Georgia Bulldogs: Blake Tibbs

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia, which is trying to bounce back from last season’s disappointing 8-5 finish, is finishing up its second week of spring practice.

It’s the Bulldogs’ first spring under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who directed Florida State’s defense during the Seminoles’ national championship run last season. Pruitt replaces Todd Grantham, who left UGA for Louisville after a couple of underperforming seasons with the Bulldogs.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Floyd
Jeffrey Vest/Icon SMIOutside linebacker Leonard Floyd, who started eight games as a freshman, has been a "beast" during spring practices.
Here are a few early observations from Georgia’s spring:

• Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, a sophomore from Eastman, Ga., added more than 20 pounds during the offseason and now weighs about 248. Floyd started eight games as a freshman in 2013 and finished with 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 6.5 sacks. Pruitt will be looking for even more production from Floyd this coming season, and one UGA assistant called him the “best player on the team -- period.”

“He’s always making plays and setting the tone,” linebacker Ramik Wilson said. “He stands out every play. He’s just a beast right now.”

• After running for 1,385 yards with 17 touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, tailback Todd Gurley was limited by a high ankle sprain during his sophomore campaign and finished with 989 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013.

The Bulldogs weren’t sure how much Gurley would be able to do during spring practice because of the lingering ankle injury, but he has participated in almost every aspect of practice so far. He’s also expected to play a lot in Saturday’s full-contact scrimmage, the first of the spring.

“He’s been practicing every day in full-contract drills,” Wilson said. “He’s getting us better as a defense. He’s the best running back in the country. He’s not taking any plays off.”

• One of the early surprises of the spring has been sophomore flanker Blake Tibbs, who played in only two games last season. Tibbs, from Martin Luther King Jr. High in Lithonia, Ga., was one of UGA’s best performers during the offseason “mat drills” conditioning program. He also has looked good in practice so far, according to UGA coaches and players.

“He’s doing really well,” Wilson said. “It looks like he’s added about 10 pounds and is blocking more physically. He’s trying to show the coaches that he can contribute. If he keeps doing the things he’s doing, he’ll get on the field.”

• UGA’s coaches are hoping left tackle John Theus has finally turned the corner after a couple of so-so seasons. Theus, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., started 22 games the past two seasons, including 14 as a freshman in 2012. He has moved from right tackle to left tackle this spring and will protect quarterback Hutson Mason's blind side.

Theus was bothered by a wrist injury the past two years but has been healthy during the offseason and excelled in the conditioning program, according to UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

With Theus moving to left tackle, senior Mark Beard, who briefly left the team during the offseason, is lining up at left guard. Senior David Andrews is back at center, with sophomore Brandon Kublanow at right guard and senior Kolton Houston at right tackle on the No. 1 unit.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's win on Nov. 9 against Appalachian State wasn't just one of the last times we'll see this senior-laden version of the Bulldogs offense, it also served as a sneak preview of what lies ahead.

Following Saturday's date with Kentucky -- the final game at Sanford Stadium this season -- the Bulldogs will look entirely different on offense the next time they take the field before a home crowd. And many of the players who will take over for the likes of Aaron Murray and his fellow seniors next fall also filled their spots in the fourth quarter of Georgia's 45-6 win over the Mountaineers two weekends ago.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNBackup quarterback Hutson Mason is the frontrunner to start for the Bulldogs in 2014.
“I think the thing you can't get in practice is just that 95,000 [fans] with the atmosphere,” said junior Hutson Mason, Georgia's presumptive starting quarterback next season, who went 11-for-16 for 160 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State. “Really you can get everything [else] in practice. Our coaches, they believe in putting a lot of pressure on you so when it comes to the game, you're used to that feeling. But it's definitely a different atmosphere, different jitters.”

Assuming he wins the quarterback job, Mason will be in a convenient position next season. Georgia loses seven seniors -- Murray, tight end Arthur Lynch, receivers Rantavious Wooten and Rhett McGowan and offensive linemen Chris Burnette, Kenarious Gates and Dallas Lee -- who started on offense against Auburn. And yet the returning skill-position talent surrounding the Bulldogs' next quarterback will be as impressive as that of nearly any offense in the country.

Not only will tailback Todd Gurley return for his junior season, the Bulldogs expect to get receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailback Keith Marshall back from season-ending knee injuries that crippled the offense at points this fall. That's in addition to other returning weapons like receivers Chris Conley, Michael Bennett and Jonathon Rumph, tight end Jay Rome and tailbacks J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas and 2014 commitments Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, both of whom rank among ESPN's top eight prospects at running back.

Not a bad situation for a first-time starting quarterback who must replace the most distinguished passer in SEC history.

