ATHENS — During the early part of practice, the Georgia offense takes up the left side of one field. This week a visitor might have seen James Coley using his high-pitched voice in the direction of the quarterbacks, Jim Chaney leaning down and barking at the tight ends, and Cortez Hankton throwing a huge black medicine ball at the ground for receivers to use practicing cut blocking.
Those are all changes from last year, Kirby Smart’s tinkering with the coaching staff that was part necessity, part opportunity.
Two events led to the changes: Coley being pursued by Texas A&M to be its offensive coordinator, and then-tight ends coach Shane Beamer leaving for Oklahoma. The result was a shuffling of job duties and the addition of Hankton, all of which Smart hopes improves an offense that already took a big step forward last season.
There are benefits to these changes. There are also risks.
When Georgia receiver Mecole Hardman was asked about Hankton, he first mentioned his new position coaches’ pedigree: He played receiver in the NFL, and it’s the only position he’s ever coached. He brings a technical expertise to the position.
“Coach Hank is a cool guy. A guy who’s been in the NFL. Knows what it takes to get there,” Hardman said. “He’s just giving his knowledge and experience to us to help us out and get us to the level we need to be at.”
Coley, after two years coaching Georgia’s receivers, is now back coaching quarterbacks, a position he has coached at the high school and pro levels.
“Coley is in a better spot where he’s at with the quarterbacks,” Hardman said.
Then there are the tight ends, who have seen a steady decrease in catches the last few years. Since Chaney is remaining the play-caller but taking over the tight ends, they’re hoping they will benefit.
“I would hope so, yeah. I think that’s definitely the anticipation in the room is we would get the ball a little more next year,” Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner said. “Maybe we can sweet talk him, bring some cookies in for him. He’ll get us the ball a little more next year.”
(Upon closer questioning, Woerner said he thinks Chaney is more of a McDonald’s and sweet tea guy.)
Joking aside, Woerner does think his talented unit — which also has Isaac Nauta and adds a couple four-star recruits this summer — will get more insight being around Chaney.
“It’s a little different,” Woerner said. “Coach Beamer was a great coach for us, but Chaney’s a little different. Obviously he’s the OC, so he knows the offense in and out better than anybody ever could because it’s his play-calling. And being in the room all the time with him is letting us get inside his head a little bit, too. Seeing what he’s going to do. Getting our minds a little bit more like the quarterbacks almost, you know what I mean, thinking like he would.”
But moving Chaney away from quarterbacks also has potential downsides. He’s done well coaching them in the past, from Drew Brees 20 years ago at Purdue to freshman Jake Fromm last year.
Smart doubtlessly considered that before he made the moves, which he said were part of a larger picture.
“You can always look at yourself and say, ‘How can I improve?’” Smart said. “I think we improved our staff tremendously by retaining one of our best recruiters and best coaches in James Coley while also bringing an unbelievable personality and great background in Cortez Hankton. He’s coached in our league, knows our league, has recruited in our league. All we want to do is make our staff better, and that’s the ultimate goal is to improve each year, and that’s what I think I’ve been able to do. So I’m excited about that.”
It’s also not that Chaney and Coley have completely forsaken their former units. There’s enough overlap during practice, whether it be team drills or passing drills, that receivers and quarterbacks are working together, that Coley and Chaney might be talking to their former guys.
And Chaney ultimately remains the man in charge of the offense. That hasn’t changed.
“Chaney’s the OC, so he’s with everybody. The receivers, the tight ends, the quarterbacks, at the end he’s going to have the overall say,” Hardman said. “But Chaney, he’s trusting Coley and Coach Hank to do their thing. I think Coach Chaney’s more laid-back now and just letting everything play itself out. That’s good, because he’s giving the quarterbacks and Coley to do more things that they can do.”