(Curtis Compton/AJC)
Tyler Simmons (87) is not just a good blocker for the Bulldogs. He caught this pass for a 12-yard gain against South Carolina.

Georgia WR Tyler Simmons blocks his way into starting job

ATHENS – Georgia’s players and coaches are careful to say that Demetris Robertson is a perfectly fine blocker as far as wide receivers go. But they don’t mince words when it comes to the blocking abilities of some of their other wideouts, and one in particular.

As for the special talent that it takes to lock up a defender while moving full speed on an open field 100 yards long and 160 feet wide, Tyler Simmons apparently has ninja-like skills. They were on display again this past Saturday in the Bulldogs’ 41-17 win over South Carolina.

“He had two really good blocks,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Everybody saw the one, but he knocked a guy to the ground early in the game early as well. So he’s proven to be a physical blocker. He catches the ball well, too. He’s got good speed, built like a running back. If he continues to get better and practice better, he can be a really good player for us.”

“The one” to which Smart refers was a block in which Simmons sent his defender out of bounds to spring Mecole Hardman free down the sideline for a 34-yard touchdown on a short flare pass. Another was on Georgia’s first offensive touchdown of the game when Simmons blocked South Carolina cornerback Rashad Fenton to the ground on the left side to provide running back D’Andre Swift untouched passage to the end zone on a sweep.

“It’s something I take a lot of pride in, blocking and receiving,” said Simmons, who also had a 12-yard catch and a 5-yard run the game. “(Blocking) is something that got me to where I am now. So it’s kind of what I tell myself, ‘you can’t forget where you come from.’ It’s gotten me a lot of time on the field.”

Indeed, it’s no coincidence that the junior from Powder Springs has started the first two games of the season for the Bulldogs after not starting previously in his career. Simmons is manning the “Y” receiver position normally occupied by injured senior Terry Godwin, who returned last Saturday. Riley Ridley and Ahkil Crumpton have gotten the starts at the X and Z positions, respectively, in the first two games as well.

Smart mentioned the blocking ability of all four of those receivers by jersey number and two others in his postgame remarks after the game this past Saturday.

“That’s the one thing our guys on the perimeter take pride in,” Smart said of Georgia’s receivers blocking. “They’re physical. You ask these other teams, 8, 87, 2, 9, 5, they hit you, and it wears you down.”

Eight is Ridley, 87 in Simmons, 2 is Jayson Stanley, 9 is Jeremiah Holloman and 5 is Godwin.

Not mentioned in that group was 16, the jersey number worn by Robertson. The heralded first-year transfer from Cal also played in Georgia’s first two games and was one of 10 receivers that the Bulldogs brought to Columbia. But so far he has been in a decidedly back-up role.

Robertson hasn’t caught a pass so far and has just one touch overall as a Bulldog. However, that one touch went for a 72-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep in the season opener against Austin Peay.

Smart has been known to keep good receivers on the sideline when their blocking isn’t up to par. Godwin can attest to that. He lost his starting job for a while as a sophomore just for that reason. Smart would later praise Godwin for his dedication to improving that aspect of his game, and Godwin has since been one of the Bulldogs’ most reliable receivers, both blocking and catching the ball.

Smart hasn’t been critical of Robertson’s blocking skills or any other particular aspect of his game. He just said the fleet-footed sophomore has receivers who are better playing in front of him at the moment.

“He’s going to have to compete in practice,” Smart said this week. “We’ll always want to play the best players here, and those guys are at the top of their game. We’ll have a good rotation going. I think right now the wideout position, we have good depth because we have guys that can do different things, a lot of guys that are really physical, maybe a fast guy, maybe a vertical-great guy. But at the end of the day, when you turn the tape on, the guys that get open are going to be the guys that play.”

The message therein? Robertson has to be more physical and find a way to get open.

Robertson’s receiver mates are doing what they to get him up to speed. Simmons certainly could be a good resource.

Smart said Simmons said didn’t arrive at UGA as premier blocker. It was something he became.

“I think physicality is a learned trait that he learned over the course of time,” Smart said of Simmons.”First of all, he has stature and a body that’s 200 pounds. He’s physical. He’s tough. I mean, basically we’re not going to play you if you don’t do that. So the reward is, ‘I get to play in the game and catch the ball if I block.’”

Simmons said that was a message he heard and took to heart early in his career.

“You definitely know, especially playing in the SEC, that those short runs can go for 6 when we block downfield,” Simmons said. “So you know it’s something you’ve got to do to get on the field. That’s emphasized just to be a receiver at UGA.”

Robertson is coming to Georgia after two years at Cal. The Pac-12 certainly doesn’t have a reputation for being as physical as the SEC, but Robertson’s Georgia position-mates say they’ve been impressed what they’ve seen from the 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore so far.

“He’s physical, he’s fast, has a lot of awareness, so he fits pretty good with us at this point,” junior Riley Ridley said. “We’re excited about the things he can do for the offense.”

But what does Georgia’s expert blocker say?

“I like him as a blocker,” Simmons said. “He’ll come down and hit a safety, he’ll block the corner and stay on the corner when he has to. I know it’s a little different for him, but he’s definitely picked up on it.”

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