This is the second in a series of snapshots of the players and positions to watch as the Georgia Bulldogs begin spring practice on March 2nd. Last week we took a look at the defensive linemen. Today we consider another position at which the 'Dawgs sustained significant losses: wide receiver.
In fact, statistically, there may be no other position at which the losses were more severe. Georgia will begin spring ball without three of the team's four leading receivers from 2012: Tavarres King (42 receptions, 950 yards, 9 TDs), Rantavious Wooten (30 catches, 374 yards, and 4 scores), and Marlon Brown (27 catches for 469 yards, and 4 TDs).
As if that weren't enough, Coach Tony Ball will also be trying to bring Michael Bennett back from a season-ending ACL tear, fighting for a share of Malcolm Mitchell's time on the field, and guiding a series of unproven charges toward steady contributor status. All of that starts in a couple of weeks.
Admittedly, he does have some material to work with. If Mitchell concentrates his time at receiver rather than corner he immediately becomes one of the top receiving threats in the SEC, a potent downfield threat to build around. Bennett will likely not be full speed when spring practice begins, and it will be interesting to see who steps into his shoes. Redshirt sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley is a phenomenal athlete who snagged 6 catches for 135 yards, largely in cleanup duty, during 2012. Coaches raved about his progress in practice, and it was clear when he got the ball that he has game breaking ability. But the young man from Camilla also dropped some balls, a troubling problem. Unless they've changed the rules without me noticing, you can't pick up yards without the ball in your hands.
Former walk on Rhett McGowan (12 catches, 150 yards) also stepped into the rotation in 2012, providing some clutch catches and a solid contribution in the flowing hair department. I wouldn't expect McGowan to snag a starting spot in 2013, especially if Bennett returns healthy. And as a rising senior it's probably unlikely that he'll make a huge move during spring practice. But it will be interesting to see where McGowan slots in.
The only other returning receiver on the red and black roster will be junior Chris Conley. Conley of course caught the one pass of the 2012 season which we all wish had been dropped. That was unfortunate for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that it lead to some maligning of a young man who has put up solid numbers in each of his first two seasons in the Classic City. Conley tallied 20 catches for 342 yards in 2012, and established himself not only as a blazing downfield threat, but also as a good route runner with solid hands. While Conley was a little light as a freshman, he looked a lot more developed as a sophomore and as a result showed an ability to make tough catches over the middle in the absence of Michael Bennett (who really made a name for himself by doing just that). I don't know if it's possible for a guy who's contributed on Conley's level to have a "breakout" spring. But if it is, I wouldn't be at all surprised for him to have one.
To make up for the scant depth outlined above, the Bulldogs signed a minimum of 5 receivers in the class of 2013. Unfortunately, only 3 of those are on campus this spring, only 2 are healthy, and only 1 is guaranteed to see time at receiver this spring. Goose Creek, SC standout Tramel Terry was easily the highest rated receiver in this class, and enrolled in Athens in January, but suffered a serious knee injury during the first play of the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, and will miss spring ball. He may be able to contribute this fall, but it's far too early to say that with any certainty. Camden County star J.J. Green is also on campus, and might see time at receiver if necessary. More likely, Green will play cornerback. And, if he's pressed into service on offense, it's more likely to be at tailback, where the 'Dawgs are perilously thin behind Gurshall.
That brings us to JUCO transfer Jonathan Rumph. The 6'5, 215 pound South Carolina native has height that could make him a red zone threat early. However, he still has some work to do on his route running, and will need to put on weight to play against physical SEC corners. Strange as it may sound, Rumph is a pretty skinny 215 pounds, not unlike Marlon Brown before him. But being on campus in March may be what's required to get Rumph into the receiver rotation from day one. While there'll be more competition arriving this summer in the person of fellow signees Reggie Davis, Uriah LeMay and Rico Johnson, and some of those freshmen will inevitably have to play in 2013, I think Rumph has an early edge simply by being on campus to learn the playbook and participate in voluntary pass skeleton now.
Who do you think will step up in the depleted Bulldog receiving corps? Until later . . .