ATHENS, Ga. — Caleb King likely needed a strong preseason camp to avoid a redshirt season, but his body isn't doing him any favors.
An injured hamstring kept the highly recruited freshman tailback out of most of Georgia's preseason practices this week, including Friday's key scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.
The redshirt decision isn't a certainty yet, but he's expected to return to practice sometime this week -- with less than two weeks remaining before the Sept. 1 opener against Oklahoma State -- and will likely need to make a great deal of progress in a short amount of time.
Seniors Thomas Brown and Kregg Lumpkin and redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno are already entrenched ahead of King on the tailback depth chart.
"We'll see how he comes back and just see where we are," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "It's a physical game, we've still got another scrimmage. You never know what could happen."
King's situation is similar to that of Shaw High grad Bruce Figgins, who fought his way into contention for the starting spot at tight end before a leg injury sidelined him this week. He could return to practice on Monday, but also missed valuable scrimmage downs on Friday.
Now Coleman Watson, NaDerris Ward and Aron White may be enough to stem the tide for the opener, while starter Tripp Chandler serves a one-game disciplinary suspension, sending Figgins to a redshirt year.
"If (Figgins) was healthy and got every rep to this point, I think we'd be leaning more toward playing the guy," Richt said. "We'll see how he comes off his injury."
King and Figgins are in the same position as all of Georgia's true freshmen, hoping to find their way onto the field this season. But the prospects for most remain highly uncertain.
Of the 19 incoming freshmen, only a handful -- linebacker Rennie Curran, offensive linemen Trinton Sturdivant, Clint Boling and Justin Anderson, and punter Drew Butler among them -- seem locks to see the field this year.
Butler leads the race to start at punter and Sturdivant has the starting left tackle job within his grasp, while Curran is the favorite to win the backup weakside linebacker spot.
"I'm sure we'll find a place for him to help. Yeah, Rennie's gonna play," Richt said. "The decision's pretty much been made on whether he'd be redshirted or not. I don't think he'll redshirt."
Two weeks from the start of the season, Georgia's starting lineup seems largely set, with only a few position battles continuing.
Key among those are competitions at wide receiver, cornerback and running back.
Richt said the starting tailback job is largely ceremonial, as Brown, Lumpkin and Moreno will all figure heavily into the team's gameplan.
"There's gonna be I guess some prestige as who's named the starter, but we expect all three of those guys to play," he said. "Whether people like it or not, they're all very talented and they all are ready to play and they're gonna play."
Likewise, he expects receivers coach John Eason to substitute liberally from his deep group of wideouts, lessening the meaning of a starting spot.
The starting flanker position may be the most unclear, with oft-injured Mikey Henderson and A.J. Bryant competing with Michael Moore and Kenneth Harris for the honor.
Senior Sean Bailey seems to be the first option at split end, but he said even he doesn't feel secure in his spot as a starter.
"The competition has been real great," Bailey said. "We've got people challenging each other every day, so there's no way you can sit there and say you have a job locked up because there's too much talent back there, so you've got to continue to work."
Neither cornerback spot is locked down, as Bryan Evans and Thomas Flowers have struggled with injuries this preseason and Asher Allen and Prince Miller continue to gain experience.
Miller has been working with the starting defense in Evans' place while he recovers from a hamstring pull, and Allen and Flowers have been splitting first-team reps on the other side.
"Asher will have a great week, then he'll come down and have a bad day and then Thomas Flowers has a great week," said Evans, who should return to full practice this week. "So it's basically that the defensive backs are unsettled because we're not being as consistent as we should be."
Dannell Ellerbe only recently moved to Georgia's middle linebacker spot, but he's already taking over the leadership role that comes with the position.
The junior was among the defense's top playmakers in Friday's scrimmage and he impressed Richt the next day with his command of the defense.
Georgia's starting linebackers flip-flopped positions last week, with Brandon Miller moving from the middle to strongside, Ellerbe from weakside to the middle and Darius Dewberry from strongside to weakside.
The experiment appears to be permanent, as Richt said the linebackers "are pretty solid as where we're gonna line up right now."
A key component in that certainty is Ellerbe's willingness to communicate with his teammates and be the vocal center of the defense.
"I'm seeing Ellerbe try to step up in that role a bit now that he's in the middle. I see him doing a good job of communicating on every snap," Richt said. "He does a good job of calling the defense, recognizing what's going on offensively and talking about the responsibilities of his linebacker teammates and safeties.
"He might've been doing it all along, but today I just noticed it more than in the past. That's a good sign."
Tight end Tripp Chandler (ribs) returned to practice on Saturday, but Richt said the return was short-lived as the junior re-aggravated the injury.
"It was nothing real serious, but maybe he wasn't as full-speed as he thought today," said Richt, who expects Chandler to be among numerous Bulldogs to return from injury early this coming week.
Among those are King, Figgins, Bryant, Evans and offensive tackle Kiante Tripp.
Evans has missed two weeks with the hamstring injury, but said he feels close to returning.
"I'd say right now I feel around 93 percent," Evans said. "I can run, but I can't open it how I want to open up. But I think I'm doing pretty good right now."
The key, he said, will be how well he can keep up with one of Georgia's speedy receivers in practice.
"It's just gonna be that time that I have to chase Mikey Henderson down or something like that to see how it's gonna feel," he said.
Georgia got practice out of the way Saturday morning in order to accomodate the Bulldogs' annual fan day schedule. The team greeted fans and signed autographs at Sanford Stadium from 3 to 5 p.m. ... Particularly valuable on fan day are the 120 tickets that assure fans of an opportunity to have a photo made with mascot Uga VI. Athens resident Joe D'Angelo was first in line for an Uga photo ticket, arriving at 8 p.m. Friday to start the line. That was nearly four hours earlier than the first fan in the Uga line last year. The 250 guaranteed tickets for a photo with Richt weren't in quite as much demand. The first fan in the Richt line, Jackson, Ga., resident Wayne Parker, arrived at 4:30 a.m. All tickets for both Uga and Richt had been claimed seven minutes after school officials began distributing them at 9 a.m. Saturday. ... The Bulldogs will take the day off today. They return to practice Monday at 3:35 p.m.