Georgia tailback Todd Gurley practiced at full speed on Monday and by all accounts, he looks close to 100 percent for Saturday’s game with Florida. But he will still have to beat out freshmen Brendan Douglas and J.J. Green in practice this week if he wants to regain his starting spot back against the Gators.
“Puh-leeze,” Douglas said with a laugh. “Yeah, right.”
Said fellow tailback Green: “I don’t think I ever had a job. I was just filling in for him. I’m glad Todd’s back. They’re going to be keying in on him. Maybe that will mean some bigger runs for me.”
Nobody, least of all the Gurley’s freshman understudies, expect to stand in the way of his return from a left ankle injury. The 6-foot-2, 232-pound sophomore is still the Bulldogs’ leading rusher despite missing the last three games. After returning in a limited capacity for one practice last week, Gurley was turned loose Monday in Georgia’s practice.
Requests to interview Gurley were declined by UGA on Monday, but his backfield mates were happy to talk about him.
“Oh, he looks well,” said the 5-9, 183-pound Green, who started two games in Gurley’s stead. “Very good. I hope he can do it in the game and be ready to carry this load. … Todd Gurley is back on the scene.”
Said Douglas: “Todd’s looking good out there. He looks pretty healthy, about 100 percent for sure. … He looks like his old self. He did everything that he usually does.”
Gurley practiced in a regular jersey rather than the green jersey that signifies non-contact status. While the rest of the team went in full pads, Gurley wore black warm-up pants with his helmet and shoulder pads. But even when they were healthy, neither Gurley nor Keith Marshall, who’s out for the season with a knee injury, participated in the full-contact scrimmage portions of Bulldogs’ practices.
Gurley heads into the Florida game with 450 yards and four touchdowns in four games, an average of 112.5 yards per game. But Georgia’s running game didn’t disappear in Gurley’s absence. In fact, Green’s 6.7 yards per carry average actually exceeded Gurley’s 6.3 yards.
Green was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher in two of the games Gurley missed with 129 and 87 yards, respectively, while Douglas had team-best 84 against Vanderbilt. Neither expects as much work with Gurley back in the fold. But they plan to be ready.
“Right now, we’re just one step away,” Green said. “It’s really not even one step. We’re going to play. There’s no worries about that. We just need to go in and execute the plays when we get them.”
Bennett back, too: It could be argued that receiver Michael Bennett’s return could be just as important as Gurley’s. The junior wideout, who underwent an ACL reconstruction last fall and had an arthroscopy to repair a meniscus tear on Oct. 8, was also back in action on Monday. He was fighting off jams and making hard cuts on pass routes after being limited to running last week.
Neither Bennett nor any other Georgia receivers were made available for interviews Monday. But the fullback Quayvon Hicks liked what he saw.
“You can tell he loves what he does,” Hicks said. “He looked great running his routes and catching the ball. He just looked like the Michael Bennett everybody knows.”
The 6-3, 215-pound junior from Alpharetta gives Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray another big target. That’s especially important going against Florida.
The Gators feature one of the best defensive backfields in college football. Nationally, they’re third in pass efficiency defense (91.59) and fifth in passing yards allowed (172.4 per game). But Missouri was able to exploit the unit’s lack of height with their 6-4-and-over wideouts.
Georgia’s group is not as tall and got smaller with the 6-3 Chris Conley (ankle) likely out Saturday. Junior Jonathan Rumph (6-5) could help Georgia’s cause, but he’s hampered by a chronic hamstring issue and remains a non-factor.
Etc.: Georgia’s injury report was down to 16 names as opposed to 24 last week. Key returnees on Monday included center David Andrews (foot) and safety Tray Matthews (hamstring). Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) ran on the side and rode a stationary bike. Linebacker Reggie Carter (knee), who was hurt last Tuesday, did not practice. … Captains for Saturday’s game are center David Andrews, guard Chris Burnette, defensive end Garrison Smith and safety Connor Norman. … Former Bulldogs Peter Anderson (center, 1983-85) and Matt Stinchcomb (tackle, 1995-98) will be inducted into the Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame this weekend in Jacksonville.
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