ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -They've heard all the grumbling. They're tired of making excuses. It's time for Georgia's receivers to show they can catch the ball.
The Bulldogs got little production from their wideouts last season, making it convenient for opposing teams to stack the line against the running game.
Mohamed Massaquoi and tight end Martrez Milner tied for the team lead with the very ordinary figure of 30 receptions. None of the other wideouts had more than 15 catches.
``It's not only time for them to play good, but great,'' coach Mark Richt said. ``Not only as receivers, but blocking, special teams, everything. They've got to play good, and I think they will. We've got more depth than we've ever had.''
Indeed, Georgia has plenty of guys lining up to catch passes, but none of them has shown they can be the sort of consistent performer the team so desperately needs.
Massaquoi got off to a promising start as a freshman, catching 38 passes for 505 yards in 2005. But he took a major step backward a year ago, actually getting demoted from his starting job for a lack of production.
He wound up with just 366 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
But the blame extends beyond Massaquoi. Senior Sean Bailey, who sat out all of 2006 recovering from a knee injury, knows the entire group of receivers has something to prove.
``We're getting older. We've matured a lot,'' Bailey said. ``We've been from the very lows to the highs. We're ready. We're prepared. We know what we've got to do, and we're ready to do it.''
Numbers shouldn't be a problem.
The Bulldogs went into preseason practice with Bailey atop the depth chart at split end, backed up by Massaquoi and sophomore Kris Durham (8 receptions, 82 yards). At flanker, senior Mikey Henderson (7, 44), senior A.J. Bryant (14, 251) and junior Kenneth Harris (15, 305) were battling for playing time.
Georgia also has junior Demiko Goodman and senior T.J. Gartrell, both coming back from injuries, and several younger players who could be ready to make an impact.
``We can actually practice three-deep in our four-receiver sets,'' Richt said. ``That's rare anywhere.''
The wideouts aren't totally to blame for the lack of production. The Bulldogs shuffled through three starting quarterbacks in 2006 before settling on freshman Matthew Stafford over the second half of the season.
There's no such questions this year: Stafford is the undisputed starter and shows enormous potential.
``It's definitely a lot easier knowing exactly who the starting quarterback is going to be out there,'' Bailey said. ``We're working with him on a consistent basis, building up timing and everything. He's the guy, so we're ready to go.''
Stafford made plenty of rookie mistakes in 2006, struggling to pick up defensive adjustments and attempting throws that he was able to pull off in high school but had no chance of success against college players.
Something clicked over the final three games, however. Stafford cut out the turnovers and led the Bulldogs to wins over Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech - ranked teams all.
With stability at quarterback, Georgia is counting on a major improvement in the passing game. It can't get much worse than last season, when only four of the team's 12 touchdown passes were hauled in by wideouts.
Most telling, fullback Brannan Southerland - mainly used as a blocker had as many TD catches (two) as any of the receivers.
Bailey wasn't on the field to share the blame in 2006, but he's in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to underachieving. He has only 36 catches in a career that's had too many drops. He heard plenty of boos before his knee gave out.
``We've put that as a chip on our shoulders,'' Bailey said. ``We want to turn that around. We want to prove guys wrong.''
They'll get the chance. With some uncertainty at tight end (Milner now plays for the Atlanta Falcons), the Bulldogs are likely to go with plenty of three- and four-receiver sets. With Stafford more comfortable in his role, they're should be plenty of balls in the air.
``We're not just good players. We're great players,'' Bailey said. ``It's time for us to step up and show that.''
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