ATHENS — The injuries haven’t been serious, but the dings and scrapes are starting to mount for Georgia after a week of practice.
Freshmen Washaun Ealey and Derrick Lott are the latest Bulldogs to come up lame after both hyperextended their elbows on separate plays during Friday’s practice. Neither injury is considered serious, coach Mark Richt said, but both players will be kept out of contract drills Monday.
“There’s no damage as far as broken bones or anything like that,” Richt said of Ealey’s injury. “It won’t need any kind of surgery. It just swelled up a little bit, and when the swelling goes down, and he thinks he can get going again, he’ll go, but I can’t say how long.”
While Lott is considered a longshot to earn playing time behind a trio of senior defensive tackles this season, Ealey is part of a five-man race to earn carries at tailback.
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Richt said the injury could be a setback for Ealey, but assuming the freshman continues learning at the same pace, the missed action won’t necessarily prevent him from remaining in the mix for carries.
“He’ll have plenty of time if he can keep learning without the reps,” Richt said. “He’ll be able to do ball-handling drills and probably pass skeleton drills soon, he just won’t be able to go full contact.”
‘Hot and nasty’
Georgia wrapped up its first week of fall practice Saturday under a glaring sun that had players a bit antsy to get in a few licks before two-a-days begin Monday.
“Practice was hot and nasty, and everybody was in a bad mood, which was OK,” Richt said. “The emotions were flying pretty good, and they’re ready for Monday. They’re ready to put the pads on and start playing football.”
Perhaps no player is more eager to get a few hits in than senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens, who missed nearly all of the 2008 season following a torn ACL he suffered early in Georgia’s opening game against Georgia Southern.
Owens said his knee has felt fine throughout the team’s first five practices, but donning full pads and laying out a few hits on Monday morning will be a true test — and a big reward.
“I love when guys come out and want to hit,” Owens said. “That makes me want to get out there and hit somebody — especially for me because I haven’t tackled anyone to the ground in a year. When I get back out there, I’m going to feel like I’m a kid again, like it’s Christmas. I just want to hit somebody.”
Nickels gets a nod
Walk-on offensive lineman Casey Nickels has already racked up a few superlatives during the past few months. The junior from Tignall was named the most improved offensive lineman and outstanding walk-on at the end of spring practice and opened the fall second on the depth chart at right guard.
Saturday, Nickels received another honor, too, earning a scholarship after three years as a walk-on.
“It’s a lot of fun to award scholarships to those guys who work so hard,” Richt said. “This is Casey’s fourth year, he’s working with our No. 2 unit now, and he’s working his tail off.”
The scholarship came as a surprise and a welcome reward for Nickels, who said it put the past three years of effort into perspective.
“To be a walk-on, you’ve got to love the sport,” Nickels said. “Because you get pounded on for three or four years, especially on the line, you know? Hitting 325-pound defensive tackles every day, it takes a toll on you.”
Gray likes role
Richt insists the No. 2 spot on the depth chart at quarterback is still an open competition, but sophomore Logan Gray is doing his part to ensure that Georgia’s two freshmen spend the 2009 season as redshirts.
After drawing praise during the spring, Richt said Gray’s growth has continued this fall in terms of his knowledge and confidence.
“I think he’s done a nice job of preparing himself,” Richt said. “You can just see there’s a lot more confidence in his ability to run the system than even in the spring probably. I think he had a great spring and took the momentum into the summer and has done a very nice job.”
While a starting job may not be up for grabs, Richt said the back-up quarterback will see significant playing time this year, and that’s all the motivation Gray needs.
“That’s what I’ve been thinking about this whole summer,” Gray said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to get on the field.”