UGA’s Kirby Smart still looking for separation at receiver
ATHENS — It takes six.
That’s what Georgia must settle on eventually — six wide receivers. That’s generally how many wideouts the Bulldogs utilize in operating their pro-style offense against front-line competition, allowing them to keep relatively fresh athletes on the field.
At the moment, which six players that might be is a guess. It will help if Georgia can ever get all of its candidates on the practice field healthy at the same time. And the list will grow again this summer with the arrival of three more freshmen.
For now at least, coach Kirby Smart is not thrilled with what he has to choose from.
“We’ve got to do a lot better at receiver, in general, from a standpoint of depth and guys that can execute and go make plays,” Smart said following the Bulldogs’ first controlled scrimmage of the spring on Saturday at Sanford Stadium. “I do think, when it comes to our wideout group, we’ve got a by-committee group. … But just talent-wise, at that position, we’ve got to get more guys that can help us be more successful.”
Without question, Terry Godwin is the proverbial bell cow at the position. Not only is he the Bulldogs’ leading returning receiver statistically (38 receptions, 397 yards), the 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior also has stepped up and commanded a leadership position on the squad.
Not a shouter by nature, Godwin can be heard daily correcting and encouraging teammates. Meanwhile, he’s an integral part of much that Georgia does on offense. He’s the first option for handling wildcat (or “wild dawg”) duties when the call is to shift the quarterback out of the shotgun.
“Terry is really doing a good job of being a leader and challenging those guys, a lot more so than he did at this time last year,” Smart said. “He’s coming into his own when it comes to work ethic.”
It’s a role Godwin takes very seriously.
“Everyone wants to be that go-to guy, but you have to fill in that role that the coaches want you to and do what the playbook is going to allow you to do,” he said. “So I just want to fill that role and be where the coaches want me to be.”
Count Godwin among the small subset of wideouts you can be sure will be in that rotation come Week 1.
Rising senior Javon Wims is another player that has asserted himself this spring. He had only 17 catches a year ago when he came to UGA as a junior college transfer, but 10 of those were over the final five games. And he has picked up where he left off this spring. He has become a favorite target of quarterback Jacob Eason, understandably so with his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame.
Of course, the Bulldogs rather notably have been working cornerback Mecole Hardman at the slot position in an attempt to replace the explosiveness lost with the early departure of junior Isaiah McKenzie for the NFL.
Sophomore Riley Ridley is expected to eventually be in the primary rotation. However, he’s recovering from offseason foot surgery and will miss the first game of the year because of a suspension. Ridley has missed almost all on-field work this spring, but Smart offered encouraging news regarding his status after the scrimmage Saturday.
“It’s all injury-based, but if he can get back then, yes, he’s a candidate to play in G-Day,” Smart said. “We don’t know the timeline there completely. He’s working out, he’s running, he’s doing all he can. Obviously we’re trying to get he and Jayson [Stanley] back because that’s the spot where we need the depth and they need the work. They’re both relatively young and they’re both really fast guys.”
Stanley, a 6-2, 207-pound junior, was out a week with a concussion but returned under non-contact status on Saturday. He is a strong candidate to play his way into the six-man rotation, as are junior Michael Chigbu and sophomore Tyler Simmons, who are getting a lot of the work by remaining healthy this spring. Simmons caught a touchdown pass Saturday.
Freshman Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman is also getting a lot of valuable repetitions this spring as an early enrollee. Three more signees will join the competition in June in Trey Blount, Matt Landers and Mark Webb.
Until they arrive, however, every available receiver is sure to get plenty of work between the Red and Black teams during G-Day on April 22. Smart is hoping at least one or two of them distinguish themselves that day.
“I’ll say this about them: They’re playing more physical than they ever have since we’ve been here,” Smart said. “J.J. Holloman, Tyler Simmons, even Terry. We had a bubble screen when Terry went out there and blocked and was physical. On that part they’ve answered the bell. We’ve just got to get them open and get them separated more.”