ATHENS — Joe Cox’s health has been such a popular topic this month that Georgia coach Mark Richt thought Tuesday might be a good time for the quarterback to have some fun with the situation.
“We were going to tell him to wear an eye patch to media day,” a smiling Richt said at his weekly news conference.
Unfortunately for Georgia and Cox, it has not been necessary to invent fictitious health problems for the senior.
A flu virus, including a fever of 100 degrees, forced Cox to take a separate private plane to Georgia’s season-opening 24-10 loss at Oklahoma State on Sept. 5. He says he lost about 10 pounds with the bug. He tested negative for swine flu.
Last week, Georgia revealed that nerve damage in Cox’s right shoulder prevents him from throwing one day each week in practice. There were even rumors he would not start against South Carolina last Saturday.
Cox did start and completed 17 of 24 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in Georgia’s 41-37 win over the Gamecocks.
It’s not exactly the way Cox scripted his long-awaited chance to start for No. 23 Georgia, which plays at Arkansas on Saturday night. His opportunity came when junior Matthew Stafford became the No. 1 overall pick by Detroit in this year’s NFL draft.
The win over South Carolina helped Cox move past the difficult beginning to his senior season. He called last week’s rumors “pretty funny, actually.”
“It’s definitely been interesting to see how crazy it can get just based on what somebody says, but it hasn’t been something that has been a distraction,” he said. “It’s just something that we’ve all laughed about.”
Cox’s only interception last week was returned 35 yards for a touchdown by South Carolina’s Eric Norwood. Cox wore a souvenir from the play — a wrap on the middle finger of his left hand — on Tuesday.
“Just a jammed finger,” he said, adding he hurt the finger by tackling Norwood “6 yards deep in the end zone. I guess this is what I get for throwing a pick.”
A jammed finger on Cox’s non-throwing hand is one thing. A weak rotator cuff muscle in his throwing shoulder is more troubling.
Cox said the shoulder problem was diagnosed in February during offseason workouts.
“We started doing some passing on our own, and I could just tell there was a different type of feeling in my shoulder, just kind of like a sore muscle,” Cox said.
He said it’s only a coincidence that his problems began soon after Stafford announced he would enter the NFL draft.
“No, we were only throwing twice a week,” Cox said. “... We didn’t rush out there and throw extra balls when we found out he was going pro.”
Cox said the shoulder injury will not require surgery and “is definitely not something I think about during a game.”
Arkansas safety Matt Harris said Cox’s experience is what makes him so tough.
“He has been in the system for a while,” Harris said. “He knows the game plan and knows their offense pretty well. So he is going to be educated going into the game.
“He is going to be a threat as a downfield guy and as a smart pocket passer.”
Richt said Cox will continue to be held out of passing drills on Wednesdays to take some strain off the shoulder.
“I think he’s doing good. We are very optimistic about Joe,” Richt said, adding the unusual practice schedule “is just the way it is.”
The schedule gives backup Logan Gray valuable practice time with the first-team offense.
Gray has one carry for 2 yards but no pass attempts in the first two games.
NOTES: Sophomore DE Justin Houston, returning from a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules, is listed as a starter. Houston’s return is well-timed, following senior DE Rod Battle’s season-ending knee injury last week. ... Richt said OT Josh Davis, who missed the first two games following left shoulder surgery in January, has been cleared to play. He started three games last season. ... TB Caleb King, who began preseason drills as the favorite to replace Knowshon Moreno before missing the first two games with a hamstring injury, could play this week.