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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Talent Trumps Experience at Receiver in '09

The season-ending injury to Kris Durham takes a potential starter out of the rotation from a depth chart that already figured to be fairly shallow.

With the departures of Mohamed Massaquoi, Kenneth Harris and Demiko Goodman, along with Walter Hill's decision to leave the program, left Georgia with just six scholarship receivers before Durham's injury. The additions of Rontavious Wooten and Marlon Brown gave some much-needed depth, but without Durham, experience will still be at a premium.

So how might the wideout situation work out this fall?

The star: A.J. Green

Green led the SEC in receiving a year ago despite playing with a groin injury all year. He said he's finally 100 percent healthy, however, and he expects an even better performance in 2009, with coaches moving him around a lot more this spring, hoping to use different schemes to get their top target open.

"It's going to be something special what I can do when I'm healthy," he said.

The slot receivers: Michael Moore and Tony Wilson

Moore came on strong last season, hauling in 29 passes for 451 yards, including a team-best six grabs for 97 yards in Georgia's bowl win over Michigan State.

"I just gained confidence," Moore said. "I kept working hard in the weight room, kept working hard on the practice field, and once the ball came my way, I started making plays. I just tried to build off that each week."

Moore, who is heading into his senior season, will be Georgia's only other experienced receiver, which means coaches will rely heavily on him to take some of the pressure off Green.

Moore is likely to play most of the year in the slot, however, where he will share time with Wilson. Wilson battled an ankle injury all year last season, making just one catch before accepting a redshirt that ended his year.

Wilson still isn't 100 percent healthy, but he said he feels better than he did this time last year, and expects to be ready to go by the fall. Both Moore and Wilson are exceptional blockers and -- given their experience -- are easily the most knowledgeable receivers on the team.

"I think that (Moore) and Tony are pretty interchangeable," head coach Mark Richt said. "I think one will be the X and one will be the Y, and they'll probably crosstrain. Those two guys have to be our best blockers, and they will be that. Both of them have to go down the middle and be brave and make plays, and they both can be very good at that."

The rookies: Rontavious Wooten and Marlon Brown

Both Wooten and Brown will arrive in Athens this summer, and with Durham's injury, the expectations surrounding them will be high.

Wooten checks in at a generous 5-foot-10 and just 158 pounds, which won't make him an obvious target, but Richt said the speedy pass-catcher out of Florida can be an exceptional weapon if coaches can find ways to maximize his skills.

"If you get the ball to him with a little bit of space – whether it's reverse, quick screens, and he still can penetrate the deep field – he's a pretty complete receiver, and he does have quicks and can make people miss," Richt said.

Wooten is clearly overshadowed, however, by Brown, who was among the top wide receiver recruits in the nation this year.

Following Green's monster freshman year, anything short of a repeat performance by Brown would be a disappointment for many fans who have watched the Memphis product's high school film and drooled over his potential.

The comparisons between Green and Brown aren't entirely unfair, however, and Green said he's happy to be in a position to help his soon-to-be teammates follow in his footsteps.

"Marlon is a great kid. I talked to him during the recruiting process, and I was the first to know he was coming to Georgia. I'm trying to help him out, and I've got Mike helping me out, so we both can help him."

Richt said he expects Brown to work primarily at split end or flanker opposite Green this season.

The up-and-comers: Israel Troupe and Tavarres King

Neither King nor Troupe have seen significant playing time despite both arriving in Athens amid a good deal of hype.

Troupe, entering his third season in Athens, has just a handful of catches to show for his first two years with the Bulldogs, but he said he has taken a new approach to this spring in hopes of revitalizing his career.

"This year coming in is kind of like my freshman year all over again. I've got a clean slate coming in and I'm just starting over from scratch," Troupe said. "This spring is a great opportunity for me to be seen and get my name heard. With the people coming in, all it is is competition for me."

Troupe had flown mostly under the radar this spring, but a long touchdown grab from Aaron Murray in Georgia's second scrimmage of the year opened a few eyes. With Durham out, Troupe's name will be near the top of the list of players who need to take that next step in 2009.

