Georgia’s offense needs a wide receiver to break out

This is the eighth installment in a nine-part series that will preview Georgia’s spring football practice, the start of which is uncertain because of the coronavirus outbreakToday: Wide receivers | Yesterday: QuarterbacksTomorrow: Running backs

WIDE RECEIVERS
Who's gone: Lawrence Cager, Tyler Simmons
Who's back: Dominick Blaylock, Tommy Bush, Kearis Jackson, Matt Landers, George Pickens, Demetris Robertson, Willie Erdman, Jaylen Johnson, Makiya Tongue 
Who's new: Justin Robinson
Projected starters: Jackson, Pickens, Robertson

ATHENS — Remember when Demetris Robertson was deemed the No. 1 wide receiver in the country as a high school senior? Remember when he transferred to Georgia shortly after a 50-catch season at Cal?

Two years later, Robertson still doesn’t have 50 catches as a Bulldog.

The 6-foot, 180-pound senior has 30 of them, all coming last season. Robertson shockingly was held without a reception his first season in Athens.

Robertson is one of number of UGA wideouts who simply need to step up this season. The Bulldogs are going through a rebuilding process on offense, but the retool at wide receiver is relatively tame compared with everywhere else on offense.

Georgia lost only seniors Lawrence Cager and Tyler Simmons from last season’s team. While they represented the Nos. 2 and 5 pass-catchers, their work represented only 21.2 percent of the Bulldogs’ receptions.

Even when factoring in the 40 receptions of departed running backs D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien, 64 percent of Georgia’s receiving production is back for 2020.

Rising sophomore George Pickens is an obvious star, catching 49 passes for 727 yards and eight touchdowns last season. But a consistent second threat never materialized.

What's unclear at this point is whether the Bulldogs haven't had championship-level wideouts or simply haven't had a championship-level offense. All of that will be assessed over the coming weeks and months as new offensive coordinator Todd Monken introduces his offense and the receivers introduce themselves to him.

It is evident from Georgia’s recruiting that coach Kirby Smart felt some new blood was necessary. The Bulldogs added five receivers, and most qualify for the distinction of “elite recruits.”

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

“Wide receiver was an area that we had to address,” Smart said. “I am excited about the wide receivers we’ve been able to add, and those guys are expected to help us.”

Marcus Rosemy (eighth) and Arian Smith (ninth) are top 10-rated receivers nationally. Jermaine Burton (15th) is coming from Calabasas, Calif. Justin Robinson (49th) of Locust Grove was one of the state’s more productive wideouts. Recruiting experts swear North Murray High’s Ladd McConkey (167th) is severely underrated.

Only one, however — the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Robinson — enrolled early. The Eagle’s Landing High School star was a consensus 4-star recruit and averaged 18.8 yards per catch for a total of 903 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior. He actually joined the Bulldogs for bowl practices and has been impressing coaches and teammates.

Nobody questions Pickens’ ability or the Bulldogs’ ability to get the ball to him. Pickens was named MVP of Georgia’s 26-14 win over Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, with 12 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown.

"I've still got some growing to do," said Pickens, who was suspended for the first half of the SEC Championship game in December after getting in a fight with a Georgia Tech defensive back in the previous game. "But I can kind of tell that I'm improving every day."

But the receivers Georgia really needs to come through between now and the season opener Sept. 7 against Virginia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium are the ones who have been working under position coach Cortez Hankton. Players such as the 6-5 junior Matt Landers, who has yet to transfer his impressive practice play to the games; like 6-5 sophomore Tommy Bush, who can't seem to stay healthy; like sophomore Kearis Jackson, who has also been slowed with injury issues; like Mikaya Tongue, who was redshirted last year after coming to Georgia from Baton Rouge as a 4-star recruit.

And, of course, Robertson. Here’s a player who has averaged 12.4 yards every time he has touched the ball at Georgia and 13.8 including his time at Cal. He acknowledged that the lack of production has been frustrating at times.

“It’s been very frustrating as a receiver, as a quarterback,” Robertson told reporters after the SEC Championship game. “It’s frustrating for us all because we know what we’re capable of. We have a high standard around here that we set for ourselves.”

A fifth-year senior, an eligibility status nobody predicted he’d be around long enough to achieve, it’s now or never for the speedster from Savannah.

Perhaps a new quarterback and a new offense is exactly what they all need to get going.

THE SERIES

Monday: Special teams
Tuesday: Defensive line
Wednesday: Linebackers
Thursday: Defensive backs
Friday: Offensive line
Saturday: Tight ends
Sunday: Quarterbacks
Today: Wide receivers
Tuesday: Running backs