ATHENS — With seniors Mohamed Massaquoi, Demiko Goodman and Kenneth Harris all gone, junior receiver Tony Wilson knows his 2009 season will need to be a lot more productive than 2008 was.
Wilson suffered an ankle injury in spring practice last year that never fully healed. He gutted out five games during the season, but he mustered just one catch for two yards before undergoing surgery that ended his season.
Although he doesn’t expect to be a full participant in this year’s spring practice, he said he’s finally starting to feel healthy again.
“It’s feeling wonderful,” Wilson said. “I’m feeling probably 60, 75 percent. We’re taking it slow right now, just progressing back into slow running, getting my stride back and getting good upper body workouts.”
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Now in his fourth season at Georgia, the vocal Wilson expects a more significant role for himself both on and off the field this season.
Georgia’s departing seniors — along with running back Knowshon Moreno who entered the NFL draft — accounted for 49 percent of the Bulldogs’ receptions in 2008, and Wilson hopes a healthy ankle will allow him to pick up some of that slack. More importantly, however, he said the task of replacing the senior leadership of players like Massaquoi and Harris will be a priority for him.
“It’s my turn to step up and be the leader for that group,” Wilson said. “It’s my time to step up and lead those boys.”
Even if Wilson is fully recovered in time for preseason practice, the Bulldogs could open with as few as six scholarship wide receivers, a far cry from the depth chart of nine or 10 that head coach Mark Richt generally likes to have at his disposal. Florida recruit Rontavious Wooten has verbally committed to Georgia, but the program hopes to land at least one or two more receivers to join Wilson, A.J. Green, Tavarres King, Michael Moore, Kris Durham and Israel Troupe on the depth chart.
“Depth is important, and that played a big role last year,” Wilson said. “I hope we get some more commitments. I think the depth is important, but if we have to go out and play with six or seven, I know we can handle it.”
LIVE AND LEARN
Georgia put plenty of true freshmen under the spotlight in 2008, but perhaps none faced more pressure in his rookie season than place-kicker Blair Walsh.
While Walsh had his ups and downs — including missing two first-half field goals against Florida and struggling on kickoffs throughout the season — he said his psyche remains intact. Walsh ended the year by connecting on his final two field goal tries, and he said he learned a valuable lesson from his first year with the Bulldogs that he’s keeping in mind during the offseason.
“It’s all about stability,” Walsh said. “You can wow them with your leg strength, but when it comes down to it, it’s just about making kicks, doing what you need to be doing.”
With that in mind, Walsh is approaching his offseason with the goal of improving his flexibility and athleticism rather than bulking up his already strong leg.
“Just getting quicker, faster and stronger, really honing in on your fast-twitch muscles,” he said. “That’s really what helps you kick the ball. It’s not about bulking up your leg. It’s being the most athletic person you can be.”
LIVING IN THE MOMENT
Strength and conditioning coach Dave Van Halanger stopped senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens in the weight room one day last week and struck up a conversation. Van Halanger asked Owens where he thought he might be this time next year. It was a question that would have garnered a simple and decisive answer a year ago, but after a season-ending injury, ACL surgery on his knee, months of rehab and a fresh start for his second senior season, Owens responded with a philosophical “Who knows?”
Last January, Owens figured he would be fresh off a Senior Bowl performance and would be preparing for the NFL draft by now. Instead, he spent the extra time in the classroom, and will add minors in consumer economics and housing to his degree in early childhood development — all while working his way back into shape for a second crack at leading Georgia to an SEC title in his senior season.
“It’s coming along quite well,” Owens said. “I’m rehabbing every day. I’ve started jogging. I’m trying to get back to 100 percent, and I’m going to make a big impact.”