Ge­or­gia re­ceivers have much to prove in 2007

The Covington News - - Sports - By Paul New­berry

ATHENS — They’ve heard all the grum­bling. They’re tired of mak­ing ex­cuses. It’s time for Ge­or­gia’s re­ceivers to show they can catch the ball.

The Bull­dogs got lit­tle pro­duc­tion from their wide­outs last sea­son, mak­ing it con­ve­nient for op­pos­ing teams to stack the line against the run­ning game.

Mohamed Mas­saquoi and tight end Martrez Mil­ner tied for the team lead with the very or­di­nary fig­ure of 30 re­cep­tions. None of the other wide­outs had more than 15 catches.

“It’s not only time for them to play good, but great,” coach Mark Richt said. “Not only as re­ceivers, but block­ing, spe­cial teams, ev­ery­thing. They’ve go to play good, and I think they will. We’ve got more depth than we’ve ever had.”

In­deed, Ge­or­gia has plenty of guys lin­ing up to catch passes, but none of them has shown they can be the sort of con­sis­tent per­former the team so des­per­ately needs.

Mas­saquoi got off a promis­ing start as a fresh­man, catch­ing 38 passes for 505 yards in 2005. But he took a ma­jor step back­ward a year ago, ac­tu­ally get­ting de­moted from his start­ing job for a lack of pro­duc­tion.

He wound up with just 366 yards re­ceiv­ing and two touch­downs.

But the blame ex­tends be­yond Mas­saquoi. Se­nior Sean Bai­ley, who sat out all of 2006 re­cov­er­ing from a knee in­jury, knows the en­tire re­ceiv­ing corps has some­thing to prove.

The Bull­dogs went into pre­sea­son prac­tice with Bai­ley atop the depth chart at split end, backed up by Mas­saquoi and sopho­more Kris Durham (8 re­cep­tions, 82 yards). At flanker, se­nior Mikey Henderson (7, 44), se­nior A.J. Bryant (14, 251) and ju­nior Ken­neth Har­ris (15, 305) were bat­tling for play­ing time.

Ge­or­gia also has ju­nior Demiko Good­man and se­nior T.J. Gartrell, both com­ing back from in­juries, and sev­eral younger play­ers who could be ready to make an im­pact.

The wide­outs aren’t to­tally to blame for the lack of pro­duc­tion. The Bull­dogs shuf­fled through three start­ing quar­ter­backs in 2006 be­fore set­tling on fresh-

man Matthew Stafford over the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

There’s no such ques­tions this year: Stafford is the undis­puted starter and shows enor­mous po­ten­tial.

Stafford made plenty of rookie mis­takes in 2006, strug­gling to pick up de­fen­sive ad­just­ments and at­tempt­ing throws that he was able to pull off in high school but had no chance of suc­cess in col­lege.

Some­thing clicked over the fi­nal three games, how­ever. Stafford cut out the turnovers and led the Bull­dogs to wins over Auburn, Ge­or­gia Tech and Vir­ginia Tech — ranked teams all.

With sta­bil­ity at quar­ter­back, Ge­or­gia is count­ing on a ma­jor im­prove­ment in the pass­ing game. It can’t get much worse than last sea­son, when only four of the team’s 12 touch­down passes were hauled in by wide­outs.

Most telling, full­back Bran­nan Southerland — mainly used as a blocker had as many TD catches (two) as any of the re­ceivers.

Bai­ley wasn’t on the field to share the blame in 2006, but he’s in the same boat as ev­ery­one else when it comes to un­der­achiev­ing. He has only 36 catches in a ca­reer plagued by drops, and heard plenty of boos be­fore his knee gave out.

They’ll get the chance. With some un­cer­tainty at tight end (Mil­ner now plays for the At­lanta Fal­cons), the Bull­dogs are likely to go with plenty of three- and four-re­ceiver sets. With Stafford more com­fort­able in his role, they’re should be plenty of balls in the air.

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