ATHENS — Georgia football’s national title hopes took a hit on Friday with the dismissal of the team’s leading returning receiver, Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman.
UGA football coach Kirby Smart issued a statement on Friday announcing the news that Holloman, a talented 6-foot-2 receiver from Covington, was no longer part of what was already a thinned-out corps.
The Bulldogs top five pass-catchers from a season ago are now gone, with juniors Riley Ridley (44 catches, 570 yards, 9 TDs) and Mecole Hardman (34 catches, 532 yards, 7 TDs) on to the NFL with departed senior WR Terry Godwin (22 catches, 373 yards, 3 TDs).
Junior tight end Isaac Nauta (30 catches, 430 yards, 3 TDs) also elected to declare himself eligible for the NFL draft.
That leaves senior Tyler Simmons, who had 9 catches for 138 yards and 2 touchdowns last season, as the top returning wide receiver.
Smart acknowledged last month at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., that Georgia was “missing pieces” at receiver as well as on the defensive line.
Things, however, are probably not as dire as they appear on paper.
The addition of Miami Hurricanes graduate transfer Lawrence Cager, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder on NFL radar, figures to be bigger than most realize.
Cager, who started 12 of 13 games for Miami last season, led the Hurricanes with a 17.8 yards-per-catch average and 6 TDs en route to 21 receptions for 374 yards.
Cager is two years removed from suffering a torn ACL during a summer workout, an injury he told DawgNation took him two seasons to recover from, fully.
The addition of Cal transfer Demetris Robertson last year should also provide a boost.
Robertson was less than a year removed from the season-ending injury he suffered at Cal his sophomore season of 2017 when he reported to UGA last summer.
The lack of a spring football session and healthy offseason of conditioning prevented Robertson from making the impact many expected last season.
The former 5-star prospect from Savannah Christian failed to catch a pass last season, his impact limited to four carries for 109 yards and a TD — 72 of those yards coming on one play in the season-opening win over FCS Austin Peay.
Smart made it clear Robertson made great strides this spring, though an illness led to him missing the G-Day Game.
Simmons, too, will be healthier than a season ago when he suited up for most of the games wearing a shoulder brace that limited his range of motion — and likely, the number of targets he received.
Redshirt sophomore Matt Landers has yet to catch a pass in a game, but the 6-5, 200-pounder flashed enough this spring that Smart called on him to step up as a playmaker.
Landers’ inconsistency was a problem throughout spring drills — he dropped two passes in the G-Day Game — but his upside is such that Fromm will likely spend much of the remaining summer spiraling passes in his direction.
Finally, more added experience comes in the form of transfer Eli Wolf, a former Tennessee captain.
Wolf, at 6-4, 236, is in the mold of Isaac Nauta, and while he led the Vols with five catches for 63 yards and a TD in their 2018 Orange-and-White Game, it’s too early to say he’ll complement senior Charlie Woerner in the double tight end set to the degree Nauta did.
New offensive coordinator James Coley modified the Georgia pass game this spring, conveniently enough, to include more passes to the backs.
Tailback D’Andre Swift has proven himself a weapon catching the ball out of the backfield the past two seasons. Swift had 32 catches for 297 yards last season, and it’s reasonable to expect as many more more catches from the 2019 Heisman Trophy candidate this season.
Indeed, senior tailback Brian Herrien and sophomore James Cook have also proven effective receivers out of the backfield, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider Coley lining up backs in the slot to create match-up problems this season.
Smart indicated this spring that in the closed scrimmages, some of the most explosive and effective plays were passes to the running backs.
Third-year quarterback Jake Fromm said as much.
“It’s a part of who we are offensively, to have those running backs get those catches in the game out of the backfield is huge,” Fromm said. “We think that’s a matchup that goes in our favor. The more they catch out of the backfield, the better for our offense.”
“(Coley) is getting us as running backs involved more in the pass game,” Swift said. “A lot of exotic stuff on offense that the world will have to look out for this season form the Georgia Bulldogs.”
Georgia signed an impressive trio of freshman receivers in the 2019 class, and the head coach has already indicated he’ll incorporate them.
Freshman Dominick Blaylock has already been tagged as a potential punt returner by the head coach, and his receiving skills are such that he’s expected to compete immediately for a spot in the rotation.
Freshman George Pickens, who looked taller than the 6-3 he’s listed at on the roster, is another potential impact player. While Smart insists his receivers block adequately, Pickens ability to stretch the field should provide him the benefit of long looks in fall drills.
Mikiya Tongue, son of NFL veteran Reggie Tongue, arrives with a unique football I.Q. and idea of what it will take to get on the football field.
In summation, there remain plenty of “what-ifs” and unprovens when evaluating the Georgia football team on paper.
Smart has conceded as much.
“A lot of that identify, I won’t even know until fall camp, because you have grad transfers and everybody coming together,” Smart said.
“I’m going to find out every day more and more about this new team.”
Friday’s news wasn’t good, but Smart and his football team have a summer session ahead to learn more about themselves, and their ability to overcome adversity and provide an adequate “next man up.”