Coach Kirby Smart has been vague but optimistic in the limited interviews he has been available for in the lead-up to the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against No. 4 Ohio State.
“Yeah, we’re excited to get those guys, hopefully, back, and we’ll see how they do this week,” Smart said Monday.
Just because they weren’t seen Wednesday in the opening minutes of Georgia’s third bowl-site practice doesn’t mean they won’t be able to play. Often, injured players are held out of early-practice drill work in favor of extra time for rehabilitation and physical therapy.
In the meantime, the Bulldogs are well set in case they need substitutes. McClendon already was sharing time with Amarius Mims at right tackle. A 6-foot-7, 330-pound sophomore, Sims is a former 5-star recruit out of Bleckley County High. He briefly entered the transfer portal last spring because of lack of playing time and took an official visit to Florida State before deciding to return to Georgia.
McConkey has shared time in the slot all season with senior Kearis Jackson. A grizzled veteran who has 13 starts in his career, Jackson has 1,052 yards on 76 career receptions and also returns punts. Junior Dominick Blaylock also is available and plays regularly in the rotation.
Speaking of wideouts
Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken was asked Wednesday about the apparent full-speed return of starting split end Adonai “A.D.” Mitchell. Mitchell has played in only one game and less than a full quarter this season because of a high-ankle sprain suffered in the second game.
“It’s been a process and frustration for him probably as much as anything,” Monken said Wednesday. “You know, he’s trying to come back, and then he couldn’t come back. Reinjures himself and then his thumb as well. He’s had a couple of things. And then to come back, he’s a young player still developing. So, he’s had a good week. He’s had a good month of trying to get himself back, and we’ll see what we’ve got come Saturday.”
Mitchell appeared to be practicing without limitations Wednesday. He played briefly in the SEC Championship game, completing a 2-point conversion pass to tight end Darnell Washington off a reverse. The 6-4, 190-pound sophomore has only five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown this season, all coming in the 49-3 season-opening win over Oregon.
Last season, Mitchell was the Bulldogs’ third-leading receiver with 29 catches for 426 yards and four TDs. Of course, he’s best known for hauling in the 40-yard game-winner in the fourth quarter against Alabama in the national championship game in January.
Offensive analyst and quarterback guru Buster Faulkner was spotted on the sidelines with the Bulldogs during Wednesday’s practice. It remains unclear how much, if any, involvement, Faulkner will have in Saturday’s game.
Faulkner has accepted the offensive coordinator’s job at Georgia Tech and has been working for the Yellow Jackets’ first-year coach Brent Key. Faulkner has filled a critical in-game role for the Bulldogs the past three seasons, serving as a communications specialist for the Bulldogs on the sidelines. He stays on the headphones with Monken and relays instructions to quarterback Stetson Bennett from the coaches’ box.
Earlier this month, Smart said he hoped Faulkner would be able to help out the Bulldogs on a part-time basis through the playoff.
‘Weird little dead-leg thing’
Ohio State linebacker Steele Chambers hails from Roswell and is the Buckeyes’ second-leading tackler. As such, he’s also an astute observer of offensive football players.
Lately, he’s been studying Georgia’s quarterback a lot. He was asked Wednesday to share some of what he has learned.
“Stetson Bennett is a great player,” Chambers said. “He’s got this weird little dead-leg thing he does, that’s annoying, whenever he is out in open space. But he’s a great player, and I think it’s going to take 11 guys to really stop him and stop that entire offense.”
Chambers is referring to the jab-step fake that Bennett often uses on quarterback-keepers inside the red zone. He has used it to help him score a career-best seven rushing touchdowns this season.
Georgia players were asked Wednesday what were their favorite bowl activities, so far.
“I think the highlight so far was when we were playing ‘Family Feud,’” Bennett said. “I think we won that one. It was short-lived. I think Ohio State won the next game. I can’t remember, but it was pretty exciting when we got that victory.”
Said sophomore center Sedrick Van Pran: “I think for me the most exciting thing probably was talking to Andrew Young last night (at Ebenezer Baptist Church). He had a lot of things to say about the civil rights movement and different things like that. And as a guy who enjoys history, it was really good to kind of be around that.”
Both the Bulldogs and Buckeyes were to race go-carts at Andretti Indoor Karting on Wednesday night in Marietta. Play time will be over for the two opponents the rest of the week.