By Charles Odum
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) - Chris Conley says Georgia no longer has to depend on any one receiver.
Not A.J. Green.
Not Malcolm Mitchell.
Conley proved the point last week when he took advantage of his 6-foot-3 frame and 40-inch vertical leap to make a key 18-yard sideline catch that enabled Georgia to run out the clock in its 24-20 win over Florida.
With the big grab, Conley proved there's new depth at receiver for No. 18 Georgia, which plays New Mexico State on Saturday. He also proved he had the confidence of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
"I'm proud of the play," Conley said. "I'm glad that I had the opportunity to make a play like that, that coach Bobo would trust me enough to give me a play of that magnitude. Hopefully there will be many more to come and that's what I've got to work for."
The last few years Georgia relied heavily on Green, who is now the NFL's top rookie receiver with Cincinnati. Quarterback Aaron Murray has turned to Conley, Tavarres King, Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett after losing Mitchell, this year's top target who will miss his third straight game this week with a hamstring injury.
Former Calhoun star and lightly-recruited walk-on Rhett McGowan even snagged his first career catch for a big third-down conversion in last week's rivalry win in Jacksonville.
Murray says the receivers have been motivated by Green's exit to the NFL.
"I think it's just competitive to prove to everyone they're not going to be down with A.J. gone this year," Murray said. "They took that to heart this offseason, had a huge offseason, and they've been playing hard all season so far. They're definitely competing to play as much as they can and also to prove the doubters wrong that we wouldn't be anything without A.J. this year."
Conley, who had three catches for 38 yards against Florida, said some members of the receiving corps were insulted by the suggestion there wasn't enough talent to make up for the injury to Mitchell.
"All the guys were sort of upset that when Malcolm was out there was a big fear that our passing game would sort of drop off," Conley said. "We think that our receiving corps is very talented and each of our guys has different attributes so that when Malcolm wasn't able to go there were other guys who could step up and contribute."
Conley and Mitchell are freshmen who could be in the early stages of a long-term healthy rivalry.
Conley says he's "hoping for a speedy recovery" for Mitchell and added he's eager for Mitchell's return "because his skills add to the group, too."
After offering those good wishes, Conley didn't hesitate when asked if he's trying to show he can be the go-to receiver, just like Mitchell, who through six games led Georgia with 25 catches for 438 yards and three touchdowns.
"Exactly," Conley said. "It's sort of a competitive love of each of the guys. We love each of the guys and they all have things to contribute but at the same time we want to be better than each other and it pushes us."
Tight end Orson Charles has passed Mitchell for the team lead with 26 catches. King, a senior, has a team-leading five touchdown grabs among his 25 catches.
Four receivers have at least 20 catches. Conley has only five catches for 63 yards, but he showed his potential against Florida.
"He's done a great job of running routes, really sticking it and coming back to the ball and using his hands," said Murray of Conley. "A lot of receivers let the ball come all the way back to them. He does a great job of extending his hands and not letting the defensive back come over the top of him and knock it away. Fundamentally he's worked extremely hard and it's paying off because he's getting a ton of playing time right now."
Murray's receivers will be especially important against New Mexico State as Georgia plays without its top four tailbacks.
Starter Isaiah Crowell and two other tailbacks have been suspended for the game after failing drug tests. Backup Richard Samuel is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season after having ankle surgery on Tuesday.
Former walk-on Brandon Harton, who has played in only one game this season, could start at tailback. Another option is freshman walk-on Kyle Karempelis.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
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