Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been limited during offseason drills and should continue to see a restricted workload through the spring as he rehabs an ankle injury.
Head coach Mark Richt announced the updates on Wednesday, per Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald:
Tailback Todd Gurley has not been full-go this offseason due to ankle injury. He's likely to be limited some this spring, Richt said.— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) March 5, 2014
Gurley hurt his ankle against LSU in September, narrowly avoiding what looked like could have been a much more gruesome injury.
He missed the next three games against Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt, returning against Florida, where the ankle relapsed again and forced him off the field during the first half.
But Gurley refused to be deterred, returning to play an important role in the victory over the Gators. He fought through the pain and played in every game the rest of the season, looking like a reasonable facsimile of his normal, healthy self but never quite reaching peak form.
Considering the time spent in street clothes and the constant nagging presence of his ankle, Gurley's final stats turned out well:
|Gurley Stats||SEC Rank (RBs)|
|Yards per Carry ( > 100 carries)||5.99||7|
|Plays of 10+ Yards||47||3|
With regard to Gurley's status this spring, decisions must be made with a delicate risk-reward quotient in mind.
What can he gain from four weeks of rigorous practice in March and April? Other than a better rapport with new starting quarterback Hutson Mason, the answers are fleeting. He's seen enough reps as a freshman and sophomore; he knows what Mike Bobo and Bryan McClendon want from him.
But what does Gurley stand to lose? Well. A lot. He could re-aggravate his injury or re-injure the ankle altogether. He could injure something else. He could be scared to cut as he normally cuts, develop some bad mental habits. The list goes on and on.
With Aaron Murray out of the picture, Gurley is the undisputed keystone of this offense—and, by extension, this team. As he goes next season, so will Georgia. A new quarterback's best friend is not his left tackle or a passer-friendly system. It's the No. 1 running back in college football.
That's what Gurley is, by the way, or at least it's what he is when healthy. B/R's Michael Felder concurred in his CFB 250 from December, having ranked Gurley atop his list of running backs with an overall grade of 91-out-of-100.
Felder's list had Gurley as the No. 17 overall player in the nation last season—again, with full health assumed—which was fourth among players who will return in 2014. By this metric, which is, of course, just one person's (informed) point of view, only defensive end Leonard Williams at USC, quarterback Jameis Winston at Florida State and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at Oregon have proven capable of playing their position better than Gurley.
That makes Gurley one of the most valuable commodities in college football, and valuable commodities must be protected. Especially when said player is already injured, minimizing risk is a reward unto itself.
There's no reason for Richt to over-exert him.
Gurley will still get a few touches in the spring, which is all he needs. With talented backup Keith Marshall out nursing an ACL injury, the door will be open for sophomore Brendan Douglas to continue seeing first-team reps, as he was forced to, at times, during the injury-ravaged season of 2013.
In the fall, Gurley, Marshall and Douglas will be joined by freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb—both of whom were 5-star recruits on the 247Sports composite. Gurley can let his ankle heal and impart some knowledge on Douglas this spring, then show he, Michel and Chubb how it's really done before the regular season.
In turn, he will not only be helping the Bulldogs in 2014—i.e., preserving his body for a season where much is asked of him—but also in the seasons that follow. The years that come after he declares, in all likelihood, for the 2015 NFL draft.
When you think of it like that, Richt's decision was an easy one.
Limiting his reps is a no-brainer.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT