Georgia has top receivers ready for Arkansas

The injury list for Georgia's receivers has been staggering: Terrence Edwards (separated shoulder); Gibson (torn ligament in thumb which required surgery); Damien Gary (serious injury to lower left leg which required three surgeries);  Jarrett Berry and Kirby Towns (season-ending knee injuries).

ATLANTA -When Reggie Brown reported for practice with a small cast on his right hand Monday, it was suggested the sophomore was just trying to fit in with Georgia's other wide receivers.

Until he took a hit on the hand when he made his first of two catches in last week's win over Georgia Tech, Brown had been almost the only veteran receiver on the team to make it through the season without suffering an injury.

Brown is not expected to miss any time with his sore hand. Still, he probably has to play with a cast on the hand -just like Fred Gibson.

The injury list for Georgia's receivers has been staggering: Terrence Edwards (separated shoulder); Gibson (torn ligament in thumb which required surgery); Damien Gary (serious injury to lower left leg which required three surgeries);  Jarrett Berry and Kirby Towns (season-ending knee injuries).

Of the veteran receivers, only Michael Johnson -the hero of the Auburn game as a fill-in starter for Edwards -has made it through without having to be fitted for a cast or miss a game.

True freshmen Bryan McClendon and Mario Raley have been pressed into action and have combined for nine catches.

Now, as No. 4 Georgia goes through its final walk-through practice today at the Georgia Dome for Saturday's Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 22 Arkansas, the offense finally has its top receivers together for the first time since the Oct. 19 win over Vanderbilt.

"I think that will be a good advantage for us,'' Gary said. "We have most of our receivers back. We don't have to worry about being too winded.''

Edwards was surprisingly effective last week as he made his return from his shoulder injury, and Gary has participated in every practice this week.

Gary still carries a nasty scar on his leg as a reminder of the acute compartment syndrome injury, which kept him out of the last four games. He has not regained the full range of motion in his left ankle, but he is running well enough that he says he definitely will play Saturday.

Finally, Coach Mark Richt again will have the option of employing four-receiver sets against a talented Arkansas secondary.

"I think every one of them will be ready to go, so that's exciting,'' Richt said.

Added Edwards: "It's great knowing we've got more people out there again. We won't be as tired. We can put in four-receiver sets again that were bringing us some big plays earlier in the year.''

Gary is still regaining his stamina and won't return to his full-time role Saturday. He also may not take back his job on punt returns, especially since Sean Jones has averaged 16 yards while subbing for Gary in that role.

Before his injury, Gary was emerging as a top threat. He had six catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns against Kentucky before suffering the injury.

Now, Richt can line up Edwards, Gibson, Gary and Johnson - forcing at least two or three of the big-play threats to be assigned man coverage - and still have the luxury of bringing in Brown, McClendon and Raley as substitutes.

Edwards leads the team with 49 receptions for 852 yards and 10 touchdowns.

He also leads the unit with 10 starts; Gibson is next with only seven starts.

Despite continuing to wear the cast on his left hand, Gibson has returned from his injury to play with more consistency than early in the year when he lost his starting job. Gibson has 11 catches, two for touchdowns, in the last three games.

The big surprise the last two weeks has been Johnson, who more than doubled his previous season totals when he caught 13 passes for 141 yards and the game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass against Auburn.

Johnson added three catches for 68 yards against Georgia Tech.

Richt says tight end Ben Watson also has played a bigger role as a receiver.

Tailback Musa Smith -who has averaged 115 yards rushing the last four games -also has taken some pressure off the receivers.

Said Gary: "Players have done a great job of stepping up when they have to.''

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