Former Mitchell County star and Herald Player of the Year Justin Scott-Wesley, center, played sparingly last season at wideout for UGA, but this year he has ascended to second-string and could see significant minutes alongside the starters. (Photo courtesy of the University of Georgia)
ATHENS — Former Georgia assistant coach Charley Whittemore watched practice Monday from the sidelines along with some of his fellow UGA football lettermen and he couldn’t help but notice the crowd gathered around wide receivers coach Tony Ball across the field.
There were 15 players in Ball’s huddle and that was with a rather notable performer missing. Star flanker Malcolm Mitchell was sidelined Monday with a knee injury.
Whittemore recalled when he first started coaching receivers for the Bulldogs in the spring of 1978, he had three scholarship players in his charge — Amp Arnold, Carmon Prince and Gene Veal. His group expanded to five when a guy named Lindsay Scott showed up for preseason along with walk-on Jay Russell, son of Erk.
“Of course, we didn’t need quite as many then,” said Whittemore, who worked for run-oriented head coach Vince Dooley.
Times have certainly changed. But there remains a question as to how many receivers Georgia will actually need this season. Quarterback Aaron Murray is offered but one football to distribute and he’ll surely want to share it on occasion with tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and maybe a tight end or two.
Last season, rarely did the Bulldogs ever play more than six wideouts in a game and two of them had their seasons cut short due to injuries. But that seemed sufficient as Georgia passed for nearly 4,000 yards (3,991) and established school records for total points (529) and yards (6,547).
Now Georgia has 13 scholarship wideouts at its disposal and none of the grants-in-aid seem to have been an extravagance. They all can play, Ball said, making his rotation decisions that much more difficult.
“It’s the most (depth) I’ve ever had,” said Ball, an assistant for 28 years at nine different schools. “You’re talking about eight or nine guys that you feel comfortable with, that know what to do, that can make plays, that can be productive with whoever we have on the field. It’s good depth.”
The more the merrier, Murray says.
“There’s never too many, especially with our offense,” said Murray, who completed passes to 15 players last season. “We’re not an offense that dinks and dunks. You see these teams that spread the ball out, but the majority of their passes are little slants and in-cuts.
“We like to open up the field and I think we’re able to do that because of the success of our run game. … We get our guys to go vertical. So you need guys to rotate in and out and stay fresh.”
It has been sort of a wide receiver perfect storm for the Bulldogs, who were initially concerned about losing two of their top three receivers off last year’s team (Tavarres King and Marlon Brown).
*** They returned six healthy lettermen and the development players such as Chris Conley, former Mitchell County star Justin Scott-Wesley and Rhett McGowan has been strong.
*** The recovery of junior Michael Bennett an ACL injury has gone exceedingly well. Bennett, Georgia’s leading receiver at the time of his injury in Week 6, pronounced himself “healthier than ever” and is practicing without limitations.
*** New recruits are panning out. Junior college transfer Jonathan Rumph and freshman signee Reggie Davis have impressed early with performances that demand that they play.
“It just shows how much we’ve developed as young receivers,” Bennett said. “We do have veterans but, at the same time, these young guys are coming in and doing a great job. You can really thank Coach Ball for that because he does a great job of developing receivers and making them into reliable guys on the field.”
Ball has to come up with a depth chart before the Aug. 31 opener against Clemson. How many of the names on his list will actually play in the game is a closely watched mystery.
“Really, they make that decision,” Ball said. “If you’ve got eight or nine guys that can play and help you win, then you find a way to utilize their skills and strengths.”
Projected depth chart of UGA’s wide receivers:
—Jr. Michael Bennett (6-3, 205)
—Jr. Malcolm Mitchell (6-1, 190)
—Jr. Chris Conley (6-3, 206)
—Sr. Rhett McGowan (6-0, 180)
—Sr. Rantavious Wooten (5-10, 176)
—SO. JUSTIN SCOTT-WESLEY (5-11, 206)
—Jr. Jonathan Rumph (6-5, 208)
—RFr. Blake Tibbs (6-2, 179)
—Fr. Reggie Davis (6-0, 159)
—Fr. Uriah LeMay (6-2, 197)
—Fr. Tramel Terry (6-0, 184)
—Jr. Michael Erdman (5-10, 191)
—RFr. Kenneth Towns (6-3, 201)
—RFr. Clay Johnson (6-1, 171)
—Sr. Jamal Payette (6-3, 190)
—Sr. Curtis Wyatt (6-1, 205)