Georgia's Kirby Smart enters first season with numerous offensive questions

Georgia's Kirby Smart enters first season with numerous offensive questions

July 13th, 2016 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia tailback Sony Michel runs against Penn State in the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl NCAA college football game in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Georgia defeated Penn state 24-17. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

Photo by Mark Wallheiser

Georgia running back Nick Chubb (27) struggles for extra yardage against Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster (10) in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Athens, Ga. Alabama won 38-10. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)

Georgia running back Nick Chubb (27) struggles for...

Photo by Brett Davis

HOOVER, Ala. — For someone with a distinguished defensive background, Georgia first-year head football coach Kirby Smart sure talked a lot of offense Tuesday during his SEC media days debut.

The Bulldogs are moving on from the 15-year Mark Richt era with a three-man competition at quarterback and with talented tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel rehabbing injuries. Chubb has been out since last October, when he tore knee ligaments on the first play from scrimmage at Tennessee, and Michel suffered a broken forearm earlier this month in an ATV accident and spent nearly a week in the hospital after undergoing surgery.

"It's an injury we don't have a lot of experience with, because it's not a normal football injury," Smart said. "We experienced this last year with (former Alabama tailback) Kenyan Drake, but that was one bone, and it didn't come out of the skin. In Sony's situation, there are just a lot of unknowns.

"I don't think we'll know about his availability until the first or second scrimmage. People say six to eight weeks. Kenyan's was less than that, but Kenyan's injury was less than that."

Michel rushed for 1,161 yards last season, including 885 in the eight games that Chubb was shelved. The Bulldogs are not unfamiliar with setbacks in the backfield, with former tailback Keith Marshall tearing his ACL midway through the 2013 season and former tailback Todd Gurley tearing his late in the 2014 season.

Gurley also was suspended four games in 2014 for violating NCAA rules.

"It stinks," Bulldogs junior tight end Jeb Blazevich said. "I feel so bad for Sony, but you're talking about a genetic freak who can bounce back fast. I'm just praying for a speedy recovery."

Chubb, who has been called a freak on numerous occasions, rushed for 745 yards in the first five games a year ago. The Bulldogs went on to a second straight 10-3 season but missed out on a trip to the SEC title game for a third consecutive year.

"The big thing with Nick is going to be full, live-contact tackling," Smart said. "He was progressing in the spring, but what will be the psychological factor when he takes his first hits? That's going to be a big part of it, as well as learning what to do. It's different when you sit in meetings and when you go out and do it. He wasn't a part of the new protections and the new offense this spring.

"He won't have limitations in what he does initially, but that doesn't mean that he will scrimmage."

Georgia opens its season Sept. 3 against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, and the uncertainty at tailback could seep into the quarterback dilemma.

Greyson Lambert started 12 of 13 games last year and won 10, but the Bulldogs often were uninspiring through the air, finishing 10th in the league with 184.4 passing yards a game. Brice Ramsey played quarterback in six games last year and was better known for taking over the punting chores, while five-star freshman Jacob Eason has the strongest arm of the bunch and drew the loudest cheers with his spring-game performance.

"At the end of the day, we've got to pick the best guy who gives us a chance to win," Smart said. "If you don't have either (running) back, and I certainly hope that's not the case, does it become a situation where you have to throw the ball better? We've got to look at the long term and not just the first game, because there is more to the season than the first game.

"We can't put all our eggs into that basket. We've got to find who our best leader is, and that shouldn't have to be dictated by who our back is."

Smart expects offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and other offensive assistants to have their share of stress at the start of camp, but they won't be lacking for players who are willing to work. The three representatives who accompanied Smart to media days — Blazevich, senior center Brandon Kublanow and junior safety Dominick Sanders — worked out in Athens at 6 a.m. before flying to Birmingham.

For Blazevich and Kublanow, Chaney is their third coordinator in as many years.

"I get asked a lot about the quarterback, but all three have done a great job," Kublanow said. "They're all going to compete hard in camp, and we'll see where it goes from there."

Said Blazevich: "There are a lot of things up in the air."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.