ATHENS -- Defiance is a strong word. But not too strong. Among the Georgia receivers, the ones who are left anyway, the attitude is more a matter-of-fact confidence.
Why would anyone think the Georgia receivers will be lost without Malcolm Mitchell? In their minds, isnt there enough evidence that this receiving group will, despite the absence of its star, be just fine?
We dont really feel disrespected. We just know we can do well without him, sophomore Michael Bennett said. Were gonna play at a high level. Hes a great player, but we dont necessarily need him to be great. We have great players right here without him. And we did prove it last year when he was out.
Or it could be put this way: Mitchell, the teams top receiver as a freshman last year, was moved to cornerback this year because the Bulldogs needed him more there than at receiver.
I dont feel like were losing anything on offense; were just gaining something on defense, sophomore Chris Conley said.
Whether thats all true only will be certain once the season starts.
Mitchell and his deep threat abilities were dynamic additions to the offense last year. If not for a hamstring injury that caused him to miss three games, he would have led the team in catches and receiving yards.
But with the secondary hit by suspensions, transfers and dismissals, Mitchell was switched to cornerback in the spring. It might not be permanent. Mitchell could return to the offense as soon as the third game, once starting cornerback Sanders Commings returns from suspension. Either way, Mitchell will get snaps at receiver.
Still, not having Mitchell for every snap takes away a threat the defense has to worry about. Not to worry, insist the Bulldogs receivers, who point out whats left:
Two senior starters in Tavarres King and Marlon Brown. King was the teams catches and receiving yards leader last year, including 205 yards in the Outback Bowl. Brown has so far failed to live up to his promise as a five-star recruit, but he retains the confidence of his coaches.
Conley and Bennett each had outstanding freshman seasons and showed they could be dependable pass catchers. Bennett might have had the most important catch of the year, a fourth-down touchdown against Florida that arguably saved Georgias season and potentially head coach Mark Richts job.
Finally, there are two players who arent new but could be considered additions: Junior Rantavious Wooten played in three games last year, catching a touchdown at South Carolina, before a car accident caused a concussion and ended his season. Justin Scott-Wesley, who redshirted last year, might be the fastest member of the team.
Early in Mondays practice, Scott-Wesley showed off his pass-catching ability, making a low two-handed catch that drew a congratulations from Richt.
He was a little stiff when he came in, but hes loosened up his hips, hes dropped a little weight, and his hands have gotten great, Bennett said. So hes playing great right now. Hes gonna help a lot this year.
Wooten volunteers who can replace Mitchell: Wooten.
We have a good group of receivers that can do different things. And I feel like me and Malcolm can do some of the same things, Wooten said, mentioning a reverse run or taking 7-yard passes and taking it deep.
Those are the six main players in the receiving rotation right now. They have all been around a full year or more, so they know the offense, which they say will be critical.
Those fans who want to see the Georgia offense open up a bit will be heartened by a prediction from Conley.
I feel like the receivers are gonna be a bigger part of the offense this year, he said. In meetings, the coaches have already let us know that were one of the veteran groups on the offense, so it sort of falls on us to take the leadership role and make those plays early so guys can get comfortable.
Still, there is a one-word comment that serves as a reminder to the current state of things.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo had just finished talking about how much talent he felt was still at receiver and how well-rounded the players were. So, he was asked, was there ever reach a point where he wouldnt miss Mitchell?
No, Bobo said.
He laughed. Then he pointed at the practice field.
Hes out there catching balls right now, Bobo said.