Milner out of Pope's shadow

Martrez Milner

ATHENS - It's hard to say if it's more surprising that only five tight ends in the country have more receiving yards per game than Martrez Milner or if it's that one of them is not Leonard Pope.

Martrez Milner entered the season a decidedly second fiddle behind Pope, the All-American candidate who led Georgia in yards per catch last year. Three games into the year, the roles are reversed, at least on paper. Milner has six catches for 190 yards compared to Pope's six for 74.

Milner's 31.7 yards per catch average leads not only the No. 7 Bulldogs (3-0, 1-0 SEC) but also every one of the other top 100 pass catchers in the country this year.

"Of course it feels good, but it's still early in the season," the junior said. "I guess you can say it's a surprise, but I'm just thankful for the opportunity to play."

For two seasons, Milner's playing time and potential were hampered by a bad back and an ailment even more debilitating, one that momma's love but coaches hate.

"He's one of the nicest guys in the world," Coach Mark Richt said.

Too nice, according to Richt.

"You've got to get after it out there on the field," Richt said.

Sometime between the end of last season, when back spasms limited him to four catches in 10 games, and the beginning of preseason practice, Milner decided to do just that.

"One day in fall practice (Richt) asked me, ‘Are you OK? You look like a new man," Milner said.

"It looked like a light bulb went off in his head, ‘I want to be a great player,'" Richt said.

Milner barely reached mediocre in his first two seasons. In three games, he has bested his career numbers coming into the year, five catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

"That says something about Martrez's character that he knew some things had to be adjusted as far as his temperament and his demeanor," tight ends coach David Johnson said, "and he's done that."

As Milner raised his ire, his confidence followed. Catching a 56-yard touchdown pass from D.J. Shockley in the third quarter against Boise State cemented that feeling.

"You catch the ball, you know you can catch the ball; you make a good block, you know you can block," Milner explained. "I guess confidence really plays a big role in how you play on the field."

The skill level between the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Milner and the 6-foot-7, 248-pound Pope has never been as big as the difference in their production.

"He's very skilled," Johnson said. "Anytime he makes a mistake, it's not due to lack of skill or talent. It's focus and concentration. He does not lack any physical attributes. It's all between his ears."

Milner's focus has been better because of his belief in himself, Richt said.

"He knows he's a ball player now," Richt said, "and I think that's been the difference for him."

Despite Milner's breakout in the first three games, he'll go right back to second team behind Pope this week against Mississippi State, and that's fine with him.

"Pope's the man," he said. "He was the man coming into the season, and I'm here to back him up."

But he's not playing second fiddle to anybody.
Nation's Top Tight Ends*
Name Team YPG YPC TDs
1. Garrett Mills Tulsa 111.0 12.8 1
2. Vernon Davis Maryland 108.0 24.9 2
T3. Greg Olsen Miami 73.0 14.6 0
T3. Marcedes Lewis UCLA 73.0 15.6 1
5. Jamaal Lewis Arizona State 65.0 21.7 4
6. Martrez Milner Georgia 63.3 31.7 2
*based on receiving yards per game
SEC's Top Receivers*
(All positions)
Name Team YPG YPC TDs
1. Mario Hill Ole Miss 119.0 17.0 1
2. Chad Jackson Florida 98.7 12.9 4
3. Erik Davis Vanderbilt 92.0 13.1 0
4. Taye Biddle Ole Miss 73.5 16.3 0
5. Martrez Milner Georgia 63.3 31.7 2
*based on receiving yards per game

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