“We've got a lot of weapons,” redshirt freshman receiver Blake Tibbs said. “And Hutson, he don't care who's open. If they put a dog in a helmet and some equipment out there, if he was open, Hutson would throw it to him. That's one thing about Hutson: He don't care. If you're open, he's going to trust you to make the play and he's going to keep throwing to you.”

Mason certainly proved that in his lone opportunity for significant playing time this season. He hit his first eight pass attempts, connecting with the likes of Rumph, Green, freshman Reggie Davis and walk-on Kenneth Towns on his first drive. Then came further completions to Tibbs, Michael Erdman, Douglas and Rumph again before his first incomplete pass.

The common bond there? Those are mostly the players with whom Mason has regularly worked on the Bulldogs' second-team offense, so chemistry was not an issue when they hit the field.

“That group's kind of been playing together -- besides Rumph -- for a long time and a lot of when our twos go against the ones, they always seem to do well and I think there's a chemistry between those guys kind of like Aaron and Bennett and other guys,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.

There's a long time between now and the reserves' time to shine. Heck, there are three games remaining this season.

That means there is plenty of time for the stars in waiting to continue to develop before the Bulldogs open the 2014 season against Clemson on Aug. 30 -- which is exactly the mentality Rumph says he's developing.

“That's what young players have got to understand,” said Rumph, who has six catches in the last three games after missing the first half of the season with a hamstring ailment. “This is your job, so every time you go to school or go to practice, you've got to work to get better. That's all I'm trying to do is keep adding stuff to my game. I've got the feel for the game, I know what I'm capable of. I'm just trying to keep adding stuff to my game.”

Mason echoed those thoughts, pointing out that while even coach Mark Richt has declared Mason as the frontrunner to win the job next season, he still must make good use of this opportunity and not just assume the job is his from the get-go.

He has the opportunity to work with what could be an extremely productive offense next season -- if he stakes a claim on the job.

“I'm not going to be na´ve. I hear about that stuff and I read some of it and stuff like that. I've always been the first to say that I believe they're just being nice,” Mason said. “I believe that I've done a good job of performing when my opportunity comes, but I've never stepped on the field in front of 90,000 and like I was saying earlier, that's different from playing in practice.

“So I enjoy the comments and I enjoy the people that have faith in me, but really myself, I just take it day-by-day and say, 'You know what, what have I proven?' because in reality I haven't proven a lot. So when that opportunity comes, hopefully I'll show up.”

Five things: Georgia-Missouri

October, 12, 2013
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No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0 SEC) is on upset alert with No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0) bringing its red-hot offense to Athens today at noon after last week's big road win at Vanderbilt. Let's take a look at some key factors in today's game with some help from ESPN's Stats and Information group.

Another marquee QB battle: This is getting to be old hat for Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. For the third time in six games, Murray leads his team against a quarterback who ranks in the top 30 in ESPN's Total QBR. Today it's Missouri's James Franklin, who enters with a 78.7 score, good for 24th nationally. Murray -- who is third nationally with a 95.6 Total QBR -- outgunned LSU's Zach Mettenberger, whose 92.3 score is fifth nationally, and lost to Clemson's Tajh Boyd, who is 27th at 77.8.

Throwing long: In last week's overtime win at Tennessee, Murray ended a streak of seven straight games in which he had completed at least half of his throws of 15 or more yards. He completed just 28.6 percent on throws of 15-plus last week and averaged 5.3 yards per attempt after completing 63.3 percent, averaging 20.7 yards per attempt and notching five touchdowns and no interceptions on such throws in the first four games. With three standout receivers at his disposal, Franklin has greatly improved in that department this season. He has raised his completion percentage on throws of 15-plus from 33 percent last year -- and he was just 1-for-6 against Georgia last season -- to 51 this year. He's averaging 15 yards per completion on such throws and has six touchdowns and six interceptions. He averaged 9.8 yards per attempt on throws of 15-plus last year and tossed four touchdowns and four interceptions.

Third-down conversions: A strength for Missouri's offense matches up well against a glaring weakness for Georgia's defense. The Tigers are converting 53.8 percent of their third-down opportunities for first downs or scores. That figure ranks third in the SEC and ninth nationally. Georgia, meanwhile, has struggled closing out defensive series, even in third-and-long situations. The Bulldogs are allowing opponents to convert 44 percent of their third downs. That ranks last in the SEC and 99th nationally.

Shutting down the run: Both teams defended the run well when these clubs met a season ago. Missouri has to like its chances today, particularly if All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley remains sidelined with an ankle injury. Replacing Gurley and injured backfield mate Keith Marshall would be freshmen J.J. Green -- who ran for 129 yards last week at Tennessee -- Brendan Douglas and possibly A.J. Turman, who has not played yet this season. Meanwhile, Missouri brings the SEC's top rushing attack into today's game. With Franklin (55.6 ypg) and running backs Russell Hansbrough (75.8), Henry Josey (61.4) and Marcus Murphy (58.6) sharing the load, the Tigers are averaging 258.8 rushing yards per game. Nearly the only thing Georgia's defense has done somewhat effectively is defend the run. The Bulldogs are allowing 139.2 rushing yards per game -- sixth in the SEC -- and 3.8 yards per carry. Missouri is third against the run at 118.6 ypg allowed.

