ATHENS, Ga. - While there may be some debate about who merits top billing among Georgia's receivers, there is little doubt the group may be the Bulldogs' biggest strength.
Lindy's preseason magazine ranks Georgia's receivers as the fifth-best group in the nation, behind Texas, Marshall, Florida State and Oklahoma. The Sporting News ranks the receivers as the eighth-best unit.
"We want to be known like that, as one of the best,'' said Reggie Brown.
"We know we're good as a group when everybody is clicking together. It's like one big family with wide receivers. We can have a good year.''
Listed alphabetically, the top four receivers are Brown, Terrence Edwards, Damien Gary and Fred Gibson. Close behind are Michael Johnson and Jarrett Berry. Pushing for playing time are freshmen Mario Raley, Cedric Haywood and Bryan McClendon, who this week moved from defensive back.
The top all-star candidate of the group may be Gibson.
Gibson was named to the preseason All-SEC second team by SEC media last month. He set a school record with five games with 100 or more yards receiving as a freshman last year. Despite starting only three games, Gibson led the team with 772 yards receiving.
Gibson's combination of great size (6-4, 180), speed and leaping ability make him one of the most dangerous big-play threats in the league and a future high NFL draft pick.
Gibson may be the rising star, but preseason drills have been Edwards' showcase.
"Terrence has had a great camp,'' Coach Mark Richt said this week. "He definitely has been the most consistent receiver in camp. He has had the best camp of the receivers, I'd say, without a doubt. I've been really impressed with him.''
Edwards, the lone senior of the group, is making preseason camp a continuation of his rededication late last season after being benched for three games.
Edwards is in position to leave Georgia with career records for most receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches. Even so, his 39 receptions as a junior were a career low, and he realizes many may no longer regard him as the team's top receiver.
"I think I've got a little point to prove,'' Edwards said. "I want to go out well. I have a little senioritis.''
Edwards admitted he was stung by criticism from fans when he struggled with dropped passes last year.
"I'm going to just say some of our fans will love you one day and hate you the next,'' he said. "My first three years were the greatest thing, but I had a couple of bad games last year and they write you off.
"I just want to go out there and prove a point, not just for them but for myself, that I know I can play and the coaches know I can play. That's all I'm worried about.''
Edwards, Brown and Gibson give Georgia the luxury of three deep threats. Gary may have the best hands of the group, and he also is dangerous on punt returns. Johnson is a big, physical player.
"Every receiver we have I think has a chance to play on the next level,'' said cornerback Bruce Thornton, who hones his skills by shadowing the receivers in practice every day. "Going against those guys is helping me out.''
Gibson, Brown and Johnson caught long touchdown passes from D.J. Shockley in Saturday's scrimmage, and Edwards caught two touchdown passes in a situation phase of the scrimmage.
Brown is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee that he suffered against Arkansas. He had six receptions in the first three games before suffering the injury, and his return is an important factor in keeping defenses from focusing on Edwards or Gibson.
"It looks like (Brown) is as fast as he ever was, and the guys say he is even faster,'' said receivers coach John Eason.
Richt said Saturday that as many as two freshmen could play this year.
Richt wants the unit well-stocked so he can line up three or four at a time and keep all of them fresh while wearing down defensive backs with his no-huddle offense. Richt said shortage of receivers last year limited the no-huddle's effectiveness.
The opportunities provided by the no-huddle offense help keep all the receivers from worrying about there not being enough passes to go around. "That's one thing we haven't had a problem with,'' Edwards said. "The no-huddle will get you winded and then the next guy will come in to get his reps.''
Added Edwards: "I think the people who are not starters understand the starters are starters for a reason. They have proved they can play. It's gonna be your turn, sooner or later.''
Edwards is working hard to make sure he takes his turn this year.
Charles Odum can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com