ATHENS, Ga. — Todd Gurley darted around the orange cones, cutting from side to side while an assistant coach barked instructions, taking on the agility drill like it was just another day at practice.
It wasn’t, of course.
Gurley — and his 10th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs — are in limbo while the school investigates whether he violated NCAA rules by allegedly receiving improper benefits for signing autographs.
The star running back was suspended last week, less than 48 hours before his team took on Missouri, but the coaching staff has to make sure he gets enough work in practice in case he is cleared to play in Saturday’s game at Arkansas.
“It’s kind of confusing,” offensive guard Greg Pyke said. “But it is nice to have him out there for the camaraderie with the guys.”
The only thing out of the ordinary during the brief time the media got to view Tuesday’s practice was Gurley wearing a green No. 3 jersey, which normally indicates players who are limited because of injuries. In this case, it signified that Gurley would get a few snaps with the first team, but did much of his conditioning on the side.
Freshman Nick Chubb, who rushed a staggering 38 times for 143 yards in a 34-0 rout of Missouri, continues to get the bulk of the work with the starters. As long as Gurley is suspended, Chubb will remain the go-to guy in the Bulldogs’ offense.
“I think our guys really understand that football is a team game,” coach Mark Richt said. “The best chance we have is for everybody to take care of their responsibilities.”
The school has not released details of the investigation, but Richt acknowledged it involves autographs and memorabilia when asked whether he thought college players should be able to benefit financially for signing their names on jerseys, helmets and other gear.
“I’m not going to get into all of that,” he said. “It would obviously be tied into what we’re living through right now. If you had asked me two weeks ago, I’d have probably answered that one.”
Quarterback Hutson Mason said every school is faced with the issue to some degree.
“What are you going to do, take away autographs as a whole?” Mason asked. “People signing stuff goes on everywhere. Obviously, I can’t comment on whether Todd took money. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But people are signing stuff in every college program.”
The Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) don’t have a lot of depth at running back while Gurley is on the sideline. Richt was initially hopeful that Keith Marshall would be able to play after missing the last three games with knee and ankle injuries, but the coach wasn’t as optimistic after watching him practice on Monday.
“He’s getting some work, but my best guess is that he probably won’t be ready by the time we play,” Richt said.
It was hard to tell much of anything Tuesday, when practice was hampered about midway through by a heavy downpour. The Bulldogs stayed on the field, but couldn’t do much more than a walk-through.
Freshman running back Sony Michel, out with a shoulder injury, definitely won’t play against the Razorbacks (3-3, 0-3). The best hope for his return is the Nov. 1 game against Florida.
With Brendan Douglas again looking like the only experienced backup behind Chubb, Georgia moved J.J. Green back to offense. He was the team’s second-leading rusher in 2013, but had been playing defense back this season.
“It’s good that we had a guy with a little bit experience who played running back last year that’s going to be able to fill in for us and help out at that position,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said, adding the move will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. “We’ve still got Keith banged up and Sony banged up. A lot will depend on those two guys.”
And that other guy.
Richt said he’s got no idea if Gurley will be able to play against the Razorbacks.
“I just don’t have any answer for that,” the coach said. “I don’t know. If there’s something worthy of reporting, we’ll report it. But other than that, we’re just focusing on things that we can control right now.”