Wideout replacements: In addition to Marshall and possibly Gurley, the Bulldogs also will be without three of their top receivers today: Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett. That places a bigger burden on leading receiver Chris Conley (20 catches, 318 yards) and a team of role players like senior Rantavious Wooten, who had only two catches this season before hauling in six passes, two for touchdowns, last week against Tennessee. The Bulldogs also have Rhett McGowan (6-58), Reggie Davis (4-167) and tight ends Arthur Lynch (11-169) and Jay Rome (3-43) among pass-catchers who have played this season. Coach Mark Richt said during the week that redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs and walk-ons Kenny Townes and Michael Erdman might also be names to watch. None of them have caught a pass yet in college.

Adapting nothing new for Murray, Dawgs

October, 11, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Say this much for Aaron Murray, he has had to learn how to adapt to personnel changes on the fly throughout his college career.

Since taking over as Georgia's quarterback in 2010, there has been a seemingly endless parade of skill players in and out of the Bulldogs' offensive lineup -- from A.J. Green's four-game absence to open Murray's freshman season, to regular tailback shuffling in 2011, to debilitating injuries at receiver last season, to considerable upheaval over the last two weeks of this season.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Randy Sartin/USA TODAY SportsAaron Murray and Georgia have adapted to lineup changes in the past and they'll have to do it again if the No. 7 Dawgs hope to beat No. 25 Missouri.
“He's used to it, then,” Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo deadpanned.

And he needs to be.

In Saturday's noon ET game against No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC) Murray must deal with his biggest personnel challenge to date. With Georgia already without Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his ACL in the opener against Clemson, the Bulldogs lost two more key wideouts, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett, last week against Tennessee. Tailback Keith Marshall also went down with a season-ending knee injury last Saturday, joining fellow star tailback Todd Gurley on the sidelines as the Bulldogs' high-scoring offense started to sputter without so many key pieces.

“I would say it affected not only the offense, but the team,” fullback Quayvon Hicks said. “It was players that are not only playmakers on the field, but great teammates. Losing them and knowing that they're not going to be out there, it's something that you've got to just suck it up and keep going.”

Murray and No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0) barely salvaged the game, forcing overtime with a last-minute touchdown and winning 34-31 with a field goal in the extra session. The lone constant in Georgia's lineup over the last three-plus seasons, Murray's experience adjusting to the personnel around him might have been the difference in the outcome.

“You never really can truly practice everything that might happen in a game,” Bobo said. “So I think it's been a lot of experience for Aaron, obviously, to have to go through that and the game plan altered in the middle of a game. And then obviously myself with calling plays. You've just got to adjust. That's football, and I think any time you've got experience to draw back from instead of maybe something that you practiced, it's always beneficial.”

Injuries will force the Bulldogs to do some major adjusting over at least the next couple of weeks. Georgia coach Mark Richt said Gurley remains doubtful to play against Missouri and Bennett is probably out until at least the Nov. 2 game against Florida.

That leaves Bulldogs with little to no experience suddenly in the mix for playing time. Richt has mentioned walk-ons Kenny Towns and Michael Erdman as possible fill-ins at receiver, along with redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs, who has yet to appear in a game.

The running game could once again be in the hands of a group of true freshmen if Gurley is unable to go. It might even mean that A.J. Turman -- a clear redshirt candidate before Marshall's injury made that outcome less of a certainty -- joins fellow freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas in the backfield.

“[Turman] seems to be excited about getting reps with the ones or twos or whatever reps that he's getting right now,” Richt said. “He doesn't look like a guy who's bummed out about an opportunity, a possible opportunity. He seems to be a guy who's kind of anxious for it, so that helps.”

Georgia's running game could be a key factor in Saturday's game. The Bulldogs' still-developing defense will have its hands full with a Missouri offense that is one of only five in the country averaging at least 255 yards on the ground and 285 through the air. The UGA backs' ability to extend drives and keep the defense on the sideline will almost certainly be of major importance, and last year's game against the Tigers was not especially encouraging in that department.

Missouri actually outgained Georgia 371 yards to 355 last year and limited the Bulldogs' running game to just 113 yards -- 44 of which came on a single Gurley run. Georgia needs a more productive performance from Green, Douglas and the other backs if Gurley isn't there to power the Bulldogs' running game.

