Georgia football coach Kirby Smart joked that he and sports-medicine director Ron Courson have “almost moved in together” because they’ve spent so much time discussing the health of the Bulldogs’ football team. As Smart confirmed during a video conference call Sunday night, those conversations haven’t been limited to the scourge of the coronavirus pandemic.
No, the Bulldogs will open preseason camp Monday while having to deal with a significant number of old-fashioned football injuries. Included on the laundry list of wounded players Smart shared with reporters was graduate transfer quarterback Jamie Newman.
Smart said the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Newman, expected to contend for the starting job, suffered a “midfoot sprain” over the summer and missed much of Georgia’s “minicamp,” or summer-access period. However, Newman is expected to be able to practice as the Bulldogs take the field for the first of 25 practices over the next 40 days.
“He missed probably half of that (and was) not able to work out and do some things,” Smart said. “But he was mentally there and was able to do a lot of things with the team. And he’s back now and able to do everything.”
However, Smart said quarterback J.T. Daniels is not cleared yet. The sophomore quarterback who transferred to Georgia from USC over the summer is still recovering from an ACL injury that ended his 2019 season with the Trojans after one game.
“He’s been able to take some reps and throw the ball, do some things, but he’s not completely cleared from the knee and is still in a brace,” Smart said.
Other injury updates Smart provided were on wide receiver Dominick Blaylock (knee), cornerback D.J. Daniel (ankle), offensive lineman Broderick Jones (undisclosed non-football injury), tight end Darnell Washington (knee), defensive back Kelee Ringo (shoulder) and wide receiver Arian Smith (knee). Ringo likely is out for the season following surgery, and Smith, who had a meniscus tear, should return sometime during the season. Otherwise, all the other players are expected to participate to one extent or another in preseason camp.
Smart also confirmed that the Bulldogs have not had any players opt out from playing because of the pandemic. That remains the greatest health-and-safety concern for the 100-plus players that plan to participate in preseason camp.
The players Georgia made available on a conference call Sunday night don’t seem overly concerned about it.
“Oh, no sir, because I know being here on campus is way safer than at home or anywhere else,” junior cornerback Eric Stokes said. “I know for a fact Mr. Ron and everybody else is going to make sure we’re completely safe. … I know for a fact we’re much more safe here than anywhere else.”
Perhaps, but during the same week when Georgia opens camp, more than 30,000 students will flood UGA’s campus for face-to-face instruction during fall semester, which begins Friday. That’s of particular concern for both Smart and Courson, who feel like UGA managed the virus well over the summer.
“Obviously, whenever you have a large group of people coming back to campus, you’re concerned about a spike,” Smart said. “What we can’t control is what we do outside of our building, outside of our bubble. So, we’ve told our guys, regardless of what the student population does … that doesn’t control what they do as one of our players. So, they can make decisions to not go into environments that are risky and wear a mask to respect yourself and that’s what we’re driving home.”
Smart said they have enlisted a “peer intervention” system in which Georgia’s player leadership committee and upperclassmen police their teammates and make sure they are adhering to social-distancing guidelines at all times.
Smart said he believes it’s possible to play a football season in the midst of a global pandemic, but one of the keys will be to remain adaptable amid all the uncertainty.
“Adaptability is going to be one of the most important factors of this team, and the teams that handle it the best will have an advantage,” Smart said. “We always talk about our camp being about mental and physical toughness. One of the most important things about this will be the ability to handle change and fast change. As we’ve seen over the last five months, things change fast when you’re dealing with COVID.”