ATHENS – This is a quote from Sony Michel, talking off-handedly about working with the wide receivers at Georgia football practices this week:
“It’s great learning from those guys, seeing some of their approach, when they’re out there on an island. Sometimes me and the X [receiver] will switch, and I’ve got to learn some of the things that they do, some of the releases that they take, some of the coverages they see, how they approach some of their routes.”
Spoken like someone who’s learning how to play wide receiver.
Which, Michel wants to make clear, would leave the wrong impression. Yes, the tailback – as he’s still listed on the roster – is working with the slot receivers during portions of Georgia’s practice. Yes, it appears offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is looking for ways for Michel to get more involved in the passing game.
But Michel also says that he’s “just practicing catching the ball in case I have to go out there.” Nothing is definite.
Are we overrating how much you might play receiver, Michel was asked?
“Yeah I’m a running back,” Michel answered. “First and foremost. And I mean, that’s what you guys are supposed to do, you’re supposed to get a story about me playing receiver. I can’t really call that, I can’t really tell you guys I’m going to play receiver, because I don’t know. All I can do is really go out there and do what I’m supposed to do.”
Michel catching passes is hardly unusual: He has 55 catches over the past three years, for 525 yards and 5 touchdowns. But it’s the manner in which he may be more involved in the passing game that’s intriguing.
Tailbacks Sony Michel (left) and Brian Herrien have both been working in the slot for Georgia. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Michel is one of several non-receivers who has been working in that slot position; fellow tailback Brian Herrien, and tight ends Isaac Nauta and Jackson Harris have as well. As for the receivers, junior Terry Godwin, sophomore Mecole Hardsman and junior college transfer Ahkil Crumpton have been there too.
The idea of Michel doing it is particularly interesting, as it seems a way to get him on the field at the same time as fellow star tailback Nick Chubb. People like the idea, it was pointed out to Michel.
Who again had a counter-point.
“I mean, people say, ‘Oh Sony should be lined up at receiver.’ Nick can line up at receiver too,” Michel said. “I think people underrate him playing receiver.”
Chubb actually made that same point back in the spring. And he does have 27 career catches too, 4 for touchdowns.
But in Michel’s case, it’s someone who might have already had a very active receiving role, if not for several derailments.
When Michel was a freshman, then-offensive coordinator Mike Bobo lined up Michel out wide several times, and called wide receiver screens for him. It was a way to get Michel, then fourth on the depth chart, involved. Bobo had plans to expand Michel’s role in the passing game.
But then Michel hurt his shoulder, knocking him out for five games. And then Bobo left to become Colorado State’s coach.
The next two offensive coordinators, Brian Schottenheimer and then Chaney, toyed with Michel in the passing game, but it usually ended up being dump-down screens, or other typical fare for tailbacks.
This evidence now is more is planned, as Chaney attempts to “freshen up” the offense, as he put it last February.
But for those who think they’re about to see a high-flying, spread-out, pass-first Georgia offense, Michel threw some cold water.
“You’ll see a hard-nosed, physical team — including the offensive line from the receivers to the running backs,” Michel said. “Georgia is going to do what Georgia is always going to do: Run the football. And other people have to stop the run.”
“ Also,” he said, “We’re going to throw the football too.”