ATHENS, Ga. -- By the time Michael Bennett returns to active competition, his role within Georgia’s receiving corps will be extremely different.
He’ll no longer be the up-and-comer within a group that has veteran leaders at the top of the depth chart. He’ll be the veteran leader.
Bennett was the Bulldogs’ leading receiver when he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the final play of the team’s Tuesday practice preceding its Oct. 6 visit to South Carolina. Led by seniors Tavarres King and Marlon Brown, other receivers produced adequately in Bennett’s absence -- five different Bulldogs totaled at least 68 receiving yards in a game after Bennett’s injury -- but the redshirt sophomore wideout admitted it was painful for himself and other injured players to watch as the Bulldogs pushed toward their second straight SEC East title without them.
“We wish we could be out there, but we’re just glad our team’s doing great without us,” Bennett said recently while speaking to reporters for the first time in two months. “That just shows the depth at receiver and at those other positions, too. That’s really great. So yeah, it’s real frustrating.”
Brown and King will both be out of the picture once the Bulldogs reconvene for spring practice. That will leave Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell as Georgia’s top options at receiver, with others such as Rantavious Wooten, Chris Conley, Justin Scott-Wesley, Rhett McGowan and redshirt freshman Blake Tibbs battling for spots in the rotation.
But even in the spring, Bennett’s role will be limited. He said team doctors told him he should be able to begin running routes, but will not be allowed to participate in one-on-ones or contact drills.
“They’re just saying non-contact stuff -- not too much because I’ll be about six months out of surgery and still pretty early,” he said. “So they’re just going to be real slow with me, not really rush me to do anything. By that time, I’ll be able to do a lot, run routes, but just no contact at all.”
His knee has responded well to treatment, however, giving him confidence that he can soon build off what was shaping up to be an outstanding 2012 season prior to the injury.
“I feel like I’m really far along,” Bennett said. “Actually the doctor that did my surgery, I see him every Tuesday and he was just saying that I’m his poster child, so that was pretty cool. He was saying my knee looks so great right now, so that was real encouraging. I’m just going to rehab hard every day. It’s tough, but I feel like I’m coming along really well.”
That’s good news for a Georgia offense that for sure will lose only King (39 catches, 846 yards, 8 TDs) and Brown (27-469, 4 TDs) among its regulars. Junior quarterback Aaron Murray could also join them in the NFL draft prospect pool, but he has not yet revealed his decision on whether to return for his final season of eligibility.
Without the senior receivers and possibly Murray to carry the passing game, the Bulldogs will need Bennett to resemble the player who had 24 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns in the first five games of the season. And Bennett expects to fill that need, predicting that he will be back to full speed by the time the team opens preseason camp in August.
“By June, I should [have] the leash off me and just do what I used to do,” Bennett said.