Safety valve. Security blanket. go-to receiver. All of these describe what Georgia Bulldogs redshirt sophomore wide receiver Michael Bennett means to quarterback Aaron Murray. Bennett is also the leading receiver for the Dawgs this year with 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns.
As big of a role Bennett plays for the Bulldogs on offense, the team will now have to look elsewhere in the passing game.
Early Wednesday morning, the UGA Sports Communication office sent out a press release stating that Bennett had torn the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in Tuesday’s practice. An official date for his surgery has yet to be decided but it is expected to take place later this month. The injury will sideline the sophomore receiver for the remainder of the 2012 season but there has been no word on whether or not it will affect his readiness for the 2013 campaign.
Who do Bennett’s snaps on offense fall to?
The answer is a multitude of Georgia’s receivers. Wide receiver is Georgia’s deepest position on offense and while losing Bennett is a blow to the Bulldogs on offense, there is enough depth to lessen the blow.
Seeing an uptick in playing time due to Bennett’s injury will most likely be Chris Conley, Marlon Brown, Malcolm Mitchell, and Rantavious Wooten.
Conley made an impact late in the 2011 season and was one of the better receivers for Georgia last year. The young receiver currently has four catches for 46 yards on the season but likely won’t asked to fill Bennett’s starting role. Conley has rotated into games when the Bulldogs have used three receiver sets this season, so it’s unknown how much Conley’s role will increase after going forward. However, Conley does play the slot, which should work in his favor.
Marlon Brown, a former five star receiver coming out of high school, has had up and down seasons for Georgia the past three seasons but seems to finally have put it all together in 2012. Brown is currently the team’s second leading receiver with 17 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns. He has also started two of the team’s games as well. If anyone is to see an uptick in playing time it will most likely be Marlon Brown.
Along with Marlon Brown, the most likely receiver to receive more snaps on offense is sophomore cornerback/wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell. Mitchell played strictly cornerback in the team’s first three games but has played some receiver in the past two games for the Bulldogs. Head coach Mark Richt called Mitchell “a primarily offensive player’ in his Tuesday press conference before the injury to Bennett. The injury now cements Richt’s decision to use the receiver strictly on offense. Perhaps the biggest playmaking threat from the 2011 team, having Mitchell back on offense full team only increases how dangerous Georgia’s offense is.
Also expected to see more snaps on offense is junior receiver Rantavious Wooten. The junior missed most of last season due to a concussion but has made 6 catches this year for 99 yards and one touchdown. Like Conley, Wooten has been rotating into games depending on the offensive package being played. Having three years in the offense, Wooten has the ability to play in most of Georgia’s receiver packages.
Other receivers that will benefit but may not make a big impact are Justin Scott-Wesley and Rhett McGowan. Tight end Arthur Lynch, who has come on as of late, will also shoulder more of the load for the Bulldogs. Georgia has a history of employing its tight ends as pass catchers, expect to see more of that going forward.
Losing Michael Bennett for the season is a big loss for the Georgia Bulldogs. However, based off of the environment at Wednesday’s practice, this is a team that will respond in a big way.
Chris Lionetti is a writer for Rant Sports with a focus on the SEC and the Georgia Bulldogs
Follow him on twitter at: @ChrisLionetti