Georgia receiver Dominick Blaylock making an impact after knee injuries

Georgia football-wide receiver-struggles

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Georgia wide receiver Dominick Blaylock (8) during a game against Arkansas at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (Photo by Mackenzie Miles)

ATHENS - Georgia receiver Dominick Blaylock found the field early in his Bulldogs career, catching five touchdown passes and assuming punt-return duties as a freshman. But after an ACL tear in the 2019 SEC Championship game that season and a second tear of the same ACL in the following preseason, Blaylock has been relegated to the sideline instead of the end zone for the past two seasons.

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So when Blaylock, practicing in the spring for the first time since 2020 and running without a knee brace, corralled a diving catch in Thursday’s two-minute drill, the play was a reason for excitement across the Bulldogs’ practice field.

“He’s getting better, he’s getting more confidence in that knee,” coach Kirby Smart said. “More than anything, I’m excited to see him get out there and play because our team takes on a lot of his resilience and DNA.”

Along with making an impression on offense, Blaylock was also in the mix at punt returner, alternating reps with senior receiver Kearis Jackson and sophomore receiver Ladd McConkey. The practice-field action and restored health has Blaylock eyeing a return to form in his junior season.

“The knee is feeling awesome,” he said. “I’m trying to do the best part I can for my team and get back to where I’ve been, where I used to be freshman year.”

Blaylock, a five-star recruit from Walton High School, emerged as a contributor in the slot position just months into his Bulldogs career. He tallied four receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown in his second game, then scored touchdowns in tight wins against Florida and Auburn in SEC play.

Blaylock’s dream freshman season was cut short in the SEC Championship game against LSU, when he went down with a knee injury in the first quarter. After ramping up to return to play for his sophomore season, Blaylock suffered another tear.

“After the first injury, I thought everything was going smoothly,” he said. “And then it happened again. It got rough, a little bit, in the second rodeo.”

Junior tight end Brett Seither, Blaylock’s freshman-year roommate and a sounding board during the rehab process, said that Blaylock’s dedication was apparent to the whole team over the past seasons. Smart highlighted Blaylock’s resilience and background as a reason he was able to overcome adversity.

“He’s wired the right way,” Smart said. “This kid came up tough. He has two older brothers that helped toughen him up. He didn’t grow up soft.”

Blaylock made his long-awaited -- and tearful -- return to the field in his sophomore season. While he registered only two receptions in 2021, he found a role with the kickoff coverage team. According to Smart, the contact required to play special teams has helped Blaylock acclimate to game action and regain his confidence.

This spring, Blaylock has continued his progress. Smart said that the vertical speed that characterized Blaylock’s game as a freshman is not entirely back, but pointed to his route-running as a strength. That’s been an area of emphasis and growth for the Marietta product, from hesitation in the aftermath of the knee injuries to more decisive and confident cuts in practice.

“Some of those reps used to scare me back when I was running them,” Blaylock said. “I used to run the routes I used to hurt on, and just getting confidence, cutting on it, and just feeling better and better throughout the mental process.”

Smart expects Blaylock to continue with his roles on the coverage teams, but has also provided him opportunities this spring to provide depth and compete for the returner and receiver spots.

“He played some roles on special teams for us at the end of last year and will continue to do that,” Smart said. “If he’s the best guy, then he’ll be out there to play, but I’m excited what he can do for us at receiver, too.”