Returning receivers ready to make an impact for the Georgia Bulldogs
ATHENS — This will come as no surprise to anybody who knows anything about elite athletes, but the guys who currently play wide receiver for Georgia don’t think the Bulldogs have a problem at receiver.
Every breakdown of Georgia’s offense in 2019 starts with a citation of the production it lost from the previous year. To be sure, it’s significant. Let’s repeat it here: With the graduation of Terry Godwin and the early exits of juniors Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley for the NFL, the Bulldogs lost 100 receptions, 1,475 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns off last year’s team.
That’s a fact. But so is this: Georgia has at least a dozen receivers who will be fighting to inherit the reps those guys got the past couple of years, including a few players who have already gotten a taste playing a meaningful role in the offense.
Junior J.J. Holloman is one such player.
“It’s just a ‘next man up’ mentality,” said Holloman, the Bulldogs’ leading returning wideout with 24 catches for 418 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. “There’s not any growing pains or anything like that. We’re pushing the guys next to us. They just haven’t been able to compete as much yet in actual games. But they’ve gotten all the reps in practice and everything like that. And going against our defense is just as well as going against any other team.”
Holloman is one of seven receivers who got on the field for Georgia in some way, shape or form last season. Holloman, senior Tyler Simmons, juniors Trey Blount and Demetris Robertson had regular, recurring roles. Five others are hoping to earn themselves a responsibility this fall, including three true freshman signees who have yet to show up.
The Bulldogs signed a pair of 5-star prospects in Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens and 4-star Makiya Tongue during recruiting. But none of them will be able to join the team until July.
In the meantime, there are several wideouts who have been waiting in the wings just itching to show their stuff. One who fits that bill and has been creating a buzz in camp is Kearis Jackson.
Jackson appeared on his way to earning a role as a true freshman last summer before a hamstring injury derailed his progress in preseason camp. The 6-foot, 200-pounder had to redshirt, but now is favored to take over in the slot.
“I’m extremely excited about Kearis’s work ethic,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He was a guy that was really in the rotation last year and then all of a sudden had a hamstring in camp and it kind of held him back. But I’m excited to see what he does.”
So is Holloman.
“He’s pretty bulky; he’s a physical guy, but he’s fluid,” Holloman said. “He’s a good route-runner. He’s just a stronger version of Mecole in that slot. He’s bigger than Mecole.”
Of course, everybody’s eager to get another look at Demetris Robertson. The former 5-star recruit from Savannah known as “D-Rob” surprisingly did not record a catch for the Bulldogs last season after transferring in from California. But after spending a year in the system and bulking up physically, he’s expected to play a much bigger role this season.
“Seeing him out there, I could definitely see he’s bought into the system and ready for this upcoming season,” Holloman said. “He’s definitely made some strides. He’s learned the offense better and is more capable of going out there and being dependable. That’s really what it’s about.”
Holloman points to himself in that regard. He said as hard as he competed as a freshman, it really wasn’t until last season that the “light came on” for him. He said between having a better understanding of the offense and being physically stronger, he was much more confident about giving Georgia’s coaches what they were looking for.
Holloman expects players like redshirt sophomore Matt Landers and redshirt freshman Tommy Bush to make a similar jump this season.
“Everybody’s just waiting on their chance,” Holloman said. “We’ve got guys like me. I stepped in last year and made an impact. There’s plenty of guys like that, guys like Trey Blount, Kearis Jackson, Tommy. There’s a load of guys that are capable of going out there and competing and making plays.”
Smart is just as excited as all Georgia fans are about checking out the new signees and Miami transfer Lawrence Cager this summer. But it’s from the group that’s battling through spring practice right now that he expects to see somebody step up.
“The first in line are the guys that are here right now,” Smart said.