Injuries, weather impact Georgia’s preparations for Auburn

Georgia defensive back Tykee Smith (23) defends a scout-team receiver (7) during the Bulldogs' practice Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, at the Payne Athletic Center in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

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Georgia defensive back Tykee Smith (23) defends a scout-team receiver (7) during the Bulldogs' practice Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, at the Payne Athletic Center in Athens. (Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

ATHENS — Once Phase II of the Butts-Mehre expansion is completed, the Georgia Bulldogs will have plenty of room to spread out on Woodruff Practice Fields. But, for now, the Bulldogs are having to get in their work amid tight quarters.

That’s especially evident on rainy days such as we’re having this week. That limits Georgia’s work space to the one 100-yard field inside the Payne Indoor Athletic Center. One of the two outdoor fields is being utilized by DPR Construction.

On Tuesday, that meant the Bulldogs’ infamous “Bloody Tuesday” full-contact practice was conducted on the field turf inside “The House of Payne.”

“The problem with inside is the turf wears on your legs a little harder, so you don’t like being on turf every day,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after the two-hour workout Tuesday. “You want to be able to go in and out or (do) switches in and switches out. But we’ve kind of had to be in more because we only have the one grass field. So, that’s been tough, but the preparation’s been great.”

Phase I of the $80 million construction project that added a new football-operations facility to the complex was completed in May. That included new training and strength facilities, as well as the players’ locker room and the main coaches’ offices. Phase II will include positional meeting rooms and additional office space.

The No. 2-ranked Bulldogs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) are busy preparing for Saturday’s game against No. 18 Auburn (4-1, 1-0) at Jordan-Hare Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Georgia opened as two-touchdown favorites over the Tigers. The Bulldogs have won the past four in the series known as “The Old South’s Oldest Rivalry.” The two teams have played annually since 1892.

Having to play on the hard, artificial surface is not helping Georgia’s primary issue at this point in the season. The Bulldogs continue to grapple with a rash of injuries, especially at the wide receiver position.

Georgia played Arkansas on Saturday without wideouts Dominick Blaylock (hamstring), Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint (ankle) and Arian Smith (leg contusion). The Bulldogs continue to limit the reps of Kearis Jackson (knee), and they’re not expected to get back George Pickens (knee) any time soon.

Tight end Darnell Washington (foot) returned against the Razorbacks and played extensively, but was not targeted in the passing game.

In the meantime, starting quarterback JT Daniels is practicing but is still unable to throw the football because of a grade 1 strain of the latissimus dorsi muscle in his back.

“We’re still banged up and beat up. … I feel like as much as since I’ve been here,” Smart said. “I don’t remember having this many guys injured at once since I’ve been here. But the guys worked hard, and they’re buying into the plan and executing it.”

It seems unlikely at this point that the Bulldogs will try to play Daniels on Saturday. That means that senior Stetson Bennett will get his third start of the season.

Bennett has played well in Daniels’ absence. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound quarterback has completed 70.7% of his passes for 515 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions and zero sacks.

Smart was asked about Daniels’ recovery and prognosis Tuesday.

“It’s not a complete shutdown,” Smart said. “There are exercises he can do in our training room (with) bands and throwing motions, and things that don’t hurt him, that don’t bother him. As long as it doesn’t bother him, then we feel like we’re getting improvement, gradual improvement. And that’s the key because the last thing I want to do is push the envelope, reinjure, go back, then the constant cycle of that. So, we’re not trying to finesse it to the point that we throw him out there. We’re trying to get him to do what he can without getting injured.”

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