Georgia may have a numbers problem at receiver

UGA wide receiver Michael Chigbu (82) hauls in a pass at Tuesday’s practice. UGA has struggled recently with dropped passes, and that has been an emphasis at practice. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

ATHENS – The travels of Shaquery Wilson tell a story on the way the wind is blowing on Georgia’s football offense, and not in good ways. Last spring he was moved from receiver to tailback, a beleaguered position. By Monday afternoon Wilson was back at receiver.

“Everyone out there is doing great, and I feel like he’ll make a great transition to receiver again,” sophomore receiver Terry Godwin said.

That was an optimistic take. In reality, Wilson’s move back is a reminder that with tailbacks on the mend – Nick Chubb back, Sony Michel getting there – not enough attention may be paid to the receivers being the more worrisome spot.

Prior to moving Wilson back, Georgia was tied for having the fewest receivers brought to campus on scholarship, according to a survey done by the Baton Rouge Advocate. Georgia, LSU and Alabama each have nine, while Texas A&M has the most at 16. The average for SEC teams is 11 scholarship receivers, according to the Advocate.

UGA wide receiver Terry Godwin (5) specks with the media after Monday’s practice. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

Alabama and LSU may seem like good company, but consider this: Alabama and LSU also have the tallest average receiving corps 6-2 7/8 and 6-2 1/3), according to the Advocate’s survey, while Georgia is tied for the fifth-smallest (6-foot and 3/4.)

Alabama and LSU’s receivers also generally came in with more recruiting stars by their name: Former five-stars Calvin Ridley (Alabama) and Malachi Dupre (LSU) were preseason All-SEC first and second-team picks.

As for Georgia, Godwin was a five-star, but only three other receivers were four-stars (Jayson Stanley, Javon Wims and Shakenneth Williams.) And those three enter this season with a combined six career catches.

When offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was asked whether he felt he had enough “playmakers,” he didn’t exactly sound excited.

“As far as having enough players to move the ball down the field, I feel comfortable in saying, I believe we’ll be okay that way,” Chaney said. “We’ve got enough players. I think coaches, we always want better players. Never been a coordinator up here that doesn’t want 10 great wide-outs, four tight ends, seven running backs, four quarterbacks, 20 linemen. We all want more players. We want better, great quality players to win in the SEC with, and we’ll continue to do that through recruiting. But I feel comfortable in saying we should be able to find a way to utilize our talent to move the ball down the field.”

So how did Georgia get here?

  • In this year’s signing class, the Bulldogs missed on two five-star targets: Kyle Davis picked Auburn and Demetris Robertson chose California.
  • While four receivers were signed in 2014, the only one seeing regular playing time is McKenzie, while Gilbert Johnson didn’t qualify academically and Rico Johnson (moved to cornerback and then was medically disqualified.)
  • Tramel Terry, one of the crown jewels of the 2013 class, was never the same after tearing his ACL in a high school all-star game and eventually transferred. Another receiver in that class, Uriah LeMay, ended up transferring. Davis is the only receiver from that class still on the roster.
  • Blake Tibbs, the only receiver signed in 2012, never panned out and transferred.
UGA wide receiver Jayson Stanley (2) brings in a pass during practice last year. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

A few asterisks: Freshman Charlie Woerner is a sort of hybrid tight end-receiver, but does mostly work with the tight ends. Freshman Mecole Hardman was signed as an athlete and is working at cornerback, but is a candidate to make cameos at receiver.

Two more asterisks: Senior Kenneth Towns came to campus as a walk-on but has been put on scholarship in the past and could be again. And senior Charlie Hegedus began his career as a scholarship receiver at N.C. State, then transferred to Georgia as a walk-on. (He has yet to catch a pass as a Bulldog.)

Godwin, as cheery as he is talented, strikes an optimistic tone on the state of the receiving room.

“We have a lot of talent in the room, and we just have to see when the season starts,” Godwin said.

And he may be right. Godwin proved himself last year. Senior Reggie Davis is underrated for his speed, while junior Isaiah Mckenzie (known more for special teams) could be a big weapon in Chaney’s offense. Sophomore Jayson Stanley and Michael Chigbu are also getting good reviews in camp.

But there are way more “ifs” than proven commodities in Georgia’s receivers room. For a team that also has quarterback concerns, that adds up to plenty of worries for this year’s passing game.

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