ATHENS, Ga. -- Michael Bennett knows there is something that separates him from other players at his position. He jokes about it all the time.
The Georgia sophomore realizes that as a Caucasian wide receiver at a big-time college football program, he is like a living, breathing four-leaf clover -- extremely rare -- but he has also been a good-luck charm for the Bulldogs thus far.
Bennett leads the Bulldogs with 265 receiving yards and, among the SEC’s top 15 players in receiving yards per game -- he ranks fifth with 88.3 -- he is the only one who is not African-American.
“I’ve proved myself throughout my whole life, being a white guy playing a black man’s position. It’s just the nature of how it is,” Bennett said with a grin. “It’s not racist or anything, it’s just the way it is. I feel like I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder in high school and then coming here. No one’s really respected me. I remember going in 1-on-1s and no one wanted to go against me because they didn’t want to get burned by a white guy.”
Bennett regularly has fun with the subject of race, frequently joking that his coaches require him to block downfield for the other receivers because he’s white or that he learned how to function as a token white receiver in the SEC from Kris Durham, who was a senior at Georgia during Bennett’s first season in the program.
Bennett is not exaggerating, however, about players testing him or underestimating him because of his race, senior receiver Tavarres King said. Bennett said opponents make racial comments to him “all the time” and King said some teammates even gave him a rude welcome after he arrived at Georgia.
“When he first got here, our DBs just kept trying him all the time, hitting him,” King said. “Not unnecessary, but they wouldn’t hit me like that. If I had the ball going down the sideline, they wouldn’t just tee off on me, but they’d do him like that. We kind of made a joke out of it, like, ‘Yeah Bennett, it’s because you’re white.’ He just embraced it. He’s been funny with it.”
It helps that Bennett is having the last laugh. Following his career-best 110 receiving yards last weekend against Florida Atlantic, teammates and opponents alike realize that regardless of race, Bennett is a legitimate weapon in the passing game. Maybe even a good enough weapon to advance beyond the college game, as Durham did.
Reminded that the list of white impact receivers in the NFL is also short, King still said Bennett might one day join the likes of New England’s Wes Welker and Green Bay’s Jordy Nelson in the pros.
“Mike’s balling, though,” King laughed. “Mike’s going to make it. He’s going to be one of those guys because he’s phenomenal.”
Injury update: Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones said after Tuesday’s practice that he will be ready to play when the Bulldogs host Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
“I definitely got a chance to heal myself and rest it a bit and get myself where I need to be so we can continue what we have going Saturday,” said Jones, who missed the Florida Atlantic game with a groin strain.
Jones was no longer in a green non-contact jersey on Tuesday, nor was defensive end Cornelius Washington, who was limited by a hamstring strain during the FAU game. In green on Tuesday were offensive linemen Dallas Lee (ankle sprain) and Watts Dantzler (ankle sprain), receiver Rantavious Wooten (knee contusion), outside linebacker Josh Dawson (shoulder sprain) and safety Connor Norman (undisclosed).
Jones did not enjoy being a spectator on the sideline as less experienced linebackers like freshmen Jordan Jenkins and Dawson and T.J. Stripling played against FAU, but he realizes it was also a valuable experience for them.
“It’s definitely hard to sit there and watch, but I’m just glad they got out there, the young guys, to get that experience -- Jordan, Josh, T.J. came around and made a lot of plays with a sack and a caused fumble,” Jones said, “so I’m just glad for them to get out there and get that experience so later down the road they can step in and play major roles.”
Tailback rotation: While Georgia has split carries fairly evenly between three tailbacks through three games, freshman Todd Gurley has made the most of his rushing attempts thus far. That doesn’t mean, however, that coach Mark Richt wants to substantially increase Gurley’s workload.
“I’m pleased with Todd, but I’m pleased with Keith [Marshall] and I’m pleased with [Ken] Malcome. I think we’ve got a good battery of backs and everybody’s staying healthy, everybody’s being productive, everybody’s staying fresh. That’s a good thing."
Gurley leads the team with 276 rushing yards on 28 carries (9.9 yards per carry), followed by Marshall (32-182, 5.7 ypc) and Malcome (20-111, 5.6).
Each player has carried the ball between six and 12 times in all three of the Bulldogs’ games and while Richt does not envision using one bellcow back for now, he won’t rule out giving one player a heavy workload in a particular game.
“I’m not going to say any given day that one of those three might get a bunch of carries,” Richt said. “It could happen, but I like how we’re rotating them right now.
One player who has not figured into the rushing attack much is senior Richard Samuel, who has carried the ball just three times for 17 yards -- all of which came in the opener against Buffalo.
“He still plays both positions, fullback and tailback,” Richt said. “He just didn’t get any reps last game.”
Grantham’s fire: Richt admitted he was looking for a fiery coach when he hired defensive coordinator Todd Grantham before the 2010 season. Mission accomplished on that front.
“It’s an emotional game. It’s about playing hard and getting after it,” Richt said. “When the guy in charge of that group is that type of personality, it tends to bleed over into the way his players play.”
Grantham has occasionally generated headlines with his intense sideline demeanor, as he did last year when he got into a postgame confrontation with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.
Richt, Grantham and several Georgia players said Tuesday that they are focused on the stakes of Saturday’s rematch with Vanderbilt, not on the Grantham-Franklin spat. But Richt noted that any motivational factor that fires up a player is useful.
“When they play with their blood hot, they tend to play better,” Richt said. “We try to find ways to motivate either by words or motivational tapes. Anything that we can grab that we think will get them revved up and ready to go, we’ll try to use.”