ATHENS — Georgia split end Michael Bennett served as somewhat of spokesman for the Bulldogs’ walked wounded this week.
The sophomore from Alpharetta is one of four starters who has been sidelined for the regular season with injuries. That means they’re missing out on what folks are calling Georgia’s biggest game in 30 years – Saturday’s SEC Championship game matchup with Alabama.
“Me, Marlon (Brown), Abry (Jones) and Chase (Vasser), we’re all just sitting in that training room just kind of sulking,” Bennett joked after practice. “We wish we could to be out there but, at the same time, we’re just glad our team is doing great without us. It just shows the depth we have at receiver. But, yeah, it’s really frustrating, too.”
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) lost Bennett to a season-ending knee injury in practice the week they were to play No. 6 South Carolina in the sixth game of the season. He was the team’s leading receiver at the time, with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns.The Bulldogs lost that Saturday, but haven’t lost since.
And for the first time since then, Bennett will be on the road with his team this weekend. Georgia included Bennett and his fallen mates on the 82-man travel roster, so they’ll be able to be on the sidelines Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
“That was nice of them to do,” Bennett said. “I was just hoping to get some tickets but they’re doing that for me this weekend and I appreciate it.”
Bennett’s injury began a stretch where the Bulldogs seemed to lose a starter every week:
Jones, a senior and starting defensive end, suffered an ankle injury against Kentucky that would later require surgery. Speculation is that Jones may be able to return for the bowl game.
Two weeks later, the senior wideout Brown went down with a knee injury in the second half against Ole Miss. He underwent reconstructive surgery on Nov. 9.
Eleven days later, Georgia gave up on the notion of the linebacker Vasser recovering from a shoulder injury and he underwent corrective surgery.
Bennett said they’re all rehabbing like mad, though only he and Vasser will be able to return next season.
“I feel like I’m really far along,” Bennett said. “Actually, the doctor that did my surgery was saying I’m his poster child. He was saying my knee looks great right now. So that was very encouraging. Now I’m just going to rehab real hard every day.”
Bennett said the plan is for him to be able to run in a pool next week – he hasn’t run since the injury – and he will be running straight ahead on the ground in five weeks. By spring, he expects
to be able to run passing routes and be able to go close to full speed but still won’t be able to have any contact.
“By June I should have the leash off me and be able to do what I used to do,” Bennett said.
Double duty for Dallas Lee
There are many reasons Georgia has been able to keep it together on the offensive line this season. Dallas Lee is one the big ones.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound guard from Buford has proved to be one of the Bulldogs most versatile linemen. Though he starts and plays primarily at left guard, he has often been called upon to switch sides and play at right guard, sometimes in the same series. When regular right guard Chris Burnette went out with a shoulder injury, Lee started two games in his stead.
It’s harder that one might think. In Georgia’s system, stances and footwork are completely opposite moving from side to the other.
“You definitely have to keep it straight in your mind,” Lee said. “Everything you do is backward. When it’s real hard is like the Auburn game, where I’m rotating left and right depending on the series. That’s when it gets you. But as long as you keep it straight in your mind it’s not too bad and I’ve done pretty good at it. I have a pretty good brain for a big guy.”
Line coach Will Friend will second that.
“Dallas is smart and Dallas can handle that,” Friend said. “He’s definitely a guy who can play a couple of different positions and go left-right, which gives a lot of guys problems.”
Lee has been playing both sides since early in the season when the Bulldogs started to work Mark Beard into a rotation with Kenarious Gates at left tackle. When Beard comes in, Gates will slide inside to left guard and Lee will pop over to right.
It hasn’t been easy. Lee has battled an ankle most of the season, but hasn’t missed a start.
“We have come together great,” Lee said of the line, which features new starters at three positions this season. “Everybody has stayed healthy, knock on wood, compared to year’s past. We haven’t had any serious injuries along the line, which has been great. It’s been a blessing.”
They’ll get all they can handle from Alabama’s front seven.
“They’ve got a great defense. Obviously their stats speak for themselves. As soon as you put the tape on you see how well they play technique and how hard they play and how physical they play. They’re very impressive, so it’s big challenge.”
Jones a finalist for another award
Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones on Thursday was named one of four finalists for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
“IMPACT” is an acronym for Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity. The award, named for Ronnie Lott, goes to the defensive player who has had the biggest impact on his team, on and off the field.
Jones, who was named an AFCA All-American for the second consecutive season this week, joins Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, Stanford’s Chase Thomas and Kansas State’s Arthur Brown as the award’s finalists. The winner will be announced at the annual Lott IMPACT Trophy banquet on Dec. 9 at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach.
Jones has also been named a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Rotary Lombardi, Bednarik and Butkus awards.
Etc . . .
CSS is producing a replay broadcast of Saturday’s SEC Championship that will air Sunday at 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. and many other times throughout the month of December. Matt Stewart will provide play-by-play along with Buck Belue and Tyler Watts as analysts.