Bulldogs must show receiver depth

ATHENS, Ga. -- Mike Bobo has preached since receivers A.J. Green and Kris Durham left for the NFL that Georgia would spread the ball around more in the passing game this season.

That mentality could benefit the Bulldogs this weekend at Vanderbilt, as leading receiver Malcolm Mitchell joins the list of injured Georgia wideouts.

"We've got some issues at some skill spots, but that's opportunities for other guys to make plays, and those guys have got to step up," Bobo said Tuesday evening.

The good news for the Bulldogs is that they have been conditioned to share the load. The offense experienced a major drop-off when Green was unavailable in 2010, but the receivers don't expect a similar problem now.

"I wouldn't say we're real concerned about it," redshirt freshman Michael Bennett said. "We have a lot of good depth. We might be a little banged up, but we can play through injuries."

Losing Mitchell, however, might be the greatest of the many obstacles Georgia's receivers have faced thus far.

Mitchell has exceeded all expectations as a true freshman, leading the Bulldogs with 25 catches and 438 receiving yards. His average of 17.5 yards per reception also is the best among Bulldogs with at least three catches.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said he hopes Mitchell will return from his hamstring injury for the Oct. 29 game against Florida. But the Bulldogs for now will be without the fleet-footed freshman, as well as junior Rantavious Wooten, who continues to struggle with symptoms from a concussion he sustained in a car wreck.

Meanwhile, junior Marlon Brown (ankle) and senior Israel Troupe (knee) are rounding back into form after missing time.

"I think the guys are handling it really well," freshman Chris Conley said. "Everybody is still really positive. There's not any gloom and doom talk or anything like that. The guys, they're just doing what we've been doing, and that's coming in every day and working, whether that be with everybody out there or with just a partial group out there."

Conley was on track to redshirt this season before Wooten suffered his injury the week of the Ole Miss game. But with temporarily limited numbers in the receiving corps, Georgia's coaches turned to Conley, and he already has made a valuable contribution.

He made a 17-yard catch in last week's win against Tennessee, picking up a first down that helped extend a lengthy second-half drive.

"A lot of people are talented, and I think it's just an opportunity for other people to step up," Conley said. "I was given my opportunity to step up and contribute, and I think other people will be able to contribute. I really don't think it's going to be a negative in terms of how we execute and contribute on offense."

But who will take over as the Bulldogs' top deep threat?

Mitchell had three catches for 126 yards last week, including a 71-yard grab that set up Georgia's go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.

That responsibility also could be shared, according to quarterback Aaron Murray.

"Obviously you love Malcolm out there for the deep threat, and he's done a great job of really getting behind defenders and making plays," Murray said. "But I think we're still going to run the same offense, and those other guys are just going to have to make plays when the time comes, and they've been doing that all year."

Bobo admitted he is concerned about the attrition at receiver, but he said he continues to be pleased by the production from the rotating cast of wideouts.

It also helps that Murray has a better feel for the offense in his second year as a starter. He is better equipped to go through his progressions on each play to find the open receiver.

"I'm very pleased with all the guys that, when they've been given opportunities, they've made plays," Bobo said. "It's kind of been the approach that we're going to spread it around; and Aaron is in his second year, he can progress things a little better.

"So it's not, 'Hey, you're throwing to this guy or that guy and that's it.' We're going to progress and get it to the open guy and open things up for him a little bit, and guys have responded. All these guys have been given opportunities, and they've made them, and that's only going to help us in the long run, them getting on the field and making those plays."

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.