Otherwise, Georgia will lean more heavily on the injury-depleted receiving corps led by Chris Conley -- who would have redshirted in 2011 if not for injuries that led to his debut in the fourth game of that season.

In other words, Murray is far from the only offensive player on the roster who had to adapt on the fly because of personnel changes.

“It's definitely caused us to be mature,” Conley said. “And for guys to learn how to play in that situation, it's something that you're not comfortable doing naturally. Over the last couple of years, we've had multiple guys who had to become comfortable doing that -- stepping up, learning things on the fly, going in on a Saturday like they've been doing it all along.”

Georgia needs that trend to continue Saturday with some of the new faces in the lineup and old faces who will attempt new things. If they can handle this adjustment as capably as they have the others over the last couple of seasons, the Bulldogs still might be able to ride out their recent rash of debilitating injuries.

What to watch from regrouping offense

October, 8, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt delivered the bad news on Sunday when he confirmed that tailback Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley would join wideout Malcolm Mitchell on the season-ending injury list.

With receiver Michael Bennett (knee) out and All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley (ankle) questionable for Saturday's game against No. 25 Missouri (5-0, 1-0 SEC), No. 7 Georgia (4-1, 3-0) has little time to identify the personnel who must play larger roles in order to hang with a Tigers offense that ranks among the nation's most productive units.

Here are four groups/trends to watch as the Bulldogs move forward:

Freshman tailbacks: With Georgia's two star backs both possibly out Saturday, it's certainly possible we will see another heavy dose of true freshmen J.J. Green -- who rushed for 129 yards last Saturday against Tennessee -- and Brendan Douglas at tailback.

[+] EnlargeBrendan Douglas
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsBrendan Douglas and fellow freshman J.J. Green likely will be asked to shoulder more of the load.
That isn't necessarily a scary proposition for the Bulldogs, who have seen the young duo perform well in practice and in spot duty up until last Saturday's overtime win.

“We see those guys in practice, and they do a great job of breaking tackles or shaking guys or breaking loose for touchdowns against a great defense,” offensive guard Chris Burnette said. “Seeing them do that in practice, we know they're capable of doing that in a game.”

The larger question is what happens if Gurley is unable to play Saturday. If one of the top running backs in the nation remains unable to go as the week progresses -- and he once again did not practice on Monday -- Georgia's coaches might have to take a longer look this week at freshman A.J. Turman.

He seemed like a certain redshirt candidate a week ago, but Richt's staff must determine whether the two freshmen who already have played and walk-ons Kyle Karempelis and Brandon Harton would be enough to carry the load without Gurley and Marshall.

“A lot may depend on how Gurley's doing,” Richt said. “If Gurley comes back and you've got the other two, you don't normally have to go three backs. But if Gurley can't go, then we've got to try to figure out what we're going to do. We've got Harton and Karempelis that have played for us before, so those are possibilities. We've just got to kind of try to figure that out.

Wild cards: Speaking of Turman, he's not the only newcomer who has not played yet and still might or might not make an impact this fall.

Receivers Tramel Terry and Jonathon Rumph -- Georgia's second- and sixth-highest-rated 2013 signees in ESPN's player rankings -- have not played to date but still could factor into offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's plans ... eventually.

Richt said "it's very doubtful that [Rumph would] be ready" for the Missouri game while still dealing with a left hamstring strain, but "after that, we're going to definitely try to get him ready."

Meanwhile, Terry struggled during preseason practice while still recovering from offseason ACL surgery and seemed set to redshirt this season. But because of the receiver attrition, the freshman might be someone the coaches eventually consider.

“I just think the longer he practices coming back from his injury, the better he'll be,” Richt said. “Is he really ready for this type of competition? I don't know.

“And the fact that he hasn't had a lot of reps with our offensive unit, he's been working mainly scout team reps, and he's a freshman, so it's hard to really be ready in all the ways that you have to be ready -- not only physically, but knowing the game plan and just having experience running the routes and playing in games like that. So I'm not counting him out, but I really don't know the answer right now.”

More tight ends: Considering the level of in-game attrition that occurred at Tennessee, perhaps the most surprising statistic from that game was that neither Arthur Lynch nor Jay Rome made a reception.

Expect that to rank as a statistical anomaly moving forward.

When Georgia's receivers encountered a number of injury issues last season, Lynch and Rome were two of the top pass-catching beneficiaries. The two tight ends combined for 25 catches for 367 yards -- 251 by Lynch and 116 by Rome – over the final six games last season. In the first eight games of 2012, they combined for 10 catches and 216 yards.

Lynch and Rome have 212 yards -- 169 by Lynch and 43 by Rome -- this season.

[+] EnlargeRantavious Wooten
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesWith injuries mounting, senior Rantavious Wooten might be counted on to play a much larger role.
Replacement receivers: Junior Chris Conley -- who led Georgia with 64 receiving yards and made a tremendous one-handed touchdown catch against Tennessee -- is nearly the only known quantity in the Bulldogs' receiving corps for the time being.

