HOOVER, Ala. — There is no more debate about it. Mecole Hardman is a wide receiver, plain and simple. He’s no longer a part-time defensive back.
“I think that’s safe to say,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said at SEC Football Media Days on Tuesday. “You guys have finally cracked the egg.”
The new 2017 media guide, released this week, was one indication. It has only “WR” next to Hardman’s name in his bio on page 42. Then there was the evidence offered in spring football practice. Hardman worked at wideout “95 percent of the time,” Smart confirmed.
“He did double as a DB on some occasions as we’re very down with DBs in the spring,” Smart said. “But we think Mecole’s biggest attributes are going to help us in the offensive slot and the return game. He can do a lot of different things. We’ve got to find a way to get him a ball, but he’s also got to find a way to protect the ball. That’s going to be a growing curve for him.”
Hardman signed with the Bulldogs as a 5-star cornerback from Elbert County (Elberton, Ga.) High School, even though he played almost no time at the position on that level. He primarily played quarterback for the Blue Devils, and he also returned kicks and occasionally played some free safety.
Sid Fritts, Hardman’s high school coach, said he understood the Bulldogs’ desire to try Hardman as a cover corner because of his incredible speed and quickness. But he always maintained, “I’d have a hard time not getting the ball in his hands as much as possible.”
The Bulldogs apparently have come to the same conclusion. With Isaiah McKenzie leaving a year early for the NFL and vacating the coveted slot position, Georgia decided to give Hardman a look there. They like what they’ve seen.
“I don’t know that we could really spare [Hardman] defensively,” Smart said. “That’s why it was such a tough decision. We went into the spring with essentially two scholarship corners. That’s what was so tough about the move is it probably hurt us development-wise. … You’re making that move to make the offense better, but you’re betting on the incoming freshmen to help us in the two-deep at defensive back.”
Georgia has others who can fill in at McKenzie’s slot position, where he led the team in receiving yards and catches last season. But nobody comes as close as Hardman to replicating the explosiveness factor that McKenzie brought to the offense.
“Isaiah is one of the most explosively quick players I’ve ever been around,” Smart said. “He is smaller than Mecole, though, and [Hardman] has a little more straight-line speed. He’s able to go out and compete on our track’s 4-by-100 team. But he probably can’t make you miss in a short area like Isaiah could. So they’re not exactly the same guys. But I’m really excited about the work habits Mecole has, and he’s very bright.”
Junior linebacker Roquan Smith, representing the Bulldogs at SEC Media Days on Tuesday, attested to Hardman’s skills on offense.
“He’s truly a weapon on the offensive side of the ball,” said Smith, who faced Hardman often during spring practice. “You can see that with him running routes and how quick he is. He’s ridiculously quick.”