King actually earned some playing time early in the year last season, but an ankle injury slowed him after the Arizona State game, and coaches eventually decided to hold him out the rest of the year to get him a medical redshirt.

The taste of playing time was a big help in his development, King said, but that doesn't mean he's ready to take the next step into being a consistent performer in the SEC. Richt said King still needs to add some size and strength to help his blocking -- an area he has struggled this spring -- and needs to show a more consistent effort during practice.

"He's still got a ways to go to really be ready for our league," Richt said. "But he's got the ability, and he absolutely has had his moments when you're like, he can do it. We're expecting him to play, but he has to continue to get better to be a really effective receiver in our league. But he has the ability and he's smart, and he's just got to realize that it takes great effort every single day in practice."

The secret weapons: Orson Charles and Branden Smith

Neither Charles nor Smith are officially on the wide receiver depth chart, but both could play key roles in the pass-catching department in 2009.

Charles has been an enthusiastic learner since signing with Georgia last month, and Richt said the tight end has already gotten his weight up to 225 pounds. At Plant High in Tampa, Charles played with fellow Bulldog Aaron Murray and was a huge threat in the passing game as a hybrid tight end. Richt envisions a similar role for him this year at Georgia.

"It would be very natural for him to know the tight end or just flex and be that third receiver on the inside because we really call the routes the same," Richt said. "As he's training at tight end, he'll be training as a flex wide anyway."

Smith won't spend nearly as much time at receiver -- or even on the offensive side of the field. The five-star athlete from Atlanta figures to be in the mix for a starting cornerback job, but his speed and athleticism make him a potential weapon in the receiving game, too.

"We could take a guy like Branden Smith and use his abilities," Richt said. "He's going to be a corner, but there might be some plays where we can use him."

Defensive coordinator Willie Martinez has no problems with that plan, as long as Smith still gets his reps on defense, too.

"That's one of the reasons why we wanted him," Martinez said. "I'm for winning games and if we've got to play kids like Branden both ways, we're going to do it."

Note: Bruce Figgins, Aron White and Arthur Lynch figure to make the tight end position a lot more productive in 2009 than it was a year ago, and running back Carlton Thomas says he's anxious to prove his pass-catching skills out of the backfield, too. One thing that won't happen, however, is the use of White -- a Charles-like hybrid tight end -- split out wide. Richt said the rising sophomore has proved he belongs at tight end, and his experience will be crucial to that group.

The verdict:
Durham's injury doesn't kill Georgia's receiving corps, but the lack of veteran experience will be an issue. That means much of the responsibility for turning this group into a productive unit will fall to the coaching staff -- namely Mike Bobo and Tony Ball.

Finding ways to get Green open in 2009, even with opposing defenses focused on stopping him, will be essential. While Green had a notably crucial mentor-protoge relationship with Mohamed Massaquoi that keyed his big freshman season, the coaches will likely have to take a more active role with Brown when he arrives. Finding time to school Charles and Smith at multiple positions will also be the responsibility of a coaching staff that hasn't had hybrid athletes of their caliber in a while.

Long story short, Georgia's receivers won't lack talent and ability. But it will take a top-notch performance by the coaching staff to turn that ability into success on Saturdays.


Hobnail_Boot said...

Hey David-

A.J. seems like a pretty humble, quiet kid. Are his recent comments cocky, or just confident based upon next year?

I like that he's being a bit more vocal - someone will need to fill MoMass's leadership role with that group.

David Hale said...

I think with respect to AJ, he's still pretty quiet and humble, but I think he's really trying to embrace the challenge at hand by accepting and actually being excited about being The Man this year.

Replacing Mo Mass won't be easy though. There just isn't a WR on the roster with the combo of experience and ability that he had.

William Neilson Jr. said...

This year's WR's scare me.

Green will be All-SEC but who else? Moore had some GREAT catches last year but I am not sure he is anything but a 10-15 yard WR and not a down-field threat.

I just....I really hope we have someone step up BIG TIME besides those two because if they don't, Cox is really going to struggle with our dropoff at RB.