Yes, they have fifth-year seniors Rhett McGowan and Rantavious Wooten available, but both players have been role players throughout their careers. Beyond that, Georgia might need reserves like Reggie Davis, Blake Tibbs, Michael Erdman, Kenny Townes to pick up their production.

“We're deep in the receiver room,” McGowan said. “A lot of people don't know that, because they haven't played, but they're at Georgia for a reason.”

Bennett will undergo arthroscopic surgery today to determine the extent of his knee injury. Even if he receives positive news, the junior will certainly miss the Missouri game and possibly more time after that.

Since they have dealt with regular injuries over the last two seasons, the receivers believe they are well-prepared for their current situation and now must take advantage of this opportunity.

“[Receivers coach Tony] Ball always tells me, 'Prepare like you are the starter, and you never know, because you're one play away from [being] a starter,' ” said Wooten, who caught two touchdowns against Tennessee. “So all the guys know that in the room, and I know that myself, and I always had that in the back of my head. Any guy could be the next man up. The coaches have the final decision on that, but at the end of the day, that's what we do, we practice, and we get ready for those types of situations.”
Todd Gurley, Trey DePriestKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesTodd Gurley had 105 total yards and two touchdowns in Georgia's scrimmage Wednesday, part of a much more focused effort by the Bulldogs' offense.
ATHENS, Ga. -- Since his team will open the season at night against Clemson, Georgia coach Mark Richt wanted his team’s final two scrimmages to be under the lights.

Richt got exactly the conditions and energy level from the team that he was hoping for in Wednesday’s second scrimmage of the preseason -- a marked difference from the Bulldogs’ listless effort a week ago.

“I thought it would be a good idea to do it this week because I just wanted it to be a nice, cool night, I wanted everybody to be well-rested and I just wanted to see a lot of energy out there,” Richt said. “It was like night and day from the first scrimmage as far as just the energy level out there.”

Georgia’s coaches got what they expected from their starting units, as well, with those groups mostly having their way against the backups in traditional series and situational scenarios.

“When you scrimmage like this and you go ones versus twos, you hope that your No. 1 offense is going to have a pretty good go against your No. 2 defense and vice versa. And that’s about how it’s gone,” Richt said. “If your second offense was just thrashing your No. 1 defense, then you’ve got a really, really serious problem. But that’s not the case. I thought both No. 1 units played pretty good.”

Several of Richt’s assistant coaches said recently that they would begin narrowing the field of candidates for playing time after Wednesday’s scrimmage so that they would have defined roles when they hold their third and final scrimmage next Wednesday. Richt said the coaches would grade film of the scrimmage within the next 24 hours, but their personnel decisions will likely take at least a few days.

“It’ll be maybe a day or two before we start trying to figure out ... and it won’t be exact until probably next Wednesday,” Richt said. “I would think by next Wednesday when we have that practice game, we’ll have a really good idea of our lineup.”

As for statistics, there were no particularly eye-catching numbers on Wednesday -- unlike last week’s scrimmage, when starting quarterback Aaron Murray threw three interceptions. Murray bounced back to go 14-for-18 for 173 yards, one touchdown and one interception on Wednesday, with backup Hutson Mason finishing 9-for-19 for 107 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley was the offensive star of the evening, rushing five times for 33 yards and two touchdowns and adding three receptions for another 72 yards. Tailback Keith Marshall had six carries for 39 yards and freshman Brendan Douglas added seven rushes for 50 yards and two catches for another 31 yards.

“[Douglas] was very impressive today,” Richt said. “He ran the ball well, he ran with power, he ran with some vision, he continued to pass [block] pretty good. He’s not perfect in that area.”

Blake Tibbs and Michael Bennett caught the two touchdown passes and Malcolm Mitchell led the receivers with four catches for 58 yards.

Josh Harvey-Clemons, suspended for the opener at Clemson, led the defense with seven tackles and three pass breakups. Amarlo Herrera had five tackles and two pass breakups, while T.J. Stripling, Connor Norman, Garrison Smith and Leonard Floyd all had four stops. Floyd also made a tackle for a loss and would have recorded a sack, Richt said, if not for being blatantly held by an offensive tackle.

Defensive end Toby Johnson recorded the one official sack.

Freshman cornerbacks Shaq Wiggins and Brendan Langley both made interceptions, with Langley returning his interception 48 yards for a touchdown. Richt said Langley also broke up a pass at the goal line to prevent a touchdown.

The two freshmen are not just competing to be the backups at cornerback, Richt said, they’re competing with Sheldon Dawson to win a starting job alongside junior Damian Swann.

