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Georgia wide receiver Jermaine Burton caught two touchdowns on Saturday.

How JT Daniels can turn wide receiver from a weakness into a position of strength for Georgia

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How a solid quarterback changes the course of the wide receiver room

If quarterback has been the most concerning position for Georgia in terms of needed improvement, wide receiver hasn’t been far behind.

George Pickens had his flashes at the end of the 2019 season, but once Dominick Blaylock went down with a season-ending knee injury in fall camp the position was once again in question. Kearis Jackson had some nice plays against Auburn and Tennessee. The came the Alabama game and teams have begun to put the clamps on him.

The nadir came against Kentucky when Georgia’s wide receivers caught just four passes for a total of 36 yards.

So to see the likes of Pickens, Jermaine Burton and Demetris Robertson all have their most productive games of the season in JT Daniels’ debut only added to the excitement that Daniels brings to the offense.

Jackson didn’t have a bad game either, as he hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass on a 3rd-and-20 throw from Daniels.

“George made me look good, Jermaine made me look good, Kearis makes me look really good when I under throw a deep ball down the middle and he makes a great play,” Daniels said after the game on Saturday.

Related: Kirby Smart: ‘A lot of room for improvement’ for SEC award winners JT Daniels, Jermaine Burton

Saturday showed that with the right player at quarterback, Georgia’s receivers are capable of making plays, especially those downfield chunk plays that the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State seem to produce so often.

And if Daniels is able to continue to thrive, the wide receiver position might soon change from a position of concern to an outright strength for Georgia in this season and 2021.

“They are growing. Part of the thing that we wanted to improve on was the ability to throw the ball and throw the ball vertical downfield and make some plays,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “To do that, you have to have the people to make those plays.”

Jackson is still the team’s leading receiver at this point with a team-best 31 catches for 451 yards. Smart called him “a really good surprise for us.” Part of the reason for Jackson’s emergence is just the fact that he’s actually been able to stay on the field this season.

He missed time during the 2019 season with a broken hand and then an ankle injury to end the season. In addition to his playmaking skills, Jackson is one of the top blockers at the position and a clear leader for the position group.

When discussing Daniels and his performance on Saturday, Jackson used a word that hasn’t often been associated with the Georgia passing game in recent season.

“It was a fun moment seeing your guys go out there and competing especially in practice and then translating it over to the game,” Jackson said.

Whether it be the touchdown passes to Burton or Pickens, it’s clear that the play of Daniels injected some life into the position group.

Pickens was a factor from the beginning, as he caught a 28-yard pass on Georgia’s first drive. He, like it seems almost every Georgia wide receiver over the past two seasons, has been snake-bitten by injuries as he missed the Kentucky and Florida games with an upper-body injury.

But for really the first time all season, the sophomore wide receiver looked like the same one that turned in an MVP performance in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

“He is a great wideout. He’s getting better in the run game. He’s really physical when he blocks,” Smart said. “He can be an impact on our overall team, in terms of energy-level and enthusiasm when he makes plays—it sparks a lot of guys.”

Perhaps the most promising player of the group was Burton, who had more yards in the first half against Mississippi State — 149 — than he did in the first six games of his college career.

He ended the first half and started the second half with touchdown catches, flashing some of that potential that so many have raved about at some during the season.

Smart made it a point to say he could improve as a blocker, as all young wide receivers can. But from a talent and mental make-up standpoint, Smart thinks Burton too has the chance to be a difference-maker for the Bulldogs.

“The thing about Jermaine is he cares. That’s important to him,” Smart said. “He wants to do those things right, and on top of that, he’s got good ability. The want-to is half of it, the ability is the other part, and opportunity also. He got an opportunity to make plays and he made them when he got an opportunity.”

To this point, Burton is the only one of Georgia’s five freshman wide receivers to really make an impact this season. He was one of the three rated as a top-100 overall prospect in the 2020 recruiting cycle.

Arian Smith and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint have both seen their first seasons slowed by the injury bug, which is just another example of how ravaged this group has been.

Related: Development of freshman WRs becomes even more significant after Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint injury 

But it does say something about Burton’s raw ability that he’s able to come out and have the fourth-most receiving yards in a game by a Georgia wide receiver in the history of the program as a freshman.

“There’s got to be something special about you if coach Smart and coach Monken and coach Hankton trust you enough to put you out there and go ball,” offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer said. “And he’s been doing that.

“I hope to see him grow into that because we can be a really dangerous team if we can get him and George rolling.”

Saturday was a real bright spot for both quarterback and wide receiver, as demonstrated by Daniels and Burton taking home SEC Player of the Week honors. You don’t want to put too much stock in one game but it’s hard not to be encouraged by what happened and what the future might hold for this group.

Jackson, Pickens and Burton will all be back next season with the team. Georgia will also get Blaylock, Rosemy-Jacksaint and Smith back healthy, with Smith having a chance to do so this season. Of those six names listed, all were top-150 overall recruits, showing that the raw skills are there.

And now that they’ve got a quarterback — who for at least one game showed he can put the ball on the money — Georgia might have a chance of having one of those vertical passing attacks that the very best teams in college football all possess.

As for 2020, Georgia will use the rest of this season to build to what could be a very potent offense. If the results continue to look like they did on Saturday night, people might regularly throw around the word fun to describe Georgia’s passing offense.

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