Scott Cochran, sidelined players return for No. 1 Georgia

ATHENS — For the Georgia Bulldogs, this whole week is about getting people back. A bunch of them, if possible.

It was somewhat of a surprise to learn Tuesday that group of individuals includes former assistant coach Scott Cochran. However, coach Kirby Smart hinted a couple of weeks ago that the special-teams coordinator’s return was imminent.

Now it is official as Cochran has accepted a role as a special-teams analyst, an off-field support role.

“He’s back with us officially and working with us,” Smart said during his weekly briefing via video-conference call Tuesday afternoon. “He’s going to be assisting the special-teams staff and helping contribute to those guys in an off-field role for the rest of the season. And we’re happy to have him back, and hopefully we’re going to keep him safe and healthy through that recovery process. But we’re happy to have his energy and enthusiasm back.”

Cochran left the team in late July to seek help for a “mental-health matter.” He received treatment out of state and has been back home in Oconee County for a few weeks now.

Will Muschamp assumed Cochran’s on-field duties upon his departure and will continue in that role. While the former South Carolina head coach has been overseeing Georgia’s special-teams play, the majority of his efforts have been focused on the Bulldogs’ defensive secondary.

Another abrupt departure occurred a week into Georgia’s preseason camp when wide receiver Arik Gilbert left the team because of undisclosed “personal issues.” Since then, the high-profile transfer from LSU has not responded to inquiries about his status or plans for the future. Smart didn’t shed much light in that regard Tuesday, but did confirm that the Bulldogs remain in communication with Gilbert, a former 5-star prospect.

“Arik is not back,” Smart said. “He’s still continuing his journey and hopefully going to get back. We’re communicating with him. Everyone’s pulling for him. I don’t know the answer to when or if he’ll be back.”

Credit: UGA

Georgia football coach Kirby Smart discusses the cons of having to play it divisional rival at neutral site and how it affects recruiting.

More urgent what players may be available for Georgia’s next challenge. The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0 SEC) has a bye week before facing the rival Florida Gators (4-3, 2-3) in Jacksonville on Oct. 30 (CBS, 3:30 p.m.). As has been the case for several weeks now, that question always starts with the availability of junior quarterback JT Daniels.

Smart’s update was encouraging.

“Yeah, JT’s pitch count has kind of increased,” Smart said. “He got up to maybe 65, 70 throws yesterday, pain-free, increasing distance, getting out farther and farther. I think he got around 35, 40 yards.”

The Bulldogs’ starting quarterback at the outset of the season has missed the past three games with a grade 1 strain of the latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. It’s an obscure injury that usually befalls pitchers in baseball and typically requires at least two to four weeks of rest, depending on the severity.

Daniels has not competed since playing the first quarter of a 62-0 win over Vanderbilt on Sept. 25. He was shut down for two weeks thereafter, then returned to controlled throwing on the side in practice under the supervision of trainer Ron Courson over the last two weeks.

Meanwhile, senior quarterback Stetson Bennett has been sensational in Daniels’ absence. Bennett improved to 4-0 as Georgia’s starter this season with Saturday’s 30-13 win over No. 11 Kentucky. His quarterback rating of 210.93 would rank No. 2 in all of FBS if his stats met NCAA minimum requirements. He has 996 yards on 69.5% passing with 11 touchdowns and 2 interceptions and also has rushed for 148 yards (7.8 ypc) while being sacked just twice.

“Hopefully, I’ll know more (Tuesday) because we didn’t really practice (Monday),” Smart said during the lunchtime briefing. “(Daniels) got to throw, but we didn’t practice. We did a walk-through, clean-up kind of deal. … He’s hopefully going to get some quality reps, and we’ll see what kind of velocity he’s got.”

Considering how well Bennett is playing, the status of injured players in the defensive backfield and at receiver might be more paramount. Smart’s updates on those situations also were encouraging.

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei is the last person to attempt a tackle as Georgia defensive back Christopher Smith intercepts a pass intended for Clemson wide reciever Justyn Ross and returns it for a touchdown during the second quarter Saturday, Sept 4, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (Curtis Compton /

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

icon to expand image

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Smart said:

  • Starting free safety Christopher Smith (shoulder) was cleared to play against Kentucky but simply wasn’t needed, as backup Dan Jackson (7 tackles) handled the responsibility proficiently. Smith is ready to go.
  • Ameer Speed (ankle), a part-time starter at cornerback and special-teams stalwart, also has been cleared.
  • Flanker Arian Smith possibly could have played Saturday. The fastest player on the team, he has missed the past five games with a lower-leg bruise. Fellow flanker Jermaine Burton (groin) also is getting closer to full speed.
  • Smart said running back and primary kickoff returner Kenny McIntosh (hamstring) could return after sitting out Saturday.

As for the growing scuttlebutt that the return of star split end George Pickens (ACL) is imminent, Smart remained dismissive. He acknowledged that Pickens, a junior, is doing some walk-through work and participates in receiver drills. But he also emphasized that Pickens — seven months removed from reconstructive surgery — has not been cleared by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews and would not disclose if or when he might be.

“There’s a long-term plan there, but I don’t disclose timelines on that kind of stuff,” Smart said. “… Dr. Andrews, Ron Courson, myself, George’s parents have all been involved in that conversation, and it’s not something that we’re open to sharing. We’re just very hopeful that he’s able to get back to 100 percent. That’s our concern.”

Otherwise, the Bulldogs appear to be inching back toward full strength.