ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has made it his mission these last few months to squelch any hype about his players who set numerous school records last season and about having 10 starters returning.
Yet even Bobo let one slip earlier this month when discussing his receiver collection headed by the junior trio of Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Chris Conley.
"I wouldn't trade this group for any group I've had since I've been here," Bobo said, "just because you have so many guys who can do so much."
When the Bulldogs won the 2002 Southeastern Conference title in Bobo's second season as an assistant under Mark Richt, they had the receiving trio of Terrence Edwards, Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown. Sean Bailey joined Gibson and Brown once Edwards moved on, and by 2008 there was the dynamic duo of Mohamed Massaquoi and A.J. Green.
Tavarres King was in the same signing class as Green and was a three-year starter before finishing his eligibility last season, so nobody is taking Bobo's praise lightly.
"We have a good corps, so I understand why he said that," Mitchell said. "Everybody has experience, and we're deep. We've got six people who have scored in games, and we have a legit six or seven who could go in at any time. The starting group doesn't matter, because anybody can go in and start."
Said Conley: "It says a lot to us, because we've seen the film of those teams and we've met a lot of those guys. When a coach expresses that much confidence in you, it makes you feel good."
Mitchell, a 6-foot-1, 190-pounder from Valdosta, has 85 catches for 1,237 yards and eight touchdowns the past two years but has yet to stay healthy an entire season. He missed three games his freshman season with a hamstring injury and began last season with a sore ankle, when he also played more at cornerback during the first month.
"Last year, I was pulled in a lot of different directions and couldn't focus on anything," Mitchell said. "I think this year will be a little different."
Bennett is hoping this year will be different as well. The 6-3, 205-pounder from Alpharetta was leading the Bulldogs with 32 catches for 320 yards and five touchdowns in early October when he suffered a season-ending knee injury. He has practiced this month without limitations and repeatedly has said his knee feels fine.
Mitchell and Bennett are the projected starters, with Conley likely accompanying them in three-receiver sets.
"We're all very versatile and can play a lot of different receiver positions," Bennett said. "We don't have one big superstar. Obviously Malcolm is a guy who can stretch the field, but the rest of us really bring a lot to the table as far as being well-rounded receivers."
Conley, a 6-3, 206-pounder from Dallas, Ga., enters this season on a wave of momentum, having amassed 136 yards and two touchdowns in the 45-31 win over Nebraska in January's Capital One Bowl. The same could be said for redshirt sophomore Justin Scott-Wesley, who had just six catches last season but notched three for 67 yards in the bowl.
Also back are fifth-year seniors Rhett McGowan and Rantavious Wooten, who have a combined 54 career receptions. Those are the six returning receivers who have caught touchdown passes inside Sanford Stadium, and a seventh could be included since junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph had two scores in April's G-Day game.
Freshman Reggie Davis has drawn rave reviews this month and could play as well, and Tramel Terry was Georgia's most touted receiver signee in February who would like to contribute after tearing his ACL last December.
"I think we've got the most experienced group in terms of guys who have made plays," Bobo said. "They've played in games and made big plays, and they've caught touchdown passes. Guys who have made plays in the past feel confident about making plays against SEC teams in other people's stadiums. They're not lacking in confidence, and they feel they're one of the best receiving corps in the country.
"You don't have that A.J. Green explosive type of player, but you do have a bunch of hard-working kids who can catch the ball and are fearless. These are guys who have worked and made themselves into players."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.