Many call the SEC a “football factory.” It wouldn’t be wrong, but I’ve always objected to the metaphor. First, these aren’t machines playing the game. They’re men, boys really, but far from machines and far from unbreakable. They’re certainly not purely replaceable. Lose a top runner for a time and the season can change quickly — right Les? Lose a quarterback for a season and a team goes from contender to also-ran overnight. Recruit all the depth you want, but a couple injuries stacked up at the same position put a team in a bad position. Injuries matter a lot in SEC football and the teams that do it well have a distinct advantage. We’ll see who can use that and who can overcome their situation this weekend.
Leonard Fournette, RB LSU
There was talk after last season that Leonard Fournette should just sit out the season rather than risk injury and a big NFL paycheck. That was never going to happen and while Fournette’s lingering ankle injury has caused him and the Tigers issues, it’s not really hurting his draft status. With the dismissal of Les Miles and Cam Cameron, we’ll have to see how the new staff uses Fournette (and protects him.) Fournette hasn’t practiced as he continues to try to recover from the recurrent sprain and is a game time decision against Missouri. Right now, I would say that he won’t play and if he does, he’ll be very limited, both in terms of ability and in terms of a play count.
Damien Harris, RB Alabama
The ankle sprain looked pretty bad for Damien Harris last week, but looks can be deceiving. Its one reason why I try to limit my speculation about injuries at the time, no matter how many people on Twitter want instant answers. Harris has responded very well to treatment and while he’ll be a game time decision, he’s trending positively. The Tide medical staff has been at the forefront of using cryotherapy and sources tell me that has really helped Harris in its various forms. He won’t be 100 percent and with Bo Scarbrough dealing with a bruised quad, Nick Saban might go a bit farther down the depth chart when distributing carries this week. Having a healthy Harris would be a big plus not just against Kentucky, but in the next three games against ranked conference opponents.
Wide Receivers, Alabama
Alabama will need it’s running game because right now, there’s almost no one in the wide receiver group who’s 100 percent healthy. Calvin Ridley and his 4.3 speed had some sort of lower leg issue last week, perhaps a mild calf strain, that the medical staff was seen checking. He’s expected to play normally, but a speed receiver with any sort of leg issue is risky.
Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart are both back at practice, but will be game time decisions and are likely to lose some targets in this first game back, if they play. Even Raheem Falkins is banged up. With so many with limitations, the Tide are likely to use rotations and situational matchups to try and get through this Kentucky game without any more issues. Heading into three ranked conference opponents in the next three weeks, sometimes teams just want to get through.
Luke Del Rio, Florida
Luke Del Rio is back at practice, but he’s not going to play this week. The team and the medical staff are looking forward and smartly using this practice time to get Del Rio comfortable with a brace after his knee injury. Players that don’t regularly use braces need some time to get the feel for them, then to get the confidence in both the brace and their injured body part. By doing that now, even with Del Rio limited, they’ll have less to do as he gets closer. It could even accelerate his return, which would really help the Gators as they move through the ups and downs of their schedule.
Alex Ross, RB Mizzou
The schedule helped the Tigers get Alex Ross back. After spraining his ankle in Week 2, he sat out against Georgia and Delaware State to help him heal up and give the medical staff a long runway to work with in terms of treatment and rehab. Ross isn’t reliant on hard cuts. He can be a power back in this offense, which should allow him to be productive right away. The experienced grad transfer could determine just how far this Mizzou team goes this season, so getting him and keeping him healthy is a big deal.