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PEACH STATE PIGSKIN PREVIEW: Bulldogs putting injury-riddled 2013 season in the past

Georgia returns 16 starters from 8-5 team in 2013

Georgia football coach Mark Richt fields questions from reporters during Tuesday’s Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Richt and the Bulldogs are coming off a 2013 season that was derailed by several devastating injuries. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

Georgia football coach Mark Richt fields questions from reporters during Tuesday’s Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Richt and the Bulldogs are coming off a 2013 season that was derailed by several devastating injuries. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

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Justin Scott-Wesley

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Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason is interviewed Tuesday at the Peach State Pigskin Preview at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon. Mason started the final two games of last season after star QB Aaron Murray tore his ACL. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)

MACON — Georgia inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera gets asked the same questions on a consistent basis.

“Are the Bulldogs going to rebound from all the injuries they suffered in 2013?”

“Are those injured players going to return 100 percent this year?”

Herrera tires of answering the same things.

“Injuries, we can talk about them because they happened,” Herrera said at the 13th annual Peach State Pigskin Preview Tuesday at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

“Injuries played a big role in our season.”

Key injuries, especially on offense, sent the Bulldogs tumbling from preseason Southeastern Conference Eastern Division favorites to a team scrambling to earn a New Year’s Day bowl bid. First there was the season-ending injury to Malcolm Mitchell in the first quarter of the season opener at Clemson.

There were injuries to split ends Michael Bennett and former Mitchell County standout Justin Scott-Wesley, a Herald Player of the Year in track & field. Then tailback Keith Marshall was lost for the season in a victory over Tennessee.

Tailback Todd Gurley missed some time.

Then star quarterback Aaron Murray was lost for the season when he suffered a torn ACL in the Kentucky game late in the year.

Herrera said he’d like to have seen what the Bulldogs could have done without the injuries. But he is excited for the upcoming year and getting most of those injured players back. Georgia opens the season on August 30 when it plays host to Clemson.

“You get tired of hearing about the injuries (last year),” he said. “At first, you want to say that wasn’t the reason, but it definitely played a big reason in how our season turned out last year.”

Most of Georgia’s standouts are ready. And they are expected to pick up from where they left off before injuries hit.

That includes Scott-Wesley, whose rehab has been a little slower than expected. The Camilla native suffered a torn ACL in the third quarter at Tennessee in early October and missed the rest of the season.

“He’s healing up from his ACL,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I’m not a doctor. I’m not an athletic trainer, but I don’t know if he’s quite as far along as some of the other guys. I think he’s getting there, but just from my observation, he seems to be on a little-bit slower pace. But we do expect him to play this season.”

Senior Hutson Mason, who started the Bulldogs’ last two games in 2013 at quarterback, said he’s anxious for the return of Scott-Wesley, who had 16 catches for 311 yards and two touchdowns — including the game-winning 25-yard TD catch with 1:47 left vs. No. 6 LSU — last season before the injury. With Scott-Wesley’s speed, Mason said the junior split end becomes an easy target.

“Justin was a top-notch sprinter in high school, and he has that speed and really has the greatest work ethic out of all the receivers,” Mason said. “His film preparation is great. He’s just a hard-worker, and it’s really unfortunate what happened to his knee. He’s coming around but still not 100 percent. You just want to see him get healthy.”

As for staying healthy, Herrera and Mason hope this season doesn’t resemble the last one, at least as far as injuries are concerned. With 16 starters returning, including six on offense, Georgia hopes to make a run at the conference championship.

And many of those standouts like Mitchell, Scott-Wesley and Marshall, who were lost for the season last year, give the Bulldogs added depth.

“What happened last year is over,” Mason said. “We kind of feel like that injury-bug that hit us is kind of out of the way now and won’t happen again. We’re excited because we know we have a lot of talent coming back. We’re seeing how Keith (Marshall) and Malcolm (Mitchell) are going through the rehab process and they’re expected to be 100 percent, so just from my point of view, that’s what excites me most is getting those guys back.”