“I’d say they’re all still competing, other than Swanny’s going to be in there,” Richt said. “But who the other starter will be, it’s just a matter of watching what happened in this scrimmage and what happens between now and next Wednesday, probably.”

Kennar Johnson and Lucas Redd also intercepted passes.

The Bulldogs are still contending with a number of injuries, as 15 players appeared on Wednesday’s injury report -- including safeties Tray Matthews (shoulder/hamstring), Corey Moore (knee sprain), Shaquille Fluker (illness), Marc Deas (elbow sprain) and Paris Bostick (foot surgery).

Nose guard Chris Mayes (concussion), linebackers Tim Kimbrough (knee sprain) and Chase Vasser (ankle sprain), receivers Reggie Davis (knee sprain), Rhett McGowan (ankle sprain) and Rantavious Wooten (hamstring strain), tailback A.J. Turman (knee/ankle) and tight end Jay Rome (ankle sprain) were also sidelined.

The good injury news, Richt said, was that he did not believe the team suffered any new injuries during the scrimmage.

“It was a good day. No one was banged up today,” Richt said. “Sometimes the next day you hear something, but today Ron [Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine] came to me and said everything looked good, so that’s a blessing.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- As one of the most veteran members of Georgia’s football team, Rantavious Wooten has seen the dynamic shift wildly in five seasons as a member of the Bulldogs’ receiving corps.

The fifth-year senior has seen a single superstar strike fear into opposing defenses, as future first-round NFL pick A.J. Green did in Wooten’s first two seasons. He’s also seen quarterback Aaron Murray spread the passing production between a larger group of players than any quarterback has in Georgia’s 12-year history under Coach Mark Richt.

However, thanks to the wide array of receiving skillsets available and a change in position coach Tony Ball’s philosophy, where several players are learning more than just one of Georgia’s three receiving positions, Wooten believes this could become the most versatile and productive group of Bulldogs receivers in Richt’s tenure.

“It’s real good that we can sub at any position instead of being like when I first came in and it was kind of like, ‘You play this position. That’s the only position you play. So you don’t go in that spot,’ ” Wooten recalled.

“Now we have all the pieces to have a great receiving corps -- we have speed, we’ve got big guys, we’ve got quick guys, we’ve got guys that can catch over the middle, we’ve got guys that can take the short route long. So we have every part to be that versatile, plus more. And then add the fact that we can play different positions and just utilize what we have.”

Seven Georgia wide receivers -- and 11 players total, adding in tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- made at least 10 catches last season. Both were single-season highs for Georgia pass-catchers under Richt, and everyone except 2012 seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown returns from that group.

Among the returners: potential breakout star Malcolm Mitchell, who is now focusing solely on playing receiver after splitting time between cornerback and wideout last season, and Michael Bennett, who was leading the team with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns through five games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Then throw in the shifty Wooten, 6-foot-3 Chris Conley -- the Bulldogs’ offensive MVP of spring practice -- sure-handed Rhett McGowan and UGA track sprinter Justin Scott-Wesley, who enjoyed his first taste of collegiate football success in the Capital One Bowl win against Nebraska. And finally add 6-foot-5 junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph, redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs and talented true freshmen Tramel Terry, Reggie Davis and Uriah LeMay.

“We all can play. I don’t think we have any real superstars,” Bennett said. “Obviously Malcolm’s kind of our breakout guy, but we don’t have like an A.J. like we used to or anything like that, or like a [King]. We all know we can play, we’re all, I think, really good, so it’s kind of like when one guy subs in and one guy goes out, there’s not going to be any hiccup.”

Collectively, every role Ball could possibly want individual players to fill in his position group is covered by the talents and body types within that group.

“It’s crazy, it really is, because we’ve got completely different playing styles,” said Mitchell, Georgia’s top returning receiver after posting 40 catches for 572 yards and four touchdowns last season. “You just name myself, Michael, Conley, Wooten -- those are four different types of playing styles.”

While they are best suited for specific roles, perhaps what makes the group especially unique is that some many players will be able to handle multiple jobs, which is a departure even from last season.

For instance, Mitchell once knew how to play only one receiver position. No longer. And nearly all of his fellow wideouts know at least two of the three responsibilities between the split end, flanker and slot positions.

“I think that everyone has the confidence to run every single type of play,” Conley said. “There’s not one guy who we use deep routes, there’s not one guy who we use for short underneath routes, there’s not one guy that we use for screens. I think the fact that everyone has the confidence that ‘I can make this play and I can do something big for Georgia,’ I think that’s the most unique part about this receiver corps because anyone can be at any point on the field and everyone’s ready to run.”

With Murray back for his fourth season under center and Gurley and Marshall softening defenses for Georgia to attack with the pass, it stands to reason that Bobo will once again make use of his receiving weapons. Perhaps even more than the Bulldogs ever have under this coaching staff.

