Receivers looking to step up on 2004

ATHENS – Georgia's wide receivers caught nine touchdown passes last season. Two LSU receivers each caught more than that.

"That is very stunning," Bulldog junior Bryan McClendon said.

The disappointing year wasn't all the fault of the receivers, Coach Mark Richt said.

"It was not a receiver thing. It was an offense thing," he said. "You've got to have protection and you've got to hit your target."

Still, he acknowledged, "We underachieved to a certain degree last year."

The Bulldogs' top two returners from last year – Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson -- each had disappointing seasons. Brown missed one game due to a hamstring injury and led the team with 49 catches for 662 yards, while Gibson missed all of three games and most of two more due to hamstring and knee injuries and was third with 36 catches for 553 yards.

"I don't have anything to prove," Gibson said. "When I came back I played like myself really. The quarterback and receiver have to be on the same page. Coming in and out every game is kind of hard."

"I think this year will be totally different," he predicted.

Gibson thinks the Bulldogs' depth will overcome their lack of experience on the perimeter. After the loss of Damien Gary and Michael Johnson, Georgia has just two receivers – seniors Gibson and Brown -- with more than 22 career catches.

The Bulldogs have nine receivers in all, although four of them – Brown (hamstring), Gibson (concussion), Tyson Browning (thumb) and Mario Raley (foot) – have missed some or all of practice. Richt needs to have eight game-ready in the fall to play the way he wants to play, he said.

The receivers having the best spring are junior Bryan McClendon and redshirt freshman T.J. Gartrell. McClendon had one breakout game last year, catching six passes for 108 yards against Vanderbilt, and has been "the bright spot at receiver," Richt said.

Gartrell is a former high school teammate of running back Kregg Lumpkin and the son of Stephenson High School coach Ron Gartrell. He sat out last year but has thrust himself into the mix this spring by showing a willingness to make tough catches in traffic.

"Gartrell is really turning into a football player," Richt said.

Both young receivers defer to Gibson and Brown.

"We're just an addition on to what we have," McClendon said. "I'm not trying to take anybody's spot. I'm just trying to add on to what we have already."

Sophomore Sean Bailey, one of the Bulldogs' most prized recruits two years ago, is behind both McClendon and Gartrell but is making steady progress, Richt said.

The wild cards are Peach County's A.J. Bryant and converted running back Tyson Browning. Bryant, rated the No. 1 athlete in the nation by some recruiting services, was moved from quarterback to receiver in the second week of practice and has already impressed his teammates and coaches.

"I see improvement every day," Richt said. "He's going to grow by leaps and bounds after the offseason, working all summer."

Browning was moved to receiver before spring practice began but suffered a fractured thumb that will end up keeping him from catching passes the final two-thirds of practice. Browning could go back to tailback or play next year at both positions, Richt said.

Richt hopes familiarity, along with depth, helps the receivers outpace last year's disappointing numbers. Starting quarterback David Greene will be playing in his fourth full season with both Gibson and Brown.

"I hope (that helps)," Richt said. "Those guys ought to hook up well. There's no reason they shouldn't play well together."

Gibson added, "If we don't know each other by now, we'll never know each other."

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