ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's coaches and players insisted throughout preseason camp that their receiver position was the deepest it had been in years.
That's about to be put to the test.
Adding to the sting of last Saturday's 38-35 opening loss at Clemson was the season-ending injury to Malcolm Mitchell, who tore his right ACL before the midway mark of the first quarter. Mitchell had 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and eight touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Bulldogs, and he was his team's primary weapon for stretching the field.
"We've got guys who are talented and can make plays in different positions, and we still feel that way," junior receiver Chris Conley said Tuesday. "Malcolm was a huge playmaker for us and a huge leader in the receiving corps. He will be missed, but I don't think it will slow the offense down.
"I think we will get stronger, and we will have plenty of opportunities for young guys to step in and make plays."
Conley led the Bulldogs last week with 67 receiving yards, redshirt junior Michael Bennett adding 60 and redshirt sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley gaining 55. Georgia racked up 545 yards of total offense in Death Valley, proving that Mitchell could be replaced for 53 minutes, but will it be as easy this Saturday with South Carolina visiting?
Mitchell had 52 receiving yards in last year's 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks, when the other receivers combined for just 46.
"We already saw Justin Scott-Wesley begin to grow up towards the end of last year," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I thought he had a very good spring and a very good camp, and then he played well in this game. We also got a little taste of [Rantavious] Wooten being back, and Jonathon Rumph will be back this week practicing.
"Rhett McGowan will be more ready to play this week than he was last week, so those are some guys who will step up and play other than the usual suspects."
Bennett and Conley are considered the most proven and reliable receivers now that Mitchell is out, but the role of deep threat may be filled by Scott-Wesley and Wooten. Scott-Wesley had three catches last season before adding three in the Capital One Bowl victory over Nebraska, and he set a career best with four catches at Clemson.
"I just want to be consistent," Scott-Wesley said. "I don't want to be known this season as a one-hit wonder."
Bennett went down with a torn ACL in practice before last season's trip to South Carolina, so he can empathize with the recovery process Mitchell will experience. Former Georgia safety Thomas Davis, now a linebacker with the Carolina Panthers, has torn his ACL three times since entering the NFL and reached out to Mitchell by phone earlier this week.
Mitchell's injury occurred after Todd Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run, when those two and Conley jumped up and bumped chests in celebration.
"We all have a competition to see who can jump higher," Conley said. "Everybody was thinking the same thing, and no one really even noticed until we got back on the sideline that something was wrong. Now everyone is a little more conscious about it, and it's kind of an unspoken that we're not going to do that anymore."
Said Scott-Wesley: "It was kind of surreal, because you just can't recall too many people getting hurt during a celebration. It's a surreal moment any time your brother goes down on a freak play, and it eats at you."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...