Asked whether this group’s versatility surpasses that of other receiving corps in his UGA career, Bobo recalled previous explosive groups like the one that featured Terrence Edwards, Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown in 2002. And he’s had others -- like the 2007 and 2008 offenses -- that made use of a wide array of receiving talents at wideout, tight end and out of the backfield.

This group might outrank any of them, however.

“They’re not lacking confidence. They feel they’re one of the best receiving corps in the country. Are we that? I don’t know,” Bobo said. “We don’t have the A.J. Green explosive-type player out there. I think we’ve got a bunch of very good, hard-working kids that catch the ball and are fearless and really do a good job of taking coaching from Coach Ball and have gotten better in their career.

“None of them were this guy or that guy coming out of high school. They’re guys that work and made themselves into players. … But these guys, I wouldn’t trade this group for any group that I’ve had since I’ve been here just because you’ve got so many guys that can do so much.”

Post-spring position review: WR

April, 17, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of Georgia’s position groups at the end of spring practice. Today we examine the wide receivers:

Returning players/stats: Malcolm Mitchell, Jr. (nine starts, 40 catches, 572 yards, 4 TDs); Michael Bennett, Jr. (three starts, 24-345, 4 TDs); Chris Conley, Jr. (three starts, 20-342, 6 TDs); Rantavious Wooten, Sr. (15-187, 2 TDs); Rhett McGowan, Sr. (one start, 12-150, 1 TD); Justin Scott-Wesley, So. (6-135, 1 TD); Blake Tibbs, RFr. (redshirted in 2012)

Newcomers: Tramel Terry, Fr. (ESPN No. 89 overall prospect, No. 9 athlete, enrolled in January); Jonathon Rumph, Jr. (ESPN No. 7 junior college prospect, No. 1 juco wide receiver, enrolled in January); Reggie Davis, Fr. (ESPN No. 294 overall prospect, No. 45 wide receiver, expected to enroll this summer); Uriah LeMay, Fr. (No. 48 wide receiver, expected to enroll this summer); Rico Johnson, Fr. (No. 122 wide receiver, expected to enroll this summer)

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ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia Bulldogs are enjoying spring break after having their first three practices of spring camp last week. As we wait for the players to return to Athens and resume camp life, we will take a moment to answer the questions from our readers in our weekly DawgNation mailbag.

Cappy_88: Radi, give me a 2012 roster player (outside of Jordan Jenkins, Ray Drew, and Josh Harvey-Clemons) who you think will have a breakout year in 2013 and why?

Position scouting report: WRs 

January, 15, 2013
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Editor’s note: In the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and project how it might look in the future. Today we examine Georgia’s wide receivers:

" 2012 two-deep depth chart:
Tavarres King (Sr.), Chris Conley (So.)
Malcolm Mitchell (So.), Rhett McGowan (Jr.)

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Tibbs says redshirt year was beneficial

December, 20, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- After sitting out his first season in college, Blake Tibbs can easily recall the receiver who arrived at Georgia a few months ago and point out what he was doing wrong.

“In high school, I got away with a lot of things. When I got up here and I tried to do them things I did in high school, the DBs were all over me,” laughed Tibbs, a redshirting freshman who starred at Martin Luther King High School in Lithonia, Ga. “Really, you’ve got to tighten up your form and your technique. And when you do that, Coach [Tony] Ball teaches you technique and if you use it, if they don’t throw you the ball, at least you’re going to be open.”

Because of the loaded depth chart when he arrived on campus -- seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown led the receivers, with sophomores Michael Bennett, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Conley already having gained considerable experience in 2011 -- Tibbs was a strong candidate to redshirt from the get-go. He admittedly was unhappy with that status at the beginning of the season, but said he came to realize it was beneficial as time progressed.

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Bennett on comeback from ACL tear

December, 11, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- By the time Michael Bennett returns to active competition, his role within Georgia’s receiving corps will be extremely different.

He’ll no longer be the up-and-comer within a group that has veteran leaders at the top of the depth chart. He’ll be the veteran leader.

Bennett was the Bulldogs’ leading receiver when he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the final play of the team’s Tuesday practice preceding its Oct. 6 visit to South Carolina. Led by seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, other receivers produced adequately in Bennett’s absence -- five different Bulldogs totaled at least 68 receiving yards in a game after Bennett’s injury -- but the redshirt sophomore wideout admitted it was painful for himself and other injured players to watch as the Bulldogs pushed toward their second straight SEC East title without them.

“We wish we could be out there, but we’re just glad our team’s doing great without us,” Bennett said recently while speaking to reporters for the first time in two months. “That just shows the depth at receiver and at those other positions, too. That’s really great. So yeah, it’s real frustrating.”

