ATHENS – The voice that tends to ring the loudest at Georgia football team practices belongs to James Coley, who guides his receivers through drills in a high-pitched, excited tone with very little stoppage.
“I’m just loud. I’m Cuban,” said Coley, the native of Miami who arrived at Georgia two years ago.
There also has been a lot of teaching that has needed to be done. Georgia consistently has had a young receiving group, which for four straight seasons has not returned its leading receiver from the previous year. That includes this season.
Javon Wims, who emerged as a favorite target of quarterback Jake Fromm, was a senior and is gone from the program. But the Georgia receivers in 2018 might be a bit easier to put into tiers than in previous seasons. Wims, after being hurt in the National Championship Game, was replaced ably by Riley Ridley, who will join returning starters Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman. There’s your top tier.
Where it will be intriguing in spring and preseason practice is with the next group.
There are a couple of veterans ― Michael Chigbu and Jayson Stanley ― who have played in the past but didn’t see much time in the 2017 season. They will be seniors, as will Ahkil Crumpton, who had 5 catches last season as a junior-college transfer.
Tyler Simmons is a rising junior still trying to find his role on the offense. He made a name for himself on special teams – remember the controversial offsides penalty on the punt in the National Championship Game – but showed his speed all season as a gunner.
“Now I want to see him lock and load on the offensive part,” Coley said. “Because he flashes. His deal is he’s got to continue to work on being consistent.”
There also are young players who didn’t see much time last season but will get their shot. J.J. Holloman, the most highly touted wide receiver in Georgia’s 2017 class, could top the list after a quiet freshman season.
In fact, the freshman who made the most noise last season was Matt Landers, and that was because he was so good on scout teams. The team’s tallest receiver at 6-foot-5, Landers mimicked the tall receivers Georgia would go against each week.
“I’d like to see how Matt handles the one year of scout team coming into spring,” Coley said. “I’d love to see that, because he’s a guy that has really good length and speed, and has ball skills. Now he’s in an offensive system. I’d like to see what he does after a year of prep, learning how to be a student-athlete.”
Trey Blount also played a lot last season as a frbeshman, but it was mainly on special teams and on run packages. (Reporters would laugh in the press box when UGA sent in Blount and Stanley, knowing that invariably meant Georgia would run the ball.) But Coley said Blount did well in practice.
“And I think he’ll continue to get better,” Coley said. “I’d love to see all these kids in spring because they’ve changed. These guys have changed from an offseason workout to spring. There’ll be leaps and bounds.”
As we transition into Georgia’s offseason, we will take a look at the changes at each position group, the incoming players, and analyze how it could play out in 2018. In this edition, as you’ve probably figured out by now, we continue with …
Key losses: Javon Wims, Sr. (45 catches, 720 yards, 7 TD)
Top returners: Terry Godwin, Sr. (38 catches, 639 yards, 6 TD), Mecole Hardman, Jr. (25 catches, 418 yards, 4 TD), Riley Ridley, Jr. (14 catches, 218 yards, 2 TD).
Newcomers: WR Kearis Jackson, Fr. (enrolled early).
Other contenders: Ahkil Crumpton, Sr. (5 catches, 96 yards, 1 TD), Tyler Simmons, Jr. (3 catches, 26 yards), J.J. Holloman, Soph. (1 catch, 7 yards), Michael Chigbu, Sr.; Jayson Stanley, Sr.; Trey Blount, Soph., Matt Landers, R-Fr.
Analysis: Godwin has the unusual distinction of being Georgia’s second-leading receiver each of the past three seasons. Could he make it four in a row, taking a backseat to Hardman? That’s very possible. Not that second place is anything to be ashamed about, especially since Godwin’s catch at Notre Dame is one of the most memorable moments of a great season. Either way, there’s finally some stability in this unit, with Fromm (and/or Justin Fields) knowing who they have to work with in 2018, especially with Ridley’s performance in the National Championship Game being a good starting point.
While Georgia likes to have a rotation of between six to eight receivers, the offense tends to feature only three in main roles. That could be attributed to starting a freshman quarterback in two straight seasons. Assuming Fromm holds off Justin Fields – and for the purposes of this sentence, we will assume that happens – then perhaps a more comfortable Fromm will be able to spread the ball around to more receivers.
One guarantee: Georgia wide receivers will account for more than the 141 catches they had in 2017, which was actually up from the 135 catches they had the year before. Fromm’s accuracy (again, we’re assuming he remains the starter) means more catches, and Georgia isn’t likely to be in as many blowouts, meaning more passing in the fourth quarter. OK, this is kind of a wishy-washy guarantee, but sorry, we really thought Godwin would be the leading receiver. We were wrong, so we’re gun shy.
Next: Tight ends.