ATHENS — The Georgia receiving corps had a makeover like no other with the top five pass catchers from a season ago out the door.
Ten games into what the Bulldogs hope is a championship season in the making, there’s still work to be done entering the Texas A&M game at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“What I love about them is every day they go to work, they really fight to get better,” Coach Kirby Smart said on the SEC coaches teleconference on Wednesday.
“It’s been a group that’s been beat up and banged up the whole year. I think every guy has missed a game or an opportunity.”
Graduate transfer Lawrence Cager has had the most notable injury.
Cager is Georgia’s leading receiver with 33 catches for 476 yards. This, even though Cager has only made it through the entirety of one of the last five games (Florida) on account of his separated shoulder.
Cager is likely the only current UGA receiver who would have started on last season’s team.
Smart has made it clear he wants and needs more out of the position group.
“What we’re wanting to see is more consistency, we’re wanting to see more physical blocking, we’re wanting to see some separation,” Smart said. “We’re trying to do a good job trying to help them, whether it’s scheme, or opportunities off of play action, or opportunities off of ways to free up a release.
“So we’re trying to help them, and they are trying to help us.”
The Bulldogs signed two freshmen, George Pickens and Dominique Blaylock, but neither were early enrollees and their development has been a work in progress.
Pickens, for all his talent, still makes freshman mistakes. Two games ago, he lined up improperly against Missouri and negated a touchdown catch.
Blaylock has two of Georgia’s TD receptions over 50 yards, but he has just 14 catches and doesn’t see as many snaps in the slot as more experienced receivers.
Tight end Eli Wolf is the other newcomer in the pass-catcher ranks. Wolf has 12 catches for 147 yards, including a game-clinching third down conversion catch against Florida and what proved to be the winning TD catch against Auburn last Saturday.
The Bulldogs returning receiver options have mostly had disappointing seasons from a pass-catching standpoint, some due to injuries.
Senior Tyler Simmons is one of the fastest players on the team, and with 9 catches last season, entered the 2019 campaign as the leading returning receiver. Simmons suffered a shoulder injury in the second game of the season, however, and he no longer runs and catches passes as effortlessly as before.
Then there is Demetris Robertson, an FWAA Freshman All-American in 2016 from Cal who got injured as a sophomore (2017) before transferring back to Georgia for a catch-less 2018 season.
Robertson is third on the team with 23 catches. But the blazing speed Robertson was advertised to have has not appeared as evident since he dealt with a hamstring injury earlier this season, as he averages just 10.8 yards per catch with a long of 33. A smaller receiver, Robertson also lacks size and physicality.
Matt Landers was another returning receiver left in the hands of assistant Cortez Hankton to develop. A former NFL receiver, Hankton knows how things should look and what it will take for players to make it to the next level.
Landers had strong moments in spring drills that had Smart excited, but also, inconsistencies with dropped passes. It’s a trend that has continued, and Landers has 6 catches for 54 yards.
With Cager out, Landers continues to get opportunities, and UGA needs Landers to have a breakthrough.
Redshirt freshman Kearis Jackson, who was hampered by a hamstring last season, began the season as the starting slot receiver. A broken hand in the opening game, however, put him on the sidelines for three games. Jackson made his first catch since returning from the injury four games before against Auburn, and he has drawn praise from the head coach for his downfield blocking.
Tight end Charlie Woerner is a fan-favorite and team captain, but for whatever reason, Woerner has had trouble getting open. Jake Fromm has tried to force a few passes in to his friend, but Woerner has had issues catching the ball in traffic, leaving him just 6 receptions for 35 yards.
The current breakdown of catches, yards and TDs for Georgia players:
True freshmen (2): 44-659 yards, 8 TDs
Grad-transfers (2): 45-623 yards, 5 TDs
Returning WR/TE (8): 55-553, 3 TDs
Running backs (5): 44-368, 2 TDs
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