We saw some great matchups in the SEC this past week, including big games from big players. There’s little doubt that the SEC has the best talent and the expectations are high. Les Miles loses a game and he’s gone, though it’s clearly not that simple. It’s that tense behind the scenes, though fans in the stands and parking lots seldom think about the work that the medical staffs are doing. Prevention, minimization, and rehabilitation all contribute to the talent that is on the field and what they can do. Depth can overcome losses, but ask Florida if it missed its QB or if Georgia is a better team with or without Nick Chubb? Next time you’re tailgating, raise a glass to the athletic trainers and doctors. Even if you arrive early, they’ve probably already been in the training room for hours. Let’s look around SEC country at the injuries:
RB Damien Harris, Alabama
Alabama has been good for better than a decade in no small part because of Nick Saban and recruiting. However, one thing that also has helped for even longer than Saban’s tenure is the team’s health. Year after year, the medical staff — led by Dr. James Andrews — has kept the players healthier than their opponents. Even the small injuries that inevitably happen are minimized. It’s no small secret that a lot of Alabama players break down once they get to the NFL, and many think it’s because they don’t have the same level of day-to-day care.
Harris is an example. He’s a bit lucky. As his leg buckled, his ankle took the brunt of the force, resulting in a sprain. However, it was protected by a brace, which lessened the impact and the damage. Harris has a mid-grade ankle sprain, so there’s a chance he misses the Kentucky game. Alabama has depth, so it could elect to rest him and be safe. Quick note — both ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster have a chance to be back for this week as well.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
Chubb heals well, we know that much. His return from knee surgery, which involved multiple ligaments and associated damage, has been nothing short of perfect. Unfortunately, we’re going to get another chance to see how well he heals. Chubb has a sprained ankle, and the Bulldogs are hopeful he can play Saturday vs. Tennessee. Initial tests show no ruptures, but it’s going to be that famous healing and his response to treatment that determines how long he’ll miss.
At the very least, Chubb is going to be limited vs. the Vols. There’s depth, with Sony Michel healed and Elijah Holyfield behind him, but Chubb is a class above right now. Chubb might be able to go, but the Vols will know that he won’t have his typical hard cuts or stops. Chubb can succeed as a power back, but it’s not his strength, so we’ll have to see how offensive coordinator Jim Chaney adjusts his play-calling to minimize any limitations.
QB Luke Del Rio, Florida
A loss like Florida suffered only confuses the situation around Del Rio. The first half showed they could get by without him, but the second? The thing to note here is that nothing about Del Rio and his MCL sprain changed. What changed is the context around it. The temptation is to rush Del Rio back as soon as he’s able, ahead of the mythical “100 percent.” Austin Appleby was hardly bad, throwing for nearly 300 yards, but there’s a clear sense that Del Rio could have been a difference-maker.
Del Rio’s return now becomes a question of function. Can he play with limitations on his mobility? Can he play without a stable base for passing? Is he going to be able to step up or scramble if necessary? The Gators have a great medical staff, so they won’t put Del Rio in a bad situation, while doing everything they can to minimize his missed time and limitations when he returns. The schedule helps, with Vanderbilt this week followed by a disorganized-but-talented LSU and Missouri.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
LSU’s loss to Auburn was a tough one, and with Les Miles out the door, some Tigers fans are wondering how that will affect Fournette. Right now, there’s little doubt Fournette is one of the top talents in all of college football. Miles hasn’t been the problem for Fournette. Instead, it’s been his ankle, which he initially injured in a preseason scrimmage. Fournette came off the field limping again against Auburn, so that ankle just hasn’t gotten better.
Would a week off help? Maybe, but Fournette already missed one game and it’s clear that he’s exacerbated it at the very least. One NFL scout suggested to me that teams are a bit worried. “They should sell tickets to his medical exam at the Combine,” he told me. He explained that teams still think Fournette is the top back, but that if the ankle is problematic or chronic, Fournette’s not so far above Dalvin Cook, Nick Chubb and Christian McCaffrey that a bad exam couldn’t knock him down. I don’t foresee a Myles Jack-type of fall, but Ed Orgeron and the Tigers medical staff is going to have some work and decisions ahead of them.