Georgia football's Figgins learns while healing

dhale@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 26, 2009 

ATHENS, Ga. — Bruce Figgins didn’t have much trouble playing through the pain of a serious shoulder injury for most of last season, but sitting on the sideline while it heals is turning out to be a bit of a chore.

Figgins (Shaw High) said his spring has consisted of little more than simple strength training, and he is anxious to return to the field.

“It’s real hard,” Figgins said. “You try to come with a positive attitude and still try to get yourself better day by day, watching film and watching what other people do.”

Figgins’ progress has been slow but steady. His last visit with the doctors showed that the shoulder has no ill effects following a season of wear and tear then surgery in January.

“I’m slowly progressing in my rehab, week by week adding on stuff, trying to get it stronger,” he said. “I talked with the trainers, who said it’s good, it’s healed, but you don’t want to rush it. You don’t want to take any risks, so that’s where we’re at, just trying to strengthen it up.”

While Figgins’ workouts are limited, his growth as a player hasn’t been.

He said the time on the sideline has given him a fresh perspective on what his role with the team can be, and he is using the lack of on-field action as a chance to develop his game in other ways.

“This is when a lot of leadership comes in,” Figgins said. “I’ve grown a lot from having to sit back and not being able to do anything but push other guys.”

Samuel still sidelined

After serving as the No. 2 tailback for most of his freshman season, Richard Samuel injured his wrist in Georgia’s bowl game against Michigan State, undergoing surgery several weeks later.

The injury means he’ll be sidelined until June, while Caleb King and Carlton Thomas use his absence as a chance to nail down carries of their own in a wide-open competition to be the primary runner in Georgia’s backfield.

It will be at least three more weeks before Samuel can do much of anything with the wrist. He’ll have a second surgery then to remove a pin and screw that were inserted to stabilize the bone while it healed.

The watching is tough. The waiting is nearly impossible. Just minutes after surgery, Samuel told his position coach, Bryan McClendon, that he wanted to get back in the weight room. Instead, he has a cast on his wrist, and the progress toward recovery seems far more grueling as any mat drill he missed during offseason workouts.

“It’s dragging by,” Samuel said. “I don’t see any real progress. My arm’s feeling a bit better now, I have more motion in my shoulder, but I don’t know. It’s a slow process.”

The frustration has grown, but what sets Samuel apart at Georgia is how much he learns off the field. So rather than simply lament his status as a spring spectator, Samuel is using the time to work on the little things his game was missing a year ago.

“I notice details,” he said. “I’m paying attention to certain ways certain people block or people run. Being forced to sit back and watch, I’ve been focused on little details I was unable to focus on last year.”

Tailback competition

With Samuel out of action, the competition for carries in Georgia’s backfield isn’t likely to be resolved by August, but Thomas’ big spring has made the race more intriguing.

“Carlton has done a very nice job of running the ball inside,” head coach Mark Richt said. “He’s made more people miss and broken more tackles at this point than Caleb has, but Caleb is doing an outstanding job, himself.”

Richt said King has a slight advantage in the blocking game due to the extra year of experience and game-day snaps. But neither has shown they’re ready to take over for the departed Knowshon Moreno.

“We need to get both those guys quite a bit more reps in pass protection to be able to start separating them,” Richt said.

Thomas and King are about to get more competition for playing time this spring. Freshman Dontavius Jackson returned to practice Tuesday and participated in several of the team’s drills. Although he technically wasn’t supposed to take any hits, Richt said Jackson was knocked to the ground by accident on one play but immediately popped back up.

“He’s phasing in right now, and it might be as early as next Monday (that he’s back),” Richt said. “I think he’ll go full before it’s over.”

Safety tandem set

It appeared that there might be a close battle for the chance to replace CJ Byrd at safety this season, but defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said Tuesday he feels comfortable with a starting tandem of Reshad Jones and Bryan Evans.

Evans shifted from cornerback to safety midway through last season, a transition Martinez said isn’t usually a simple one because of the increased knowledge of the defense a safety must have, but Evans has made it look easy.

“He understands our scheme,” Martinez said. “He’s done a good job of paying attention to what those guys were doing even when he was playing corner.”

More than just knowing his role, Richt said Evans has embraced the change. After platooning at corner for two years, Evans seems at home and his enthusiasm about the new challenge has been evident.

“He’s very excited about safety,” Richt said. “He’s shown as much spirit as anyone. He’s high tempo, high energy. He’s doing a good job, and he’s found a nice home.”

Relatively healthy

Figgins and Jackson are just two of nearly two-dozen Georgia players sidelined with injuries following a season in which it seemed like the population of the trainer’s room grew daily.

So far this spring, however, the Bulldogs have managed to stay relatively healthy, and Richt said no major calamities have hit the players.

“We’ve got a couple of guys with fingers and thumbs taped up,” Richt said, “but so far so good.”

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