ATHENS - This is how deep Georgia's receiving corps should be this year: The two most likely starters were injured and out for G-Day, and so was the top recruit, and the group left out there was still pretty good.
Chris Conley, Justin Scott-Wesley, Jonathan Rumph, Rhett McGowan and Rantavious Wooten each had their moments, accounting for four touchdown catches and 287 receiving yards, on a day that otherwise went to the defense.
When you take into account that Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Tramel Terry were watching from the sidelines, well, consider the possibilities. This is what Georgia returns just at receiver this season:
- 246 catches
- 3,377 yards
- 34 touchdowns
- 140 games
- 33 starts
"We have great depth at receiver, so I feel like this passing game can definitely explode," Scott-Wesley said.
Mitchell's injury (a slightly torn meniscus) was expected to require only a short absence, and he should be back out for offseason workouts pretty quickly. Bennett, recovering from a torn ACL, was running routes the final week of practice, after G-Day, so his status for the season opener at Clemson isn't in question either. Terry, who tore his ACL last December, is a bit more of a question mark, but Georgia's depth at receiver would make his addition a luxury.
Conley also thinks the experience means versatility in how the receivers line up.
"I think ever last year Malcolm and I lined up on the same side. You're gonna see that - we see that this spring," Conley said. "I play on the outside, I play slot, but we can also bring Malcolm over to that side, we can also put Rhett over there as well. So there's a lot of different things we can do."
The Bulldogs did lose Tavarres King, statistically their leading receiver the past two seasons, along with Marlon Brown, who suffered a season-ending injury in the middle of last season. But there's no reason to believe the unit will not only be deeper than last year, but overall better.
Mitchell is available at receiver for a full season, and has said that practicing there all year will make him better. Bennett presumably will be healthy. Scott-Wesley, one of the team's fastest players, was coming on as last season ended. McGowan and Wooten are underrated talents, with McGowan (a walk-on) excelling as a possession receiver, and Wooten as a deep threat.
Conley, who had six touchdown catches as a sophomore last season, is a player who could be primed for a breakout year.
"I've been working on some little things this spring and I think the coaches have taken notice," Conley said. "They're giving me more opportunities. I'm getting to stay in longer in the drive and I'm getting more opportunities in the passing game. Aaron's giving me shots and I've been capitalizing on them."
Rumph is a more interesting case. At 6-foot-5, the junior college transfer replaces Brown as the team's tallest receiver, making him an intriguing talent. But he had a rough spring, acclimating to the offense and struggling at times to put out as much effort as the other receivers. But he exploded on G-Day, hauling in two touchdown catches and 98 receiving yards, the featured receiver for the second-team offense.
"He's gotta learn how to play faster, and he's gotta make plays when given the opportunity," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He was able to do that today. He made some plays."
Head coach Mark Richt said he wanted to see Rumph become more physical in "jump ball" situations and take advantage of his height.
"I liked how he finished the one touchdown run where he got hit probably at the 3-yard line ... and was big enough and physical enough to knock it in the end zone. I can't tell you how many times guys end up short in that situation, and then you end up kicking the field goal, and end up fumbling the snap on the goal-line," Richt said. "He's doing a lot of good things, but he's certainly got a lot to learn still."
All of this isn't to forget redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs, whom Rumph still has to beat out for what could be the final spot in the receiver rotation. Or the Bulldogs could just expand the rotation, thanks to all the available options. It's a luxury of numbers, as well as experience.