August 17, 2008

DE's slowly healing

One by one, Georgia's walking wounded lined up side-by-side at the nearside practice field adjacent to the Butts-Mehre Building.

The numbers read like this: 41, 42, 53, 55, 58 and 92. Two fields away, defensive ends coach Jon Fabris was putting his troops through their morning paces - all three of them.

It's been a frustrating two weeks for Fabris and his crew. Heading into preseason, defensive end was arguably one of the deepest positions on the team. But after injuries this week to seven of the eight scholarship players, that's changed.

"I've never seen it this bad," senior Jeremy Lomax said. "To see this many guys hurt is not a good thing."

At least there's some good news. According to redshirt freshman Justin Houston, none of the injuries are particularly serious, with the lone exception possibly freshman Jeremy Longo's broken right hand.

The rest, Houston said, should be back on the field next week. With the season-opener against Georgia Southern now just two weeks way, that's a good thing.

"Anytime you're not taking reps it will set you back," Lomax said. "Condition-wise and fundamental-wise it can set you back. I'm just glad there's nothing real serious, and we should all be back out there before too long."

Georgia did receive some good news Friday afternoon. After donning the green jersey for the team's morning session, Houston, who has been battling a hamstring issue, was back in the white jersey and working with Jarius Wynn[/sb] as only two healthy scholarship defensive ends.

The former Sam linebacker has adjusted well, drawing praise from both head coach [db]Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Willie Martinez. During Friday evening's scrimmage, Houston recorded two sacks.

"He'll definitely be in there," Richt said. "He's one of a number of guys who are going to have a chance to play."

Now, if they'll just get healthy. Starter Roderick Battle has been out now for over a week nursing a hamstring injury, while Demarcus Dobbs' sprained ankle, Neland Ball's leg, Lomax's turf toe and Cornelius Washington's stiff neck have kept this quintet sidelined, much to the chagrin of Richt.

"We've just got to get everybody healthy," Richt said. "It's not like any of the injuries are that serious, but they're nagging little thing and that's somewhat of a concern. We've got to get them healthy."

If the season were to start tomorrow, Wynn would mostly likely hold down one of the spots. A former defensive tackle, the 6-foot-5, 273-pound senior collected nine tackles in 13 games for the Bulldogs in 2007, with most of his action coming before his switch to defensive end late last year.

"Everything's coming along," said Wynn, a man of few words. "I feel like I'm getting everything down."

Dobbs (6-2, 272) gives the Bulldogs another big body like Wynn to use at defensive end. The Savannah native enjoyed an outstanding spring and summer workout season, and until spraining his ankle, was impressing both coaches and teammates alike.

"He's made a drastic move up, in my opinion," Lomax said. "He's put on a little weight from where he was before, but Dobbs is still quick as a cat. He's still moving great and hasn't missed a beat."

Despite the injuries, Richt is still confident that the position can still be a source of strength. At least he hopes so.

"I think we showed that we've got the potential to have a very strong rotation at defensive end," Richt said. "We've got a good mix of guys to choose from, guys who will be able to go out and do a good job."

Who eventually starts for Georgia in the season opener against Georgia Southern remains the only question. Fortunately, that's not expected to be a question without an answer. On the contrary:
Battle started all 13 games last season, recorded 24 tackles and 2.4 sacks and will enter preseason No. 1 at one end, although Fabris has made it clear that both spots are up for grabs. That includes the spot thought to be guaranteed to Lomax, who counted 4.5 sacks among his 16 tackles last fall.

Houston may well be the most athletic of the group.

"(Houston) is a demon coming around the end," cornerback Asher Allen said. "I can't wait to see what he can do."

Lomax believes the team's entire collection of defensive ends will be a collective force to contend with.

"We know we're all going to play," he said. "We're all going to be in the rotation. Who starts? To us, it's not a big deal. We just want to do well."

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