Dawgs' WRs still trying to catch on

ATHENS – For a month, Georgia coach Mark Richt mostly defended his receivers and their on-again, off-again relationship with the football.

That strategy appears to have ended after Saturday's 14-13 win over Colorado.

"Our skill position players have to make plays," Richt said. "We have to trust our hands. We have to reach out and snatch the ball. That's the difference in those bang-bang situations. We have got to trust our hands better than we did in that ballgame."

Perhaps it was the site of the usually sure-handed Mohammed Massaquoi dropping two passes that convinced Richt a new approach was in order. Or perhaps it's the thought of his offense slipping to ninth in the conference and 83rd in the country in yards.

What exactly the answer is, though, still is eluding the coach.

"If I knew that, we wouldn't be dropping them would we?" he said. "I don't know the answer. I don't know. It's been tough, been tough."

The problem, Richt said, is that Georgia's players consistently try to trap the ball against their body rather than catching it with their hands. Tenth-ranked Georgia (4-0) has tried using tennis ball machines during practice which force receivers to follow a smaller ball with their eyes and catch with their hands. They've added more ball drills for the wide receivers.

None of it seems to have worked. The Bulldog wide receivers have caught 25 passes this year, one fewer than Alabama's Keith Brown. Four SEC receivers have more yards than the Georgia receivers' total of 346.

"We've caught a few balls, but we've also dropped a few," freshman Kris Durham said. "It just comes down to focusing and making the play."

All four drops in Saturday's game came on passes from Matthew Stafford, who has the strongest arm on the team, but Richt doesn't want to hear that as an excuse.

"He'll put more zip on the ball than anybody we've got, and our receivers better get ready," Richt said. "I always tell them, ‘You think they're going to ask Michael Vick to take something off it. Or Brett Favre. If you're going to play at the next level, you better learn to catch it."

Georgia fans can take solace in knowing that the plague is not contained in Sanford Stadium. Ole Miss, which the Bulldogs play Saturday at 9 p.m. in Oxford, Miss., has struggled as well, Coach Ed Orgeron said Monday.

Coaches at Florida State, Washington and Texas Tech have all complained in the last two weeks about their receivers' inability to catch passes. Red Raiders coach Mike Leach told media members that his players dropped nine passes in a 12-3 loss to TCU two weeks ago. Even pro receivers are not immune. Green Bay Packers wide receiver Robert Ferguson estimated he and his teammates dropped 10 passes in a 34-27 loss to New Orleans on Sept. 17.

Richt hasn't given up hope on his old dogs learning this new trick, he insisted.

"Yeah, you can absolutely improve that skill," he said. "When we first got here, Reggie Brown struggled mightily, and there have been others that struggled and as time goes on they get it."

Mike Williams struggled early in his freshman season at Southern Cal, said Orgeron, a former Trojans assistant coach, before finally catching on and earning All-America honors by his sophomore season.

"There are things you can do," Orgeron said, specifying hand-eye coordination drills and weight room activities to strength hands.

Georgia's receivers are tired of the subject, but they realize it's of their own making, Durham said.

"It keeps coming up," he said, "so I guess we need to get better at it."


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