make a huge difference that a lot of people are out because we have so much depth, and they're still around getting mental reps."


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