ATHENS – Michael Chigbu is from New Orleans, and it’s easy to tell. He speaks with that low lilt, which occasionally eliminates consonants, making his native city sound like one syllable.
At least until that’s pointed out to him.
“New Or-LEANS,” Chigbu said, stretching it out, then laughing.
He’s used to this.
“I get it every day, people asking me about my accent. I don’t mind it. They say it’s unique,” he said. “I’m a New Orleans boy and I always love my city.”
But now he’s on the Georgia football team, where he and a fellow receiver from Atlanta (Jayson Stanley) and south Florida (Shaquery Wilson) have the task of replacing two Georgia kids: Michael Bennett and Chris Conley.
Two tall receivers going out, three tall receivers going in.
Bennett and Conley were also very good, and important cogs in the offense, not just in pass receiving. Over the past two years the pair combined for (159 catches, 2,250, 20 TD).
They weren’t exactly alike – Conley was a little quicker, Bennett a big bigger – but they were dependable, consistent, made key catches, and were good blockers.
That latter point shouldn’t be overlooked as at least a minor factor in Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb’s running success the past few years. It’s something that has to be replaced, and Wilson said it’s been an emphasis in practice.
“Say Chubb breaks outside,” Wilson said. “(McClendon) is teaching us to stay on our blocks, don’t give up and keep fighting. If you can’t block, that means you’re not gonna be able to play.”
Then there’s the tough catches: Who will the Bulldogs throw to when they need the short slant to move the chains? Top receiver Malcolm Mitchell is the most likely target, of course, but the defense will know that.
Terry Godwin is the freshman receiver who came to campus with the most attention, and all reports from preseason camp are that he deserved it. But he’s also a shorter (5-11, 170) and speedier option, along the lines that Georgia already has.
Chigbu, Stanley and Wilson are all 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds. They’re also athletic enough to play in the slot, and reports are that Chigbu has been particularly impressive this preseason.
“I run pretty good routes,” Chigbu said. “I’m not a blazer, but I can get out of my breaks with my size. I guess I’m more Michael Bennett than Chris Conley, I would assume. But my thing is I have to be consistent.”
There’s playing time to be grabbed. Georgia put a big emphasis on receiver recruiting for this class, knowing it would lose Conley, Bennett and oft-injured Jonathon Rumph (the 6-5 talent who is in camp with the New York Jets).
Stanley knew Godwin from various camps around Georgia, but he didn’t know about his two other fellow freshman until he arrived this summer.
“Chigbu and Shaquery, I’ve been real surprised what I saw,” Stanley said. “All four of us, what we can bring to the table is impressive.”
Coach Mark Richt said after Wednesday’s practice that five receivers have played well enough to earn playing time. He didn’t give specifics, but Mitchell, Reggie Davis, Isaiah McKenzie and Justin Scott-Wesley figure to be in that mix.
There are other veterans who could crack the rotation: Sophomore Shakenneth Williams has looked good this preseason, and junior walk-on Kenneth Towns has seen some playing time the past two years.
But it’s a near-certainty that at least a couple freshman will crack the rotation, and the ability to replace what the departed receivers offered would be huge for Georgia.
“I watched how Michael Bennett was a consistent player, Chris Conley was another consistent player, and a smart guy,” Chigbu said. “I feel like I can help Georgia in a big way someday.”