I'm here in Macon at the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview, graciously hosted by the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Unlike last year there's really not a whole lot of big news coming out, a state of affairs with which I am quite pleased. As a blogger, I need stuff to write about. As a fan, I prefer press events with Coach Richt to go down the way I like visits to my doctor's office and trips through Jamaican customs: uneventful. Most of the areas Coach Richt, Akeem Dent and Kris Durham fielded questions on came as no surprise: Aaron Murray, the new defense, yada yada yada.
One story that deserves some attention however is our thin receiving corps. Assuming he stays healthy, there should be little doubt that A.J. Green will be the leader of the Georgia receivers in 2010. Even after suffering a series of unfortunate injuries throughout 2009, the Summerville, S.C. native still led the team in receptions (53) and receiving yards (808). While he's not on track to unseat any of Georgia's leaders in career receiving yards, the buzz is building around A.J. for 2010, and the notion of an invite to New York for the Heisman presentation is not at all far-fetched.
But with G-Day in the rearview mirror and Aaron Murray installed as the starter at quarterback one of the more pressing questions in Bulldog Nation is this: if A.J.'s clearly #1, who will be our #2?
Admit it, if I held a gun to your head you'd have to think long and hard before answering this question. With a freshman quarterback that's a problem.
Obviously Kris Durham's senior leadership could be a huge boost to the group. As I noted above, Durham is actually here today answering questions about the offense, and talking about starting graduate school, among other things. Incidentally, Kris Durham (unlike some players) will attempt to answer most any question you put to him. The question in 2010 will be whether, coming off a long rehabilitation for a torn labrum in his shoulder, Durham is able to step in seamlessly and fulfill the promise he displayed in 2007 and 2008.
Throughout the offseason various players have talked about Kris's leadership. Look, I like leadership. Leadership is important. But production is just as important, and Kris Durham sadly has not had much of it to this point. He produced 199 receiving yards in 2008, but 74 of them came in the opener against Georgia Southern. 61 of them on a touchdown reception in the opening moments of the second quarter. That's not the point at which you want your season to peak. Kris told the assembled beat writers and bloggers today that his torn labrum is 100% healed, and that he's ready to go. We'll find out soon enough.
Another guy to keep an eye on may be Rantavious Wooten. I think he'll play a lot in the slot. He may even get some work out of the backfield. And it seemed last season that "WTBC" just had a knack for making plays when the ball was thrown his way, averaging 19.7 yards per catch. With another year in the offense I like his chances to do some special things.
Tavarres King is obviously an important part of the picture as well. Up to this point Tavarres King reminds me of Sean Bailey. He's even built like Sean Bailey. He's a deep threat with great speed, but like Bailey, his performance has been inconsistant. Nearly 1/3 of King's 377 receiving yards last season came in a 3 catch, 109 yard effort against Kentucky. For the remainder of the season he had 15 catches for 268 yards, or 1.25 catches and 22.3 yards per game. That's pretty underwhelming when you get right down to it. Durham told me today that Tavarres has really worked this offseason to bulk up and play more physical football. He reported that T.K. is "ripped" and stepped on the scales the other day at 192 pounds, 10 pounds above his playing weight last season. If the added weight allows Tavarres to take a pounding and stay healthy, that alone should raise his profile in the receiving corps.
Then there are perhaps the two darkhorse candidates, Israel Troupe and Marlon Brown. The coaches raved about Brown during spring practice. He clearly has the physical tools, but it's a long way from Harding Academy to the SEC. Brown played as a freshman, but made almost no impact with the ball in his hands. I don't know that it can ever be a surprise when a guy ranked in the top 3 nationally at his position coming out of high school contributes in his second collegiate season. But if Marlon has a breakthrough season it will not have been obvious that it was coming.
The same could be said for Troupe. "Izzy's" lone highlight of the 2009 campaign came on the electrifying 50 yard touchdown reception he hauled in right after A.J. Green went down in the Auburn game. It was the kind of play that implies that the guy has the tools. However lots of guys playing in the SEC have the tools to be successful. That's why they're playing at Georgia or Auburn or Florida or some other school where they take football very, very seriously. But putting those tools together on a consistent basis is a lot tougher, and Troupe simply hasn't done that. I can count at least two occasions when I had to remind people who I consider very informed Bulldog fans that he was still on the team in 2009. As a redshirt junior, the time has come for Israel to make enough of an impact for people to at least remember he's around.
If you want a real wildcard in the discussion, how about Branden Smith? Coach Richt said today that he will certainly get some snaps on offense again this season. However his duties relearning the cornerback position under Scott Lakatos will probably preclude any sustained exposure on offense. Also, Coach Richt indicated that the coaches would closely watch Branden's snaps during those early season, noonish starts against Louisiana-Lafayette, South Carolina and Arkansas to avoid fatiguing him in the heat. But Smith's big play potential is so obvious that he just has to get some snaps on that side of the ball. It just isn't likely to be enough to make him a viable second option on a game-to-game basis.
Sure, Georgia has a collection of tight ends that may be the best in the country. And Coach Richt has made clear that those guys will be put to good use. But for Georgia's pro-style offense to go we need consistent threats on the outside. A.J. Green is a threat when he's healthy. But let's face it, he's also a threat not to be healthy at any given time. That only adds urgency to the search for #2.