James Cook, Kearis Jackson ready to fill slot for Bulldogs

Junior running back James Cook could get more of a look at receiver for UGA this season.

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Junior running back James Cook could get more of a look at receiver for UGA this season.

ATHENS -- Losing Dominick Blaylock for the 2020 season was definitely a blow to Georgia’s wide receiver corps. But it’s not an insurmountable setback and opens the door of opportunity for several other wideouts.

And at least one non-wideout.

Don’t be surprised if Blaylock’s loss will mean even more playing time for James Cook in the slot this season. Cook, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior, remains a running back primarily. But he was already getting enough snaps at flanker over the summer and into camp this month to be considered second-team there. Blaylock’s loss just solidifies that.

But the job has always belonged to Kearis Jackson heading into this season. That’s as long as he remains healthy, which has been a challenge his first two seasons. The 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt sophomore from Peach County was sidelined with a chronic hamstring injury as a true freshman and broke his wrist after starting Georgia’s opener last year.

I’ve had to face adversity and I feel like that’s all I’ve been doing since I got here,” said Jackson, who had five catches for 79 yards while starting seven of 11 games last season. “I feel like I’ve overcome most of my injuries and bounced back really well. I’ve been able to work hard in practice and push guys around me and stay motivated.”

First-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken has liked what he’s seen from Jackson, who he called a “relative surprise in terms of his consistency and the ways he has played and developed.”

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have a lot of other options. Without Blaylock, they still have 17 wide receivers in camp, 12 of them scholarship-holders. The bad news for Monken and position coach Cortez Hankton is very few of them have game experience.

“This is a group of talented guys who have truly been a joy to work with,” Monken said of the receiver corps. “They’re excited about the opportunities they have in front of them, with a couple of guys leaving last year. We’re still relatively young with certain guys we’re counting on, like George [Pickens] and some of the incoming freshmen.”

It should be good to be a receiver at Georgia in 2020. Monken’s offenses traditionally have been pass-heavy with an emphasis on “explosive plays,” which account for 16 or yard or more through the air. His 2018 offense at Tampa Bay led the NFL in passing and his last offense at Southern Miss in 2015 threw for more than 4,600 yards and 40 touchdowns.

The top three receivers in Georgia’s rotation heading into Saturday’s remain Pickens, Jackson and senior Demetris Robertson. Look for “D-Rob” to get even more work now at flanker. The real question in camp revolved around which receivers would come in next.

Georgia signed five receivers in the 2020 recruiting class, four of whom were rated Top 50 wideouts. The prospects of Jermaine Burton (the nation’s No. 8 rated WR prospect), Arian Smith (No. 9), Jermaine Burton (No. 15) and Justin Robinson (No. 49) getting on the field this season certainly improve. However, generally, it takes freshmen receivers some time to acclimate to SEC football. Even Blaylock and George Pickens struggled with assignments and hot-reads well into midseason last year.

As for the lettermen, there is the usual preseason buzz about junior Matt Landers and redshirt sophomore Tommy Bush. But each stands 6-5 and they don’t have the physical characteristics typical of a Z receiver, who often goes in motion, crosses the field and often gets the ball in the backfield.

Trey Blount, a 6-2, 200-pound junior out of Atlanta’s Pace Academy, could get more reps at flanker. He has been working behind Pickens at split end. Redshirt freshman Makiya Tongue (6-2, 210) also might get a look.

Monken was asked this week about the Georgia wideouts he inherited.

“Some of the older guys still have work to do as developmental players that need the reps,” Monken said. “Guys like Matt Landers, D-Rob. I know (D-Rob’s) one of our older players but from a developmental standpoint. Tommy Bush and some of our older guys that I think will push for playing time.”

The Bulldogs will start addressing the receiver rotation in earnest on Saturday. They conduct their first scrimmage of preseason camp at Sanford Stadium.