ATHENS – Sometimes, big news doesn’t arrive in one foul swoop, it comes in slight drips, to the point where the big news is no longer big news. Which brings us to how the Georgia football team handled Mecole Hardman this spring.
If it had been announced in early March that Hardman, the former five-star recruit who spent his freshman season at cornerback, was moving to receiver, it would have been monumental news then. An important addition to the offense, and the abandoning of an experiment on defense.
Instead, Hardman news was parceled out ever so slightly: First, Kirby Smart acknowledged that Hardman would get some work on offense. Second, the media actually saw him catching passes during a media viewing period, but while still wearing a white defensive jersey. Third, Hardman actually wore a red offensive jersey while the media was out there.
So by the time G-Day rolled around and Hardman worked entirely on offense, it was kind of an “eh” moment. And even then, Smart wasn’t ready to say the monumental move was official.
“We’ve got to have corners too. So it’s going to depend a little bit on which route we go,” Smart said after G-Day. “It’s going to depend a lot on the guys coming in, and that kind of thing.”
Georgia has four more receivers arriving this summer, but also three cornerbacks.
“If those guys can provide the depth that we need, we certainly think Mecole can give us a dynamic that we need offensively,” Smart said.
So maybe this trails on into the summer and the preseason. But it’s been apparent for awhile now that the dynamics have changed: Rather than Hardman being a cornerback who dabbles on offense, the way Brandon Smith and Brandon Boykin did in the early 2000s, Hardman seems headed for a permanent spot on offense.
As it probably should be.
Georgia needs what Hardman can provide the offense. But it doesn’t really know, to put it bluntly, whether he can provide the defense anything it doesn’t have already have.
Hardman tried cornerback last year, which was a new position to him. He couldn’t crack the starting lineup, which shouldn’t have been a surprise considering the experience ahead of him. That won’t change this year: Both starting cornerbacks return, rising junior Tyrique McGhee and freshman Deangelo Gibbs could also be factors, and the team has those three incoming cornerbacks (Ameer Speed, Eric Stokes and Latavious Brini.) So it’s very possible that Hardman, unless his development at cornerback takes a major leap, would simply be depth.
Five-stars shouldn’t be depth.
Meanwhile, Hardman’s playmaking skills have a definite place on Georgia’s offense, whether it’s in the slot or on plays out of the backfield or anything else Jim Chaney conjures up. Hardman flashed a bit of that potential on G-Day, when he had three catches for 62 yards, though Smart pointed out that it came against the second-team defense – which didn’t have any scholarship cornerbacks, partly because of Hardman’s absence.
There’s still a learning curve on offense, too, as Smart said, as Hardman didn’t catch passes in high school. He was his team’s quarterback.
“He was catching the snap. That was about the only catch he had,” Smart said, chuckling.
So there’s an adjustment. But Hardman is bright and tough and competitive, in Smart’s words.
Smart still wouldn’t commit to using him full-time on offense. But he also didn’t seem to commit to using him full-time on defense. To be decided, was the phrase.
But at this point it’s fairly obvious which direction this is going.