ATHENS - The Georgia offense got bad news just as preseason camp opened: Star receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who missed basically all of last year after knee surgery, has had another setback.
His status for the season opener against Clemson is now in doubt, leaving the offense without, after tailback Todd Gurley, its top playmaker.
"We've got plenty of receivers, but you can't really replace a Malcolm," senior receiver Michael Bennett said. "He's the total package. He's quick, fast, strong, big guy. So it's hard to replace him, but I think we'll be all right."
Malcolm Mitchell has had a setback in his return from ACL surgery, and the Georgia football team may not have its star receiver for the start of the season.
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Mitchell re-injured the knee earlier this week while running routes with teammates, UGA announced, confirming a Thursday night report by The Telegraph. Mitchell had arthroscopic surgery on Thursday to "address a cartilage injury" and is expected to make a full recovery, the team said in a statement.
There is no timetable for his return "at this point," the statement said. Head coach Mark Richt declined to give an estimate Friday.
"We'll just see how quickly he can come back, but it's really hard to say when he's gonna be back," Richt said.
If Mitchell does have to miss games, it's tough news for Georgia, which has a deep receiving corps, but Mitchell is the kind of player who can take the offense to another level.
The fact it is not an ACL tear means Mitchell should be able to return at some point this season, barring no more setbacks. A simple scope usually means a player is out two-to-four weeks, and that is the desired result for UGA here; last year Bennett (who also was coming off an ACL injury) had his knee scoped and only missed two games. However, every situation is different.
"It's real hard, because I know how it is," Bennett said. "He's gone through so much in the past year, with four pretty significant injuries. And to hear that he just went out and ran some routes, and something just happened, it's so disheartening. He works so hard, does the right things."
Mitchell, a junior, missed basically all of last season after tearing his ACL early in the season opener against Clemson. He was set to participate in spring practice, then suffered another unspecified issue and sat out.
But by all accounts Mitchell looked good in summer workouts and was set to be full-speed when preseason practice begins. But he will now not be able to practice when the team takes the field Friday.
The team still has Chris Conley (last year's leading receiver) and Bennett, both of whom are seniors and expected starters.
Junior Justin Scott-Wesley, perhaps the team's best deep threat besides Mitchell, is also returning from ACL surgery but has had a slower recovery. Sophomore Reggie Davis (another deep threat) is likely to see more practice reps, as should senior Jonathan Rumph, sophomore Kenneth Towns and senior Michael Erdman.
This also means a longer look at players such as Blake Tibbs, a redshirt sophomore who has yet to catch a pass in a real game. Tibbs has been buried on a very deep depth chart.
"Tibbs is a guy who's kind of been waiting in the wings, so to speak, and maybe it's time for him to fly," Richt said of the redshirt sophomore, who has yet to catch a pass in a real game. "He had a real good summer, and is in great condition, and knows what to do now. So he would be a guy that could help us."
There are plenty of other options: Brendan Langley, a sophomore who switched over from cornerback, Isaiah McKenzie and Shakenneth Williams, sophomores Clay Johnson and Blake Tibbs, and junior Charlie Hegedus, a transfer from N.C. State.
"We've got some high-quality guys who have played extremely well in big games over the years, we've got some good quality guys who know what they're doing," Richt said. "But Malcolm, obviously it's sad not to have him practicing right now."
But Mitchell was in good spirits, according to Richt, who saw him Friday morning.
"He's kind of been through this rehab thing before," Richt said. "If you go by the countenance on his face, his spirit is excellent."