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UGA midseason report card: WR/TE 

October, 10, 2012
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Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is halfway over and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We’ll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the highlights of Georgia’s first five games was the production the Bulldogs were getting out of so many different players in the passing game. They enter the second half of the season in a slightly less certain position.

[+] EnlargeBrown
AP Photo/John AmisWith Michael Bennett out for the year due to injury, Marlon Brown and company will have to step up their efforts.
After the Tennessee game, Michael Bennett, Tavarres King and Marlon Brown all ranked among the SEC’s receiving leaders, plus tight end Arthur Lynch had enjoyed big games here and there. However, Bennett -- who was leading the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches at the time -- suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, altering the dynamic within the group.

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Notebook: WRs move on without Bennett

October, 3, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Such is life in football that when a player is injured, his teammates can’t afford to dwell on his absence for too long and the next man in line must step in to take his place.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bennett
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireDespite his productivity during the first five games, Georgia feels it can replace the production of injured wide receiver Michael Bennett.
For the first time this season, Georgia’s players dealt with such a scenario on Wednesday when they learned that Michael Bennett -- the team’s leading receiver with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns -- will miss the rest of the fall after tearing his right ACL at the end of Tuesday’s practice.

“Michael getting hurt was just a very sad thing,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose fifth-ranked Bulldogs face No. 6 South Carolina on Saturday. “We were having quite a good practice yesterday. It was the very last play and I was thinking what a good day it was, what a good practice it was and then that happened.”

Bennett was blocking cornerback Devin Bowman when his knee buckled and popped audibly. Although he was able to walk off the practice field as coaches and teammates gathered for the end of practice, a post-practice MRI confirmed the UGA training staff’s fears that Bennett would miss the rest of the season after already surpassing his 2011 production in the first five games of 2012.

“I saw him go down, but then he got up and started walking and everybody thought it was going to be all right,” senior receiver Marlon Brown said. “I told him to call me that night and he called me and told me what happened. It just [stinks] for him.”

Although Richt said Bennett’s absence will be costly because of the toughness and work ethic he helped instill in the team, he and the Bulldogs can take solace that receiver is one of the deeper positions on the roster. Brown (68) and Tavarres King (61.4) both rank in the top to in the SEC in receiving yards per game. And other wideouts like Malcolm Mitchell, Rantavious Wooten and Chris Conley have performed well in big games.

Richt said Mitchell -- who spent most of his time at cornerback this season prior to Saturday’s win against Tennessee after totaling 665 receiving yards last season -- will continue to be available on defense. And he is not ready to burn freshman Blake Tibbs’ redshirt yet, either.

“I think we’re still going to be fine,” Richt said.

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Bennett injury a blow to WR corps

October, 3, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Michael Bennett’s season-ending knee injury comes at the worst possible time for No. 5 Georgia, which faces No. 6 South Carolina and its powerful defense on Saturday.

Bennett had come into his own as a sophomore, leading the team with 24 catches, 345 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Those totals stood fifth in the SEC in receiving yards, tied for sixth in receptions and tied for second in touchdown catches, so the Bulldogs coaches clearly must readjust their passing attack without one of their most important pieces.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bennett
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireSophomore Michael Bennett led the Bulldogs with 24 catches, 345 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo can at least take comfort in the knowledge that Bennett plays one of the deeper positions on the team. The redshirt sophomore wideout and seniors Marlon Brown (17 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns) and Tavarres King (16-307, 3 TDs) all had similar receiving numbers. Bennett is seventh in the SEC with an average of 69 receiving yards per game, while Brown (68 ypg) is eighth and King (61.4) is 10th.

With King and Brown still available as the top receivers, the question now becomes which receivers will play increased roles in Bennett’s absence.

Junior Rantavious Wooten (six catches, 99 yards, 1 TD) and sophomore Malcolm Mitchell (6-74) already figured to play a great deal. Chris Conley (4-46) would probably be the next player in receivers coach Tony Ball’s pecking order, while Rhett McGowan (2-26) and Justin Scott-Wesley (1-43) could also contribute more significantly.

True freshman Blake Tibbs might also have a chance to play with Bennett unavailable. Tibbs has not played yet and seemed bound for a redshirt, but injuries to Brown and Wooten allowed Conley to play after sitting out the first several games of last season.

Georgia is first in the SEC in total offense (536 yards per game), second in scoring (48.2 points per game) and fourth in passing offense (287.2 ypg), so losing Bennett is a significant blow entering Saturday’s game against a strong South Carolina defense that has been somewhat vulnerable against the pass. The Gamecocks are seventh in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 211.2 yards per game.

The Bulldogs have the pieces in their receiving corps to absorb losing Bennett for the rest of the season, but this is an inconvenient time for Bobo, Ball and the offensive personnel to have to reshuffle a lineup that has been so productive thus far.

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