University of Georgia

Veteran Mitchell leads hungry Georgia receiving corps

ATHENS -- It was Malcolm Mitchell’s turn to pick the book last month for his book club comprised of him and 40-60-year-old women.

The club usually delves into books about history, but Mitchell presented the group with “Lone Survivor,” the story of a Navy SEALs mission in Afghanistan that went array.

“Some cried, but they definitely liked the book, though,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell, who says that he may want to write a children’s book in the future, is a bit of a lone survivor in his own regard.

The senior is the only returning Georgia wide receiver with significant playing experience heading into the 2015 season. Following the departures of Chris Conley and Michael Bennett, the Bulldogs will lose 1,061 of their 2,599 receiving yards from last season.

“We still have guys out there that came in with them,” junior wide receiver Kenneth Towns said. “We still have leaders. Since I have been here, I’ve been watching Chris and Mike. I’ve just been learning and trying to mold my game around them.”

Every wide receiver understands that there is an opportunity to seize a starting spot or more playing time, but Mitchell is the only wideout returning with more than 25 career catches.

Along with Mitchell (32 career games, 116 catches), the Bulldogs return Reggie Davis (24 games, 17 catches), Isaiah McKenzie (12 games, six catches), Blake Tibbs (17 games, three catches), Towns (20 games, eight catches), Shakenneth Williams (five games, three catches) and Justin Scott-Wesley (20 games, 25 catches).

Towns pointed to Malcolm Mitchell and Scott-Wesley as players who have emerged as leaders, but Mitchell said he hasn’t changed his mindset at all.

“I’m a player that is trying to work as hard as I can. I don’t designate myself as a leader,” Mitchell said. “I have never done that. If that role is called upon me, I take it. But that’s it as far as being a leader goes. If the younger guys come to me for advice, I give it to them, and that’s how I work.”

The Bulldogs do have a host of receivers coming to Athens in the fall, including five-star recruit Terry Godwin, four-star Jayson Stanley and three-star Michael Chigbu. All come in as highly regarded prospects and will have an opportunity to play right away, but will need to learn quickly.

But just because there is a lack of experience doesn’t mean that some of these players haven’t had success in the past.

McKenzie showed spurts of explosiveness last season -- mostly on special teams -- and has been lauded by head coach Mark Richt and teammates during spring practice.

Scott-Wesley also showed potential in 2013 when he picked up 16 receptions for 311 yards in five games.

The senior wideout showcased great deep-threat potential and caught the game-winning 25-yard touchdown pass against then-No.6 LSU.

“That’s a lifetime ago,” Scott-Wesley said.

Scott-Wesley’s season was cut short that season due to an ACL injury, and the wide receiver struggled to return to form last season after dealing with an ankle injury. He said that his confidence just wasn’t there last season, and Scott-Wesley only saw action in six games.

“I was hitting my stride and finding my niche in the offense,” Scott-Wesley said. “I was coming into my own five games into the season. It’s frustrating just knowing the potential and all the ‘what ifs.’”

The wideout said that his confidence is back and that he feels 100 percent. Scott-Wesley had eight catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in Georgia’s first scrimmage, and promises his speed is back.

Scott-Wesley, and all the Georgia receivers, will still need to prove themselves to new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, but also to a new position coach and familiar face.

The receivers must adjust to the coaching style of new wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon, successor to LSU-bound Tony Ball. After coaching Georgia’s running backs for six years, McClendon will now take control of the receivers, who notice a difference from previous coaching styles.

“He doesn’t let us slack. Every play, he watches us,” Towns said. “If we are doing bad, he is going to let us know. If we aren’t giving it our all, he is going to let us know after practice by doing up-downs or something.”

McClendon has knowledge of the receivers, having been around the program, but other than Mitchell, starting jobs are pretty wide open.

“Every time somebody goes down or a chance comes up, you have to make the most of it,” Towns said. “That’s what we have been doing. We are limited at wide receiver, so everyone has been going. We have just been pushing.”