ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia receiver Ladd McConkey has a chance to make his season debut on Saturday at Auburn, although if he does, it likely would be in a limited role. And three other key Georgia players — safety Javon Bullard, tailback Kendall Milton and Mykel Williams — are trending better after missing Georgia’s last game. Here’s what you need to know:
- McConkey, the team’s second-leading receiver last season, has missed the first four games with a back injury. The junior has participated in practice the past two days after being shut down the previous two weeks.
- Bullard, one of the top players on defense, has missed two games with an ankle sprain. He participated in Tuesday’s practice on a limited basis.
- Milton, usually a starter when healthy, has missed two games with a sprained knee. He has a chance to play Saturday, but fellow tailback Roderick Robinson (high ankle sprain) is unlikely.
- Williams, the team’s top pass-rusher and a defensive lineman, is expected to return after missing the UAB game with an illness.
More on each player’s status
McConkey apparently has not had any setbacks this week, which is good news because that’s what kept halting his recovery during the past month. He ran routes and caught balls in Monday’s practice, per coach Kirby Smart, then did that and “got in plays” at Tuesday’s practice.
“I saw him some, but I didn’t get to see enough to be able to judge it,” Smart said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’re trying to progress him slowly. Whether it’s this week in a role or the future. We’re not trying to rush him back.”
Milton, the oft-injured senior, practiced Tuesday, but Smart said he wasn’t sure how much Milton had done. Robinson was in the training room, and with freshman Branson Robinson out for the season with a patella tendon injury, the team is down to two scholarship tailbacks. Walk-on Cash Jones and receiver Dillon Bell have been getting carries and touches out of the backfield.
Bullard ran on the side and did some scout-period work on Tuesday but did not do 11-on-11 team drills. His return would be a huge lift to the defense.
Williams has been expected back but has not practiced fully yet this week. He did some exercise during Tuesday’s practice, and Smart categorized Williams as uncertain to play Saturday.
“Those guys are probably going to be really close, right there with Ladd and Kendall,” Smart said. “It could be into the weekend until we know.”
Smart said before last week’s game that Georgia had the longest injury report it has had during his eight-year tenure. Six starters and six second-teamers, by Smart’s definition, were out for the 49-21 win over UAB.
The defense has seemed to miss Bullard’s leadership and playmaking in the secondary, at least in spurts, giving up 14 and 21 points the past two weeks. The first-team defense didn’t give up any touchdowns during the first two weeks.
The offense, meantime, has started to feel its way without McConkey, with quarterback Carson Beck throwing for a season-high 338 yards against UAB. There is depth at receiver, with seven wideouts having at least six catches. And, of course, there’s All-American Brock Bowers at tight end.
But McConkey was one of the most dependable and versatile receivers on the two national championship teams, and his return only can help, especially with the tailback situation still being an issue and the Bulldogs having to lean on Beck and the passing game.
(Photo of Ladd McConkey: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)