ATHENS - Georgia receivers coach Tony Ball always tells his reserves: "Prepare like you're going to be a starter." Lately, that's taken on a very real meaning.
Georgia lost receiver Justin Scott-Wesley for the season to an ACL tear, along with tailback Keith Marshall. The team was already without its top receiver, Malcolm Mitchell, to an ACL tear in the season opener.
Receiver Michael Bennett tore the meniscus in his right knee in Saturday's game. He will have surgery on Tuesday, at which time there could be a clearer timetable for his return.
"We've talked to some of the younger guys: Their time's now," senior Rhett McGowan said. "This is why they came to Georgia. They didn't come to Georgia to (play) scout-team or just practice. They came here to make plays out on the field. So we tell them, go out there and perform like they do in practice."
McGowan is one player who should get more snaps, vying for a spot in the starting lineup with junior Chris Conley, freshman Reggie Davis and senior Rantavious Wooten. After those four, there's a big drop-off in experience.
Kenneth Towns, a redshrit freshman walk-on, is one player in line for more time. So is Blake Tibbs, another redshirt freshman. Junior Jonathan Rumph would be if he were healthy, but head coach Mark Richt has called Rumph "very doubtful" with a lingering hamstring injury. Freshman Tramel Terry, himself working his way back from knee surgery last December, would also be an option, but his full health is also uncertain.
"We're deep in the receivers room," McGowan said. "We know that. A lot of other people don't know that because they haven't played. But they're at Georgia for a reason. They're talented players. We'll fill in the roles and we'll make plays Saturday."
The injury news was suspected by players on Saturday, and made official a day later. Monday was a chance for first reaction with a few players who met with the media.
"It's rough. Really your heart goes out to all those guys," senior guard Chris Burnette said. "You look back to January, and even year's past, just seeing those guys go to work with you, and really just having great goals for the season coming up. It's tough to see them go down in a split-second like that.
"But the silver lining around it is those guys sacrificed their bodies and what they were doing for a greater cause, and that's us to reach our goal, and that's Pasadena. And at the end of the day, we're still gonna work hard for those guys. We're gonna make sure that what happenend to them, the injuries, doesn't happen in vain."
One turnaround now, according to Burnette, is that Georgia's offensive line has to be "bell cow" of the offense. Yes, the same line that has been seen (legitimately) as the weak link, but has had a few good weeks, and hasn't lost any players to injury yet.
"It's different. People always have questions about us, and honestly we don't care," Burnette said. "We just think we have a good unit, and as long as we have that continuity, we believe in each other, then we get the job done."
The knee injuries aren't anything new for Georgia's receivers. Last year Marlon Brown and Bennett each suffered one. That didn't make Saturday any easier.
"You feel awful for them," McGowan said. "They've worked so hard in the offseason, and for that to happen to them. To end Justin's season like that, he was having a great year and you feel for him. But like I said, it's part of the game and the next man's just gotta be ready to step up."
The receivers weren't the only ones on Georgia's injury list. The others who were listed as out for Monday's practice included:
- Tailback Todd Gurley (sprained ankle), who head coach Mark Richt has said is 50-50 for Saturday's game.
- Fullback Quayvon Hicks (ankle and knee sprain), who was a new addition to the injury list.
- Safety Tray Matthews (hamstring), who missed the Tennessee game but hopes to return for Missouri.
- Punter Collin Barber, who sustained a concussion at Tennessee.
- Rumph (hamstring), whom has yet to play this season.
Safety Connor Norman, who missed the Tennessee game with a concussion, was limited in Monday's practice. Richt has sounded optimistic that Norman can play on Saturday.