Trainers attend to Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Lawrence Cager (15).
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

The toughness, determination of Georgia’s Lawrence Cager

Cager is dealing with a chronic shoulder injury that is painful and problematic. When his left shoulder decides to stay in place, he’s just fine and can do everything everybody has seen him do on the football field this season. He can run and catch all manner of passes, whether they are high, low or dead on target.

But depending on how he lands, his shoulder may or may not stay in place. And when it doesn’t it’s a problem. The pain is intense, and his shoulder has to be forced back in.

Georgia fans saw that happen Saturday after Cager hauled in a 30-yard sideline pass from Jake Fromm against Missouri. With 25 seconds remaining in the first half, it set up the Bulldogs with at least a field-goal try from the Tigers’ 18-yard line.

The Georgia Bulldogs landed in the No. 4 spot in the second college football playoff rankings of the 2019 season.

It didn’t appear that there was any great collision between him and defensive backs Tyree Gillespie and Jarvis Ware, who shoved Cager out of bounds. But all 220 pounds of him landed fully on that left shoulder, popping it out of socket again. He left the game without returning, after six catches for 93 yards.

Immediately after the game, coach Kirby Smart pronounced Cager “fine” and even said he “probably could’ve gone back in.” And he confirmed again Tuesday that Cager has been able to do everything in practice so far this week and should be “good to go” for Saturday’s matchup against No. 12 Auburn.

“He’s good,” Smart said. “He’s taking all his reps, catching balls, doing what he’s supposed to do. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy.”

Hope is all No. 4 Georgia has on that front. Not only is the 6-foot-5 Cager the Bulldogs’ leading receiver, but he has also played his best in Georgia’s biggest games. The biggest one of the year comes Saturday.

But all it takes is one bad landing and Cager could find himself back on the sideline.

Cager talked about that after his seven-catch, 132-yard receiving effort in the Bulldogs’ win over then-No. 6 Florida on Nov. 2. He was questionable for that game with rib injuries in addition to his shoulder issue.

“I told them I wasn’t going to miss this game for anything,” Cager said. “If I had a broken leg, I was going to play.”

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Cager has said one of the reasons he chose Georgia as a graduate transfer was to be able to play for a championship, but also to improve his NFL draft stock.

Smart was asked Tuesday if Cager was taking a risk with his long-term health in order to keep playing with an obviously chronic injury. 

“He’s very tough. He's playing with a tough injury to deal with, but it's his choice,” Smart said. “Once the doctors clear him, he has to make a choice if he wants to play or not and, absolutely, he wants to play. I mean, he’s a competitor. That’s why he came here.”

Cager wears a specially-fitted protective vest and brace underneath his shoulder pads. But chronic shoulder instability and subluxations in athletes who participate in contact sports eventually will require surgery to repair, according to a report by the Baylor College of Medicine and other online orthopedic reference sites.

Smart said his star receiver is not thinking about that as the Bulldogs find themselves in the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion. Georgia (8-1, 5-1 SEC) moved up to No. 4 from sixth Tuesday.

“The last thing he wants to do is say, ‘Well, I’m going to take this week off and not play in this game and heal up,’” Smart said after Tuesday’s practice. “That’s not his perspective, ’cause he knows that every game matters and that it matters to our team. He’s a team player; he’s a competitor; he wants to go out and make plays. He wants to do that for the brothers on his team. He’s not going to step away, unless he has a chance to injure himself worse, and that's a medical decision.”

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