HOOVER, Ala. — Kirby Smart’s backfield uncertainty going into the season extends beyond who will be the starting quarterback.
The first-year Georgia coach already had Nick Chubb working his way back from a knee injury when 1,000-yard rusher Sony Michel broke his left forearm in an all-terrain vehicle accident on July 3.
“That’s a tough situation,” Smart said Tuesday at Southeastern Conference media days. “Who would have thought at this point in time both guys would be on the sideline rehabbing?”
Both Chubb and Michel are among the league’s top runners, but it remains to be seen if either will be available for the opener Sept. 3 against North Carolina.
Georgia has said Michel was expected to be out 6-8 weeks recovering from surgery. Chubb was averaging 124.5 yards per game when he went down against Tennessee last October. Michel replaced him and racked up 1,161 yards on the season, only to sustain the off-the-field injury two months before the season.
“I don’t know the expectation for Sony, if he’ll be back or not,” Smart said, referring to the first game. “We’ll know a lot more when we get closer to the season.”
Smart said Chubb won’t start out in preseason camp going through scrimmages and full-contact work and has to continue regaining confidence in the knee. Freshman Elijah Holyfield, son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, is among the potential fill-ins.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s quarterback battle continues going into preseason camp among returning starter Greyson Lambert, Brice Ramsey and freshman Jacob Eason.
The Bulldogs will definitely start out without defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, who was arrested twice during a five-month span on alcohol-related charges. He’ll be suspended at least two games under school policy following a DUI arrest. Earlier charges involving a fake ID and underage possession of alcohol were dropped.
Georgia has had eight player arrests since Smart’s hiring in December.
“It’s unfortunate because Ledbetter has worked really hard this summer,” Bulldogs offensive lineman Brandon Kublanow said. “He’s got some issues off the field. We’re not just going to drop him. He’s still part of our family. We’ll help support him, give him the support that he needs so that one day he can get back on the field with us.”
Smart brought a resume that included nine years under Alabama coach Nick Saban, including four national titles in his seven seasons as defensive coordinator. His hiring clearly generated excitement since the Bulldogs’ filled up Sanford Stadium for the spring game. As Smart put it, “93,000 hungry dawg fans came out.”
The expectations are clear for the former Georgia player. Mark Richt was fired after winning nearly three-quarters of his games over 15 seasons, then was quickly hired by Miami. Smart embraces a philosophy that sounds a lot like Saban’s “Process” at Alabama covering everything from facilities to nutrition.
“That’s where I want to put my stamp on the University of Georgia, is the difference between a team and program,” Smart said. “A team is a group of young men playing together. The program is the entirety of that, what goes into that, how do we support these student-athletes off the field.”