ATHENS – On Kirby Smart’s radio show Thursday night, a question was read on the air from Erica in Marietta: How does the Georgia football team plan to use Mecole Hardman this season?
“We plan to get him the ball,” Smart said.
Hardman, the sophomore who spent last season at cornerback, has by all accounts had a strong preseason. And to hear Smart tell it, Hardman could help fill the void left by Isaiah McKenzie, last year’s leading receiver, who went mostly out of the slot.
“He is what Isaiah was, but a little different,” Smart said of Hardman. “He’s probably a little bit faster, a little bit bigger, maybe not as knowledgable a receiver as Isaiah was, because that’s not what Mecole’s always done. But he’s an exciting player. He works his tail off every day, and he’s a tough player. That’s what excites me.”
Fellow receiver Terry Godwin’s face lit up when asked about Hardman on Thursday.
“When you see that burst of speed, I mean, I haven’t seen anything like that in a long time,” Godwin said. “He’s something special.”
It also sounds as if Hardman will be active on special teams.
Among the other nuggets from Smart’s radio show:
SPECIAL TEAMS UPDATES
Smart said the coaches “feel comfortable” with the three candidates to return punts and four candidates to return kickoffs. But he did not name the leading candidate.
Both spots are vacant this year. McKenzie handled most punt returns last year, and Reggie Davis returned kickoffs.
The punt return candidates are Hardman, Godwin and Ahkil Crumpton.
And the candidates to return kickoffs are Hardman, again, along with Sony Michel, Jayson Stanley and Tyler Simmons.
“Right now we’re going to wait and see how it happens, see how the first guy handles it. And if he does a good job we’ll continue it,” Smart said.
While there’s been no announced starting lineup for the back end of Georgia’s defense, it appears there’s a wide gap between the first team and the second team in the secondary.
“We’ve got a group of starters we feel good with at corner, nickel and safety. But after that we don’t,” Smart said, rather bluntly. “There’s a clear drop-off right now, and we’re working hard to improve those guys.”
The media hasn’t seen the lineup this week at practice. For what it’s worth, the lineup for the scrimmage last Saturday saw sophomore J.R. Reed at star, senior Aaron Davis and junior Deandre Baker at cornerback, senior Dominick Sanders and freshman Richard LeCounte at safety.
Reed, the transfer from Tulsa who sat out last year, was among the players who Smart singled out for their improvement. Smart said Reed has “really jumped off the map” this year, going from afterthought to first-team defensive back.
Godwin, who has gone against Reed in practice since last year, praised his physicality.
“He’s one of those safeties who is going to come down the field and hit you,” Godwin said. “He’s going to make sure that you know that J.R. Reed is on the field.”
Smart also touched on the injury to senior Malkom Parrish, a two-year starter at cornerback who underwent surgery on a broken bone in his foot. Parrish is not expected to be ready for the season opener on Sept. 2, and his status for Week 2 at Notre Dame is also in doubt.
“We hope to get him back as soon as possible,” Smart said. “He’s certainly got a great attitude about things … It’s really sad because he was having a great camp.”