ATHENS — Kirby Smart likes talking about how his football team will “dictate” the run, but the highlights the Georgia football coach looks for aren’t the sort you’ll see on ESPN SportsCenter.
Smart gets more excited about receivers’ downfield blocks than one-handed catches, spin moves or leaping grabs.
It’s what gets players on the field for the Bulldogs — or keeps them off.
Plenty has changed in the receivers room since las season, the top five pass catchers from a season ago are no longer on the team, and Jim Chaney’s dry humor and salty verbiage has moved on to Tennessee.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the priority that Smart will put on downfield blocking and team contributions.
Georgia, more than most other programs, demands receivers hold their own from a physicality standpoint, as well as with their special teams contributions.
Here are thoughts on the receivers entering fall camp,
1. Demetris Robertson
The top breakout candidate on the football team, this flyer is ready for take off in the Georgia pass attack.
Quarterback Jake Fromm didn’t get into many specifics at SEC Media Days, and it’s not his style to hype things up. But when asked about Robertson, Fromm lit up.
“D-Rob has gotten bigger, faster and stronger, and that’s what he needed,” Fromm said, “for his body to get rejuvenated again, he’s back at it, running fast, looking big, looking strong.”
Smart endorsed last year’s transfer from Cal in spring, and one might suspect the elimination of an open practice this fall could be attributed to the ‘secret weapon’ nature of Robertson’s usage.
Fact is, Robertson could line up outside or inside at receiver and is a prime candidate for jet sweep duties. Defenses, no doubt, will take note of where he’s lined up.
2. Tyler Simmons
There’s tough, and there’s Tyler Simmons tough, and that was even before the rising senior got bounced out of The Cloud bar this summer as the result of a fraternity-induced skirmish.
Simmons, who throws his 6-foot, 200-pound frame around on the field in just as scrappy of a nature, played more than half of last season wearing a shoulder brace under his pads.
Now healthy, and having paid his dues on special teams (Simmons wasn’t offsides!) while waiting his turn in the receivers room, Simmons is a player teammates will be rooting for to have a breakout season.
Like Robertson, Simmons was one of the first names to come up when J.R. Reed, Smart or Fromm was asked about this season’s crop of receivers.
Simmons just has that “go-to” feel about him, the kind of guy that will run through a wall for you, or have your back should trouble arise.
3. Matt Landers
A 6-foot-5, 200-pound redshirt sophomore with speed and big-play ability …..
It’s hard to imagine a sentence starting any better for a prospective breakout player.
The problem in spring drills was that Smart typically added a “but” to that sentence, as Landers struggled with his consistency to the extent of getting called out.
Landers’ upside, however, is tantalizing.
The addition of incoming freshman phenom George Pickens could be just the thing that sparks Landers to find his marks on a daily basis.
Or, Pickens could take his job.
4. Lawrence Cager
It’s hard to ignore (and not write about) a 6-foot-5 target who possesses a 40-inch vertical jump, so Cager is all the rage after his transfer from Miami.
Cager was slated to be J.J. Holloman’s roommate after the two hosted one another on visits — Cager hosting Holloman at Miami out of high school, and Holloman hosting Cager before he chose to transfer to Georgia.
Not, Smart indicated, Cager has been “thrust” into Holloman’s position and will be expected to produce in a make-or-break year for him.
“I know his catch radius is ridiculous, I’ve seen it,” Reed said.
But does Cager have the speed and technique to separate from SEC receivers, and can he play physical without the ball and block effectively enough to satisfy Smart?
5. The Slot, the rest
Few incoming freshman receivers have arrived with high expectations like Dominick Blaylock, but landing that sort of skilled, coached-up prospect is what makes Georgia, Georgia these days.
Blaylock won’t walk right in and take a starting spot, he’ll need to battle to get ahead of players like Kearis Jackson, Tommy Bush and Trey Blount in the rotation.
Perhaps one of those three returners had a strong enough summer to earn Saturday targets from Fromm. Blount was good enough to be part of a pretty special 2017 team.
But Blaylock sounds like the part of an impact freshman in this offense.
Meanwhile, Makiya Tongue may be the least talked about freshman receiver, but he’s projected to be the sort Smart falls in love with — physically capable and willing to handle the duties the head coach celebrates each week.
DawgNation fall camp features