Fabris Just Shakes His Head

ATHENS – Jon Fabris has been coaching for nearly three decades, and even he can't recall a preseason quite like this one.

He stepped out onto the practice field last week for a special-teams drill and saw 15 members of his punt-return unit in green jerseys. On another day, his was left with just three defensive ends – including two walk-ons – able to fully participate in practice.

"Never at my position or on the whole team," Fabris said, "I've never seen anything like it."

There have been a few of injuries of the devastating variety. Starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant tore multiple knee ligaments and is done for the year. Reserve linebacker Charles White suffered a season-ending Achilles injury.

There have been a few other dings and scrapes that will keep key players like safety Quintin Banks and fullback Brannan Southerland out of at least a few early season games.

But the sheer number of nagging injuries – tight hamstrings, slow-healing bruises, annoyingly sore hips and shoulders – has been overwhelming.

"It's really frustrating, but you can't let the frustration get to you," said defensive tackle Kade Weston, who has missed several practices with a knee injury. "Some guys are going to have to take extra reps, but you've got to just go ahead and take it. So just get it out of your head, take the extra reps and get better and just wait for the guys to come back."

Those extra reps have added to the problem, too.

With so many players – more than two dozen at times – unable to participate in full-contact drills, those who have remained healthy have taken more punishment just to keep the Bulldogs practicing. So the healthy player goes a bit harder, takes a few more hits, and he ends up wearing green, too.

"It's a Catch-22," Fabris said. "You get a lot of players hurt all around the team early in the preseason, and the poor devils that are left take too many plays, and now they're more apt to get hurt, and it's just a vicious cycle."

Players have been out of position regularly, including defensive tackles Corvey Irvin and Brandon Wood, who Fabris has moved out to tackle just to field a team for practice. Many younger players who should be working on special teams and studying the playbook have been thrown into the fire of first-team reps. It's a snowball effect that can only be resolved with time.

"Hopefully we'll be better off (this) week, but even that being said, there's no way you're as good as you need to be because of all the missed practice," Fabris said. "Even the kids that practice too much, they're beat up and leg weary."

As the Bulldogs wrap up their preseason and set their sights on Saturday's game against Georgia Southern, the shortcomings of the past few weeks have been evident.

After slowing tempo to account for the injured players, Richt said it has been difficult at times to get his team back to full speed. As it stands, he's far from confident in Georgia's readiness for the season.

"I can't honestly say that we're as prepared to play Game 1 as we have been," Richt said. "There's been a lot of guys that couldn't get reps, we couldn't get evaluations on them."

A number of players returned to action Monday. Some were still in green jerseys but practicing more. Others, like tailback Knowshon Moreno, returned to active duty in a bright red jersey.

Even with some of the veterans back at work, however, Saturday's game will require them to get into game shape on the fly.

"There's no doubt we're rusty, and we will be rusty," Fabris said. "I'm not trying to be a doomster, but it's hard to get better when you're not practicing."

During the weekend, Richt gave his team a brief history lesson. Last year, he reminded the Bulldogs, Michigan opened the season in the top five, then lost at home to Appalachian State, a bowl subdivision team. As it turned out, the only team to beat Appalachian State last year was the Bulldogs' first opponent, Georgia Southern.

So Richt is taking nothing for granted, but when the Bulldogs finally take the field Saturday, he'll still be crossing his fingers and hoping for the best.

"We just haven't gotten enough reps for the guys that need them," Richt said. "We'll probably be counting on some guys that didn't get enough work. We've just got to hope that we covered the right situations because you just can't cover them all."


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