With Chubb and Michel back, Georgia's expectations will soar in 2017
Nobody would have been surprised or angered if juniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel decided to enter the NFL Draft and start their professional careers.
After all, it only takes one injury to potentially ruin a running back’s career. Chubb has already suffered one such injury, making his decision much less black and white, and Michel has shown enough to find a spot in the NFL.
Some might have quietly admitted that the smart decision would have been to cash in while the opportunity presented itself instead of gambling on a higher draft spot. Despite the risk, Chubb and Michel announced Thursday evening that they, along with linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy, will return for a final season between the hedges.
Chubb did not mention his future when discussing his decision, instead, he said he wouldn’t feel right walking away at this time in the face of adversity. His answer was in line with his humble, determined character, something that endeared him to the Bulldog faithful.
“It all came back to the kind of person I am,” he told reporters. “To not just leave because things aren’t going your way, but to fight through your problems and the adversity, and that’s what I feel I did.”
There will be plenty of time to debate whether Chubb and Michel made the right decision, but it is one that immediately makes Georgia significantly better next season, a potential top 10 team and likely preseason favorite to win the SEC East — thanks to the most dangerous backfield trio in the division.
Put the pressure on now. Georgia – with Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Lorenzo Carter, and Davin Bellamy back – preseason top 5? There's no excuse
— Pete Fiutak (@PeteFiutak) December 15, 2016
Their return means the Bulldogs should have nearly all of their weapons back from this season for Year 2 of the Jacob Eason era. That type of continuity isn’t common in this era of college football, but it will be important for a Kirby Smart and his young team.
Not only will Georgia get a pair of running backs who are currently third and 10th on the school’s all-time rushing list, Chubb and Michel, respectively, but it will return two important leaders in the locker room.
At his best, Chubb is one of the nation’s top backs and a legitimate Heisman candidate. He has earned the respect of his teammates and gives the type of effort that would impress any coach. That type of example could have a lasting impact on players like Eason, Brian Herrien, Isaac Nauta and the slew of recruits heading to Athens next year.
“There’s a lot of things we need to fix, and I’m willing to come back and just go at it, and get this team right,” Chubb said on Thursday. “Because the way I would have personally went out was not the way I felt would be best for me, and I felt we should change that.”
Nick Chubb announces he is returning to #UGA next season!
— UGA Football Live (@UGAfootballLive) December 15, 2016
Although he looked like a shell of his former self at times this season, Chubb, and to a lesser extent Michel, has the ability to change that. Throughout the year, it was clear that the knee injury had left Chubb a step slower. He appeared to regain some of that burst near the end of the season, though, and should be 100 percent from the beginning in 2017.
None of that will matter if Georgia can’t fix its offensive line issues, though. The Bulldogs’ struggles in the run game can be attributed in large part to the line. Smart and his staff are intent on adding size up front, but with three seniors departing, there will likely be more issues next season as well.
Instead of putting players like Herrien, Elijah Holyfield and current commit D’andre Swift behind that line, however, Georgia will now have two experienced seniors with the ability to make something out of nothing.
It’s a major boost for the offense, which should be ready to take the next step in Year 2 under Jim Chaney. Now the Bulldogs will be able to do so with two of their top weapons returning.
Their senior season can be looked at as a “contract year” of sorts. When a player has a singular goal to focus on and a reason to push himself, he often performs near his fullest potential. Already two of the hardest workers on the team, Chubb and Michel now have the motivation to take it to the next level.
It’s now or never for the running back duo.
Nobody would have faulted Chubb or Michel for calling it a career and focusing on their future. It just isn’t in their nature to walk away from something they aren’t satisfied with.
They are coming back to Georgia to make a change, and everyone is much better off because of it.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.