By Ryan Black
For the AJC
ATHENS – Though Georgia’s injury list has continued to grow since the end of the SEC Championship game, one key defender may be on the verge of returning.
Defensive end Abry Jones injured his left ankle on the first drive of Georgia’s victory over Kentucky on Oct. 20 and has not played since. But the senior from Warner Robins has continued to rehab the injury, and after seeing how well he ran Thursday, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt felt optimistic about Jones’ chances of playing in the Capital One Bowl.
“It’s definitely a possibility; I think it’s more of a probability now, just watching him run today,” Richt said following Thursday’s practice. “I think today gave him more confidence, because he was running pretty hard. He’s not in the best condition right this minute, but he ran about as fast as he could and felt good. I was going from one drill to the other — from the defensive field to the offensive field — and I saw him flashing across there. . . . He really looked good, so I’m thinking if he doesn’t have any setbacks, he’ll be able to play.”
Prior to the injury against Kentucky, Jones had proven his durability over the past four years. From the beginning of the 2009 campaign to this season’s Kentucky game, Jones appeared in 46 of the Bulldogs’ 47 games, with the lone exception being the 2009 contest against Georgia Tech. During that span, Jones started 31 of 47 games.
Jones’ dedication to taking the field for Georgia one final time earned his coach’s respect.
“A guy could easily just say, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do it anymore,’” Richt said. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt he wants to do it and I’m glad he has that attitude.”
The Bulldogs may be trading one injured defensive lineman for another, however. While Jones may be back for the bowl game, noseguard John Jenkins has not practiced since Georgia began bowl preparations last Wednesday, missing a total of eight practices. According to Claude Felton, UGA’s director of sports communications, Jenkins suffered a concussion during the SEC Championship game.
Jenkins status for the bowl game is murky.
“He’s getting better, getting better,” Richt said. “We’ll see.”
Richt also updated the outlook on receivers Malcolm Mitchell (groin) and Tavarres King (hamstring).
“Malcolm did practice today with the scout team, so he’s kind of phasing his way back in, so we feel good about that,” Richt said. “(I) talked to TK, and I think with this Christmas break and the break he’s already had, I don’t think there’s much doubt that he would be able to play.”
Other notable players listed on Thursday’s extensive injury report included cornerback Devin Bowman (quadriceps), receiver Rhett McGowan (wrist sprain), tight end Jay Rome (hip flexor) and fullback Richard Samuel (shoulder).
No changes for Kolton Houston
Kolton Houston’s career at Georgia remains on hold.
When asked whether Houston was any closer to becoming eligible to play, Richt said the redshirt sophomore was “still in the same situation” he has been in since he arrived in Athens nearly three years ago. Houston enrolled in January of 2010 and tested positive for a banned substance he was given during a shoulder surgery performed in high school. The substance has remained in Houston’s system and has continued to prevent the offensive tackle from reaching an acceptable threshold for the NCAA to reinstate his eligibility. If and when Houston reaches that threshold, he would be cleared to play immediately.
Does Houston even have that desire anymore?
“You’d have to ask him,” Richt said. “It’s been tough on him to go this long and not get a chance to play. I’m not sure where he’s at on that. We’re in a situation where, whether he plays or doesn’t play, he is part of our 85 [scholarship limit] number. … We can’t give him a DQ on this thing. He’s either going to make it or he’s not, but in the meantime, he counts as part of the 85. If he ever gets to the point where he reaches whatever threshold they’re looking for and he still wants to play, then we want him to play. It’ll be up to him.”
Offensive lineman Austin Long injured (again)
Junior offensive tackle Austin Long fractured his right hand during Wednesday’s practice and had surgery Thursday morning. Richt said the injury occurred on a routine drill between the offensive and defensive lines.
According to UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson, Long is expected to make a full recovery. In fact, Richt said the injury may not be serious enough to keep Long out of the bowl game.
“Not long into it you could club a guy and protect what’s been done surgically, so there’s even a chance that he could play in the game,” he said. “We don’t think it will affect spring ball at all.”
Long, a 6-foot-4, 304-pound native of Memphis, Tenn., has appeared in all 13 games for the Bulldogs this season.
Etc. . . .
Richt refused to confirm or deny reports that defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Rodney Garner has spoken to Auburn about joining coach Guz Malzahn’s staff. “I’m not discussing any personnel stuff right now,” Richt said. Garner has not returned messages seeking comment. . . . Richt was pleased with Thursday’s practice after what he believed was an underwhelming showing on Wednesday. “Today was a lot of really good energy,” he said. “I think when it’s a little chilly and rainy they tend to move around quicker and we skip the breaks. We just keep going.”