ATHENS -- With each passing practice, it's becoming less likely that Tray Matthews will be able to play a significant role in Georgia's opener against Clemson on Saturday.
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs held a 90-minute, non-contact workout in shorts on Saturday morning, their 23rd practice of the preseason. How much work Matthews was able to get in was not known, but shoulder and hamstring injuries have prevented him from having any contact since the second week of camp, and he sat out all three scrimmages.
Matthews, a 6-foot, 196-pound true freshman from Newnan, exited spring practice as Georgia’s starter at free safety and has remained penciled as No. 1 ever since. But now the Bulldogs aren’t sure how he figures in.
“It’s a setback,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I guess part of it’s going to be determined by when he actually does get back and how many reps he gets prior to the (Clemson) kickoff. That’s just something for Coach Grantham and Coach Lakatos to get some kind of feel on and make a decision. We hope he’s healthy enough to play; we think there will be a good chance of that. But how much practice prior to (the game), I don’t know how much he’s going to get. It’ll be hard to say what his role is going to be.”
Matthews factored in beyond the defense. He was a starter on several special teams units as well. That's likely scrapped.
“If you don’t get reps on specials, especially as a freshman, that’s the biggest thing,” Richt said. “If he was a veteran and we thought he could be 100 percent by Wednesday or Thursday, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. But when you’re just young and you’ve got a lot to learn, it’s hard to get ready without practicing.”
Fellow safeties Corey Moore (knee) and Shaquille Fluker (illness) have remained sidelined as well. But defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said this past week he “isn’t counting anybody out.”
In the meantime, freshman Quincy Mauger is getting a lot of work with the No. 1 defense. The 6-foot, 200-pounder starred at Marietta’s Kell High last year and came to Georgia as a 3-star prospect.
“Quincy’s doing a good job,” Richt said. “Quincy was here as a mid-year enrollee and was here all spring and got an opportunity to learn a lot. He got a semester with our spring and conditioning staff before the summer began then had the whole summer. So he changed his body. He’s stronger. He put some good pounds on. He’s got a pretty good working knowledge. But until you get into a game and experience what that feels like, you just don’t know.”
But there were be few true-test opportunites ahead as the Bulldogs are pulling into the deceleration lane as far as their preparations. They won't actually tackle again until after next Saturday's game against Clemson.
“We’ll try to get everybody healthy, get everybody as fresh as possible and get everybody knowing what to do,” Richt said. “That’s kind of where we’re at.”