UGA's Michael Bennett ready to return

UGA's Michael Bennett ready to return

August 4th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia receiver Michael Bennett (82) runs with the ball in a 2012 game at Missouri.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

For college football players coming back from ACL surgeries, there are two appealing words that help put past pain away: “without limitation.”

Georgia redshirt junior receiver Michael Bennett has practiced without any limitations since the Bulldogs started preseason camp Thursday, and he’s expected to be a popular target for quarterback Aaron Murray in the months ahead. Bennett was the team’s leading receiver through five games last year before falling to the turf during the Tuesday practice before the matchup of top-six teams at South Carolina.

“It’s amazing how fast they can get you back from these ACL injuries,” Bennett said after Friday’s practice. “It was awesome to work this summer and to know that when the pads come on at Clemson, I’m going to be out there with basically nothing on my leg. I’ll be running around like I did last year, which is a good feeling.”

Bennett was running all over the place last season before the setback. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta had five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Buffalo, eight receptions for 79 yards the next week at Missouri and four catches for 110 yards and a score in the third game against Florida Atlantic.

After catching only two passes for 10 yards against Vanderbilt, Bennett had five for 70 with two touchdowns in the 51-44 win over Tennessee. His 345 yards through five games topped the 320 yards he compiled during his 2011 season.

“I felt like I was coming into my own,” he said. “My freshman year was a little up and down, but last year I came out of the gates firing. A lot of that had to do with Aaron putting the ball right on me, because there were a lot of opportunities for me to catch the ball.

“It was awesome, and hopefully I can come out of the gates like that again this year but maintain it.”

Bennett had some interesting company in the training room for some of his rehabilitation. Georgia coach Mark Richt was a brief visitor after undergoing hip-replacement surgery in February.

“Just to see this guy work is pretty impressive,” Richt said. “It means a lot to the team to have him back because of the productivity, his leadership and toughness. He was always a tough football player, but just to see him go through a tough time and come out of it really in tremendous shape was a big deal as well.”

Bennett worked with the first-team offense during Thursday’s opening workout, and he is expected to team with Malcolm Mitchell in the starting lineup. He insists his knee is stronger than ever, and he will enter this season with a new perspective.

An ACL injury tends to do that.

“It gave me a sense of not to take anything for granted,” Bennett said. “When it’s all stripped away from you, you kind of sit back and realize what you had, and it makes you grateful when you come back to the point where I’m at now. I’m grateful for every play I can run.”

Odds and ends

The Bulldogs worked out for two-and-a-half hours Saturday morning in shoulder pads and shorts. … Junior inside linebacker Ramik Wilson returned after missing the first two practices with a stomach virus, but senior guard Austin Long remains out with an academic issue.

<em>Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.</em>