ATHENS, Ga. — It was not just another scrimmage for Nick Chubb.
"It was a big deal," Chubb said of the milestone in his comeback from a gruesome knee injury.
Last Saturday was the first time Chubb, Georgia's star tailback, was tackled since the injury. The scrimmage was his first chance for confirmation that the three surgically repaired ligaments and cartilage in his left knee were healed and ready for the rigors of a season.
Chubb said Wednesday there was no soreness in the knee following the important test.
"Not at all," he said. "I feel better, actually. Just the mental part of getting out there."
His comeback may be the biggest key to Georgia's hopes for success under first-year coach Kirby Smart, perhaps even more important than the ongoing quarterback competition. Chubb was the Bulldogs' best player and biggest star, successfully replacing Todd Gurley, before his 2015 season ended on the first play against Tennessee on Oct. 10.
For Chubb, the scrimmage at Sanford Stadium was crucial to his comeback.
"I wanted to feel as if I'm with the team and play live and get taken to the ground, just for myself, just to get back to the feel of actually getting tackled," he said.
Chubb didn't hesitate when asked if he remembered the all-important first tackle.
"It was J-O," he said, referring to outside linebacker Johnny O'Neal. "When it happened, I was making sure my body wasn't bending the other way."
Chubb didn't have to say he was just making sure it wasn't like the play that ended his 2015 season. He was running left when hit low by Tennessee cornerback Emmanuel Moseley. That hit sent both of Chubb's feet off the ground, and when he landed and tried to plant his left leg, he was hit again by linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin. His left leg bent in such an unnatural and disturbing fashion that there was little question the injury would be severe.
The posterior cruciate and two other ligaments were torn. There was cartilage damage, but the anterior cruciate ligament was not torn and there was no nerve damage.
The injury ended Chubb's school-record streak of 13 straight games rushing for at least 100 yards. At the time of the injury, he ranked second in the Southeastern Conference with 745 rushing yards, averaging 8.2 yards per carry. With Chubb, Georgia ranked second in the SEC in rushing. Despite a strong season from backup Sony Michel, the Bulldogs finished sixth in rushing.
Michel is recovering from a broken forearm, leaving his status for start of the season in doubt. He has been wearing a cast on the forearm and was held out of the scrimmage.
Chubb said he scored two touchdowns in the scrimmage.
Smart said Chubb "got tackled and did well with it. It was important to him to get over that psychologically."
Seeing Chubb clear the test was a morale boost for his teammates.
"As you've seen, Nick hasn't missed a beat," senior offensive tackle Greg Pyke said. "He's pretty much better, faster, stronger. That kid is one of the hardest working people in this building."
Chubb stopped short of declaring himself ready for the Sept. 3 opener against North Carolina.
"For me, you just never know until that day comes," he said.
Chubb said he doesn't feel an extra burden to take pressure off the starting quarterback. Freshman Jacob Eason is trying to beat out returning starter Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey.
Smart and his staff made a move this week that reflected confidence in the tailback position. Shaquery Wilson, who moved from wide receiver to tailback in spring practice, is now working at both positions.
Other options at tailback include Brendan Douglas, Tae Crowder and freshmen Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield.
"If I'm not out there, we'll be in good hands," Chubb said.
Chubb said Herrien reminds him of Michel because "he can kind of do it all and wiggle a little bit."
Holyfield, the son of the former boxing champion Evander Holyfield, runs more like Chubb.
"He's a powerful downhill back," Chubb said.
Chubb said wearing a brace to protect the knee is "different" but added, "I feel good when I have it on."
He had more good news for Georgia fans: "Yeah, I still have my speed."