Spring reports on Hardman, Michel and Chubb tantalize Dawgs fans

Sony Michel University of Georgia Football
Getting Sony Michel the ball out in space by using him as a receiver could help open up the Dawgs' offense.

Parsing coaches’ comments for clues to a new direction while scouring Georgia football practice reports may not get fans quite as revved up in the spring as in August, but it does feed that innate optimism that tends to thrive during this time of the year, when all things seem possible.

And, yes, there’ve been a few tidbits gleaned from Georgia’s first week of spring drills that have fed my Dawgmania and helped counter my concerns about the offensive line and other question marks.

Already having been teased earlier by Jim Chaney about his plans to “freshen” the Dawgs’ offense and Kirby Smart about the need to open things up a bit, I was pleased to see Smart talking more along those lines in a transcript of the head coach’s comments at his Tuesday press conference provided by UGA.

Opening up the offense should take some of the defensive pressure off Jacob Eason. (Cory A. Cole / UGA)

Talking about the difference in the state of the program from last spring to this year in regard to sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason and the offense, Smart said that “there are some changes in those things that we’re going to do this spring to challenge him and the offense to pick things up and be able to play in space and make some plays in space.”

Smart said he recognizes that offensive improvement is needed, and “obviously, scoring some more points and being able to score in the red area is critical.”

Besides assembling a new (and hopefully better) line, the biggest challenge facing UGA’s offensive brain trust is replacing all those explosive plays provided last season by Isaiah McKenzie.

A lot of folks think sophomore Mecole Hardman, ostensibly a backup cornerback and the heir apparent on kickoff returns, might be a contender for a playmaker role on offense as well, and Smart did allow, “We have a plan for Mecole. We want to get some offensive snaps and be able to expose him to some of the concepts.”

This spring, the emphasis for Hardman mostly will be continuing to develop as a cornerback, Smart said, but come fall (and more team depth), they’ll take a longer look at his kick return and offensive potential. However, in Saturday’s practice Hardman was catching some passes with the receivers, so there likely already are offensive packages being designed with him in mind.

As receiver Javon Wims put it: “He’s very fast. Speed, we could use that speed in the receiving room. Especially in the slot.”

Sounds promising, but there’s an even more enticing candidate for the slot who’s already proved himself as a receiver, though he frustratingly wasn’t used nearly enough in that capacity last season: tailback Sony Michel.

With opposing defenses bottling up Georgia’s running attack last season and the deep passing game not really developing, it was sort of baffling why Chaney didn’t have Eason dumping the ball off to the backs more, getting the ball to them out in space, where they are most dangerous, and taking some of the pressure off the young quarterback.

Certainly, Michel’s 33-yard touchdown catch against TCU in the Liberty Bowl game showed what can happen when the ball is thrown to him.

Smart alluded to that at his press conference this week, saying of Michel: “When you get him the ball in space, he tends to make things happen, so finding ways to get Sony the ball and creative ways to use his ability is important for us. … We’ve got guys [in the backfield] that are good players, but we’ve got to find ways to use them. It’s just not that easy to hand them the ball back there and get them through a defensive line if you don’t have space to do things.”

Sounds like he’s been watching game film from last year.

Spring practice reports say Nick Chubb is in top form. (Curtis Compton / AJC)

Also, with Nick Chubb reportedly back in top form and obviously the first in line to get the ball in the running attack, doing more with Michel than simply rotating him in to spell Chubb at tailback not only would give opposing defenses more to worry about, and make it less effective for them to key on Chubb, but it also would make better use of Georgia’s wealth of talent at the position.

Throwing more to Chubb would help, too, and it’s worth noting that practice reports have said both Chubb and Michel have been very active in the passing game during the first week of spring drills.

Smart was correct in indicating recently that it didn’t make sense to put Chubb and Michel into the game at the same time simply to allow one of them to play decoy for the other, but making them an integral part of the passing game would more than justify both being out there on the field at the same time, and would help accomplish Smart’s goal of opening the offense up and getting his playmakers the ball out in space.

And, if allowing them to develop and show off their receiving skills also helps Chubb and Michel prepare themselves for the NFL, well, considering that the dynamic duo passed up the chance to move on to pro ball in order to come back and play their senior seasons in Athens, that seems only fair.

More importantly, it could pay big dividends on the scoreboard.

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