Originally created 09/10/04

Receivers hope to prove their potential



ATHENS, Ga. - Playmakers don't want to hear about a defensive stopper bailing them out with the only touchdown of the game.

Playmakers don't want to talk about red-zone deficiencies.

Playmakers don't want to play for FGU - Field Goal University - even if it is the No. 3 ranked team in the nation.

Playmakers - like Georgia seniors Fred Gibson and Reggie Brown - want to make the big plays that define the big games. It's something that the gifted receiving duo has done far too little of in the past year and plans to do far more of in the coming months.

Brown's six touchdowns coming into the year are well short of his lofty expectations. Gibson's scoring output has diminished each year as his injuries have increased.

"We didn't come close to playing to our potential," said Brown.

In the final college seasons for both of them, they spent the off-season focusing and preparing to step up and be the playmakers everybody thinks they can be.

"They both have learned from the past and they know this is the time for them to show up," said backup quarterback D.J. Shockley, Gibson's longtime college roommate. "They know they're the playmakers on our offense and they know for us to go forward they're going to have to make big plays ... and they know they're going to have to do it more often."

Georgia's offense wasn't all it could be in 2003. The absence of a dominant running back and the inexperience of the offensive line left the other skilled players a bit hamstrung.

Even so, some of the inadequacies were puzzling - particularly in the big-play passing department. Passing touchdowns dropped from 26 to 14 compared to the 2002 season. Receiving touchdowns from outside the red zone fell from 12 to two.

One of them was a 56-yarder to Gibson in the season opener that proved to be his only touchdown reception until the Capital One Bowl. The other came on a screen pass to a running back.

"It was pretty mediocre," Brown said of the 2003 campaign in which the longest of his three touchdown receptions was 11 yards. "It was really surprising because going in we felt like we had a great offense."

The lack of big plays gave Georgia's offense plenty of opportunities to get bogged down in the red zone - which they did often in piling up 38 field-goal attempts against 40 touchdowns last year.

Against Georgia Southern on Saturday, Georgia scored six touchdowns and settled for two field goals.

"If we keep making big plays like (Saturday), we won't even be in the red zone," Brown said.

That would be good news for Georgia on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium, where the Bulldogs have struggled in recent years.

Two years ago at South Carolina, the Bulldogs got no big plays from an offense that could muster only a pair of field goals. If not for defensive end David Pollack stripping an interception from South Carolina quarterback Corey Jenkins for the only touchdown and later scaring the Gamecocks into a game-ending goal-line fumble, the Bulldogs lose and the Southeastern Conference championship drought likely continues.

"That was one of those games that could put a shockwave through your team," head coach Mark Richt said.

It is a situation the Bulldogs don't want to repeat on Saturday, and the healthy and motivated receivers could be the key.

Gibson had his share of issues in 2003 regarding his health. A hamstring pull bothered him all year, as did a bone bruise on his knee. He averaged 27 fewer yards per game than his breakout freshman year.

"That really bothered him the most," Shockley said. "A lot of people talked about how his junior season wasn't what it was supposed to be. So this year he really thinks he has a lot more to prove than he ever has."

Gibson says he's 100 percent healthy now - and he looked it with five catches for 96 yards including a 49-yarder from Shockley after being knocked out of bounds. If Gibson hadn't stumbled, it might have been a 64-yard touchdown.

"I feel spectacular this year," Gibson said of his health and his hopes.

Brown, universally regarded as the most gifted athlete on the Bulldogs roster, had four catches for 87 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown when he bounced off tackles and accelerated through the Georgia Southern secondary.

"We want guys to make the big plays and these guys should be big-play receivers," Richt said. "You need the yards after the catch and yards after the contact and that's what they did. I hope (we) will continue to build on that."

With potential Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback David Greene working behind a more experienced offensive line and a promising tailback committee led by freshman Danny Ware, the Bulldogs receivers believe the floor is open for them to excel in 2004.

"When we won the SEC we had a good team," Gibson said. "This team is just like that. We've got some special people on offense."

Wide receivers coach John Eason tells his stars that they set the tone for the entire offense, and they are ready to step up.

"The offense's emphasis is getting the ball to us so we can make big plays," Brown said. "If we're not clicking, the offense is not clicking. We call ourselves the playmakers so we need to be the playmakers."

This week is their chance to turn all that potential into reality.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.