Kirby Smart: Nick Chubb 'won't be on a pitch count' in opener

Nick Chubb is back.

And after a summer of caution from new Georgia coach Kirby Smart in assessing his star running back's readiness to return from the knee injury that ended his 2015 season, even Smart acknowledged Monday that the junior's recovery is complete enough for unbridled participation in Saturday's season-opening game against North Carolina in Atlanta.

"We feel good about Nick," Smart said, per the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "He won't be on a pitch count by any means. ... He's been cleared. It's a situation where he's scrimmaged, and done live things, and been hit."

Chubb (5-foot-10, 230 pounds) is one of the nation's most talented rushers, having compiled 2,294 yards in just 14 career starts over the last two seasons. Against rival Tennessee last year, he tore ligaments in his left knee on the first play from scrimmage against the Volunteers.

A panel of NFL Media analysts ranked Chubb the No. 8 player in college football going into last season. Despite the injury, analyst Lance Zierlein named him the No. 10 back in the country to watch this fall. Chubb could be available in next year's NFL draft if he chooses to apply for early eligibility after the season.

He'll get a tough non-conference test in his first game back against the Tar Heels, who reached the ACC title game last year.

Chubb is a power rusher, preferring to run through tackles more than making defenders miss. That style means less cutting and change-of-direction stress on his rehabilitated knee. If his mental readiness to return to the field matches the physical readiness Smart described Monday, the Tar Heels defense could find Chubb as effective as ever.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter *@ChaseGoodbread*.

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