ATHENS — Kirby Smart wants to see Georgia’s wide receivers gain confidence early on in fall practice.
The Bulldogs must replace their top five receiving yardage leaders from last season, and will also be breaking in four new faces at the position with Dominick Blaylock, Lawrence Cager, George Pickens and Makiya Tongue all joining the program this summer.
“I hope the growth happens fast. We need to get those guys touches as much as possible so they get some confidence,” Smart said during his press conference on Friday. “Because the biggest thing they’re missing is experiencing.”
Quarterback Jake Fromm isn’t putting quite the same pressure on the wide receivers, specifically the three freshmen in Blaylock, Pickens and Tongue.
For those guys, he’s just hoping they all run the right routes.
“Things are going to be kind of fast for them today with it being their first practice today,” Fromm said. “It was for me too. Hopefully, we’ll get them lined up and they can run the right route so we can see what do this afternoon.”
Both Fromm and Smart were asked often about Georgia wide receiver core prior to the first day of practice. The position group is one of the few big question marks on the team, given the lack of production at the position.
Of the group, the player on this year’s Georgia team with the most catches in a Georgia uniform is Tyler Simmons. He had nine receptions all of last season.
Georgia does have two players who have produced at a Power Five level before. The problem is that Cager did it at Miami and Demetris Robertson did it at Cal back in 2016. Cager caught 6 touchdowns a year ago for the Hurricanes before arriving as a graduate transfer.
Robertson finished with zero catches after catching 57 in his freshman season at Cal. But it wasn’t clear until the middle of August last year that the wide receiver would be eligible to play during the 2018 season after transferring.
Smart was asked specifically about Robertson and what has changed from this year to last year.
“What he has to do is play within our system and play well within our system and play better than the people in front of him and that’s his challenge,” Smart said. “That hasn’t changed from that was last year. He still has to play the best three to be the first three out there. To be in the top six and rotate, he’s got to be in the top six and I fully expect him to do that. He did that in the spring.”
As for how that top six and top three will look, much of that will be determined in camp. Simmons certainly expects to be there, given his experience as well as his blocking ability. Other returning receivers vying for a spot in the rotation include Matt Landers, Tommy Bush, Kearis Jackson and Trey Blount.
Georgia did sign Pickens, Blaylock and Tongue in the 2019 recruiting class, and all three were out at practice on Friday. Pickens and Blaylock were the highest-rated wide receivers Georgia has signed since 2009. Pickens was a 5-star prospect from Hoover, Ala. while Blaylock was rated as a 5-star prospect for the majority of the recruiting cycle. Blaylock played his high school football for Walton High School in Marietta, Ga.
All of Georgia’s wide receivers will benefit this year from having quarterback Jake Fromm return as a third-year starter. Fromm threw for 30 touchdowns to just 6 interceptions a season ago. He also completed 67 percent of his passes as well and was voted Second Team All-SEC at SEC Media Days in July.
Even though he’s one of the most proven members of the team, the junior quarterback mentioned that there are things he wants to improve on in the month of August.
“I want to get better on offense,” Fromm said. “I want to make this team the best team that I can make and that starts during camp.”
While Smart and Fromm are both hoping for a fast connection between quarterback and receiver, the lack of experience hasn’t dampened either’s excitement for the position group.
Smart acknowledged the questions about the position group during his media session on Friday. He also added that he’s been just as critical of the wide receivers up to this point.
And he hopes that all the second-guessing about the group helps prepare them for the 2019 season and beyond.
“I’m excited to see those guys work. They have a chip on their shoulder,” Smart said. “You guys keep calling them out, I keep calling them out. That gives them an opportunity to go shine.”
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