ATHENS - There was a very welcome sight for the Georgia defense at Monday's practice: Tray Matthews.
The freshman safety was not only participating in practice, but was in a normal jersey, rather than a non-contact one. Matthews missed all of last week's practices with shoulder and hamstring injuries, leading to his status for the Clemson game being in doubt.
"He practiced, so that was good," head coach Mark Richt said after practice. "It was hard to gauge since it was mostly scout team work and the tempo wasn't blazing, but he got into some competitive drills and he looked fine. When a guy is coming off a hamstring, it's gonna be a couple of days before you feel like he's over the hump. Hopefully he'll have no more setbacks."
Richt wasn't ready to declare him back as a definite starter for Saturday.
"He's been at meetings and he's been watching and observing practice, but if you don't do it, it's tough," Richt said. "Hopefully he's doing everything he can possibly do to get ready. He's also squeezing in every minute of treatment he can get."
Georgia's injury-ravaged secondary had become a major problem this preseason, but on the first practice of game week, the outlook is getting healthier. Junior Shaquille Fluker, a candidate to get a lot of playing time at strong safety, was also back at practice n a normal jersey after missing most of the past week with an illness and a groin strain.
Strong safety Corey Moore, a junior, was the only key player out on Monday. Moore has been out for several weeks with a sprained knee.
Elsewhere on the injury front:
- Freshman tailback A.J. Turman (knee and ankle sprain) returned to practice, but in a limited capacity. Turman had missed the better part of the past two weeks. Brendan Douglas, another freshman tailback, remained out with a knee sprain. The two injuries have cemented freshman J.J. Green's status as the third tailback, after Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
- Backup fullback Merritt Hall was also practicing in a limited capacity because of a neck strain.
- Backup receivers Rhett McGowan (ankle sprain) Jonathan Rumph (hamstring) and Tramel Terry (knee bruise) were all limited in practice.
- Outside linebacker Chase Vasser (ankle sprain) returned to practice after missing most of the past couple weeks. Vasser was also limited.
- Right guard Chris Burnette was absent from the media viewing period on Monday, but he and Richt said everything was fine. The senior has been held out of some preseason practices, as the team eased him back after shoulder surgery.
"He's been just taking normal reps," Richt said.
In Burnette's absence, sophomore John Theus was getting snaps with the first-team at right guard, with junior Kolton Houston at right tackle.
Finally, It was a more intense Mark Richt than usual at Mondays practice, not surprising as it was Georgias first of game week. At one point, the head coach spotted media members and yelled for them to move back.
Get that camera back! Richt yelled.
Of course, this being Mark Richt, the fiery attitude still has its limits.
We might have a (receiver) route going this way, Richt said a few seconds later, feeling he owed the media an explanation.
He was also more relaxed in his post-practice press session. As it was ending, one of the sports communications staffers could be heard over a walkie-talkie asking: "Is coach Richt still going up there?"
"Yes," Richt interjected.
But no one else had any questions. Clearly, it's time to play a game.