ATHENS -- If quarterback is Georgia’s No. 1 question mark entering this season, wide receiver and tight end are a close second.
The passing game depends on the relationship between all three positions to flourish. A quarterback must be on the same page as his passing targets. Receivers must be able to get off the ball, avoid jams at the line of scrimmage and create space between the ball and defender. Tight ends are asked to block for running backs and become factors as receiving targets.
In 2014, Georgia didn’t need to rely consistently on its receivers and tight ends. With one of the best rushing attacks in the nation, Georgia hammered the ball down opposing defenses’ throats over and over. The approach should be the same in 2015 as Georgia looks to enter the year with a dominant rushing attack. But if the receiving game can’t produce, even more pressure will be put on a running game that is already being asked to shoulder the load.
The players: Malcolm Mitchell is the leader of the group and the one with the most proven experience. He also made a name for himself during the summer by posting some videos of himself catching one-handed passes. If Mitchell can be the kind of receiver many thought he would be before suffering a torn ACL two years ago, Georgia will be in good shape. Mitchell did say he’s as healthy as he has been in two years, which is a great sign for the offense. Justin Scott-Wesley has a chance to be the No. 2 receiver, which would create a mirror on the field when Scott-Wesley and Mitchell line up on opposite sides of the formation.
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When Mitchell went down in the 2013 season opener against Clemson, it was Scott-Wesley who stepped into his role before tearing his own ACL. Both have similar skill sets and have shown the ability to make plays. From there, speedsters Isaiah McKenzie, Reggie Davis and true freshman Terry Godwin figure to see the most time rotating in.
Of course, if Georgia runs the ball as much as it’s expected to, the Bulldogs could be in two-tight end sets a good bit, limiting the amount of reps the receivers, as a whole, get.
At tight end, Jeb Blazevich and Jay Rome will enter the year as the top two in the rotation. Blazevich was a nice surprise as a freshman a year ago, going for 18 catches, 269 yards and two touchdowns. Rome has yet to materialize into a receiving threat. But both were effective blockers a year ago. Four-star freshman Jackson Harris, also a strong blocking tight end, could get an opportunity to step in and contribute.
Expectations: Georgia’s leading receiver a year ago was Chris Conley with 657 yards. Michael Bennett finished second with 404. That means, as unassuming as it sounds, Blazevich is Georgia’s leading returning receiver. Mitchell went for 665 yards in 2011 and 572 in 2012 and does possess the most playmaking talent of the receiving targets. But with the makeup of the roster, it will be tough, at least at this stage of the preseason, to expect one of Georgia’s receivers to approach 1,000 yards this season.
“No matter how good an individual may be, you have to have a group of receivers that can make plays,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “You have to have a quarterback that can deliver the ball. You’ve got to have linemen that can protect. You’ve got to have a run game that people will respect that will allow you to get some coverages that are favorable to throw the football. So there’s so many things that go into it, but when you do get the ball in the hands of somebody that can make a guy miss or have the speed to take it to the house, that’s very valuable.”
Outlook: If Georgia can produce two receivers who average in the 500- to 600-yard range each, it should be more than fine. That’s similar to what the Bulldogs got a year ago and it was a nice complement to the running game. The construction of the 2015 squad is very similar to 2014’s -- a strong rushing attack, fine receivers and a game manager at quarterback. The only difference, and concern, is that no one knows who that game manager is at the moment.