ATHENS — Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett will be counting on a handful of receivers to keep defenses honest on the perimeter, but the team will be missing one of its most elite speed threats.
Receiver Arian Smith — the fastest player on the Bulldogs’ team, and perhaps the SEC — is reportedly the latest UGA wide receiver sidelined, suffering an ankle injury that will reportedly require surgery.
REPORT: Georgia receiver Arian Smith to undergo ankle surgery
Georgia needs to ensure veterans like Ladd McConkey, Adonai Mitchell and Kearis Jackson can stay healthy, as the receiving unit lacks experienced depth.
UGA coach Kirby Smart spoke earlier in fall camp about receivers competing for snaps with the talented tight ends the Bulldogs have, as more than one of them can line up in the slot.
Georgia will surely be looking at many options when the team holds its first scrimmage of fall camp at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.
Arik Gilbert is one of the tight ends with enough of a receiver background to be split out wide often to create mismatches.
“Arik is more of a route-runner,” UGA offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Thursday. “He’s been in that, in terms of what he’s developed, it’s almost like an air-raid Y.”
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Especially now, with Georgia sorely lacking in veteran wideouts.
Monken shared Thursday that Smith was not being counted on as an every-down player because he has been limited by injuries and is still growing comfortable with the playbook.
“Not being healthy and being out there to develop, what that does, is that restricts you from a player being an every-down player to get on the field more often,” Monken said, “because you can’t trust them and everything you’re asking them to do, so they have to be situational players.”
Smith has played in just eight of 25 games over the past two seasons, making 5 catches for 188 yards and 3 touchdowns.
It’s a tough situation, as Smith had pledged in spring drills to get his track speed — he has run a 4.29 40 and turned in a 10.18 100 — on the field more this fall.
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Jermaine Burton, who led the WR unit with 497 yards receiving last season, was set to be UGA’s most experienced returning receiver before he transferred to Alabama after the national championship season.
That Leaves McConkey (31 catches, 447 yards) Mitchell (29 catches, 426 yards) as the only players to line up at receiver in every game last season.
Jackson was coming off a knee injury entering last season and did not play receiver in the opening game against Clemson, limiting himself to the return game.
Jackson had just 16 catches for 194 yards last season and there is no guarantee this season will produce that many more opportunities.
“He (Jackson) is also competing with the tight ends,” Smart said at his opening fall camp press conference. “Because when he’s on the field, one of them’s not.”
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Georgia is hopeful fourth-year receiver Dominick Blaylock can regain his freshman form, when he was named the team’s co-offensive newcomer of the year after making 18 catches for 310 yards from former QB Jake Fromm.
Blaylock missed all of 2020 with a torn ACL and 10 of 14 games last season while still recovering from injuries related to the ACL, making two catches for 11 yards in four games.
Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, who missed the end of the 2020 season with a broken ankle suffered against Florida, had 7 catches for 94 yards and played in 13 games last season.
Here’s a look at what Georgia has coming back in the pass-catching department:
TE Brock Bowers, 56 catches, 882 yards, 13 TD
WR Ladd McConkey, 31 catches, 447 yards, 5 TD
WR A.D. Mitchell, 29 catches, 426 yards, 5 TD
RB Kenny McIntosh 22 catches, 242 yarn, 2 TD
WR Kearis Jackson 16 catches, 194 yards, 1 TD
TE Darnell Washington 10 catches, 154 yards, 1 TD
WR Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint 7 catches, 94 yards, 0 TD
WR Jackson Meeks 3 catches, 44 yards, 0 TD
RB Daijun Edwards 2 catches, 42. Yards, 0 TD
TE Brett Seither 3 catches, 42 yards, 1 TD
WR Dom Blaylock 2 catches, 11 yards, 0 TD
RB Kendall Milton 2 catches, 5 yards, 0 TD
Arian Smith spring press conference