No. 1 Georgia closer to full strength at receiver

Coaches Poll-Top 25-Week 3 rankings-Georgia football
Caption
On the opening drive Georgia wide receiver Jermaine Burton catches a pass from Stetson Bennett and runs for a 70-plus yard touchdown during a 56-7 victory Saturday, Sept 11, 2021, in Athens. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

ATHENS — Perhaps it is the lure of playing against arch-rival Florida or maybe it’s just the timing of coming off a bye week. In either case Georgia is as close to having a full complement of receivers as it has had all season.

The Bulldogs have been infamously beaten up at that position all season. Including George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock, who have missed every game this season with injuries, Georgia has had wideouts miss a total of 28 games. At least a couple of those players will be able to play against the Gators on Saturday.

So many wideouts were participating in pass-skeleton work this week that the Bulldogs, who always two-spot in drills, were three-spotting.

“It’s been exciting getting guys back, especially the ones that we had down,” said junior Kearis Jackson, who has been among those limited by injury. “Just being able to get the depth back in the room has been major for us. We have been down some at receiver, so it is good to just get those guys back. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Lost in the story of breakout years by freshmen Brock Bowers and Ladd McConkey is how their contributions absolutely were necessary given the amount experienced talent stuck in the training room. The tight end Bowers leads the Bulldogs with 25 catches for 416 yards and six touchdowns and the flanker McConkey is second with 17 for 295 and two scores.

Meanwhile, the most experienced wideouts the Bulldogs were sure they could count on this season have been limited if not completely absent. Jackson, who led Georgia with 36 receptions last season, has seven in seven games this season. Jermaine Burton, who had 27 catches a year ago, has 13 this season.

Georgia team leaders

Perhaps the most mysterious and disappointing has been Arian Smith. Smith is one of the fastest players in the SEC. He ran the leadoff leg for Georgia’s school-record-setting 4x100-meter relay team that finished second at the NCAA. But the last we saw of Smith was him hauling in a 61-yard touchdown catch against Alabama-Birmingham in Week 2. He hasn’t played in the past five games because of a lower-leg contusion.

Smith was among those wideouts running full-speed routes this week and was working with the No. 2 offense. Burton also looks to be near full speed after missing the past two games with a groin injury. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint has missed most of the past three games with an ankle injury. It’s unclear whether it’s the same ankle that was broken on a play in which he scored a 32-yard touchdown against Florida last year in Jacksonville.

“I do think Arian will be back, and Rosemy has done a good job this week, and Jermaine has been out there practicing,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Just those three alone is a huge boost.”

Jackson hopes to be able to contribute more on offense Saturday as well. He has played all season on a knee that required an arthroscopic surgical repair this summer, but his work was limited to punt returns only the first two games.

Slowly, Georgia has been working Jackson back into the receiver rotation. But the opportunities have been limited because the freshmen Adonai Mitchell and McConkey have been so effective as replacements. They’ve combined for 31 catches for 505 yards and four touchdowns.

About that, Jackson said he is not the least begrudged.

“I’m a team player,” Jackson said. “Whatever Coach asks me to do, that’s what I’m doing. Whatever it is, I’m there for the team. It’s not about what can I do. It’s what can I do for the team. So, I don’t really look at it as I’m not getting as many reps. I’m look at it as the coaches know what they’re doing, so I’m trusting and believing in them.”

Georgia still won’t be at full strength. Redshirt freshman Justin Robinson has been slowed recently with a hamstring pull, Blaylock has yet to get back on the field after his second ACL injury in August 2020 and the peerless talent Pickens remains weeks away from an early-April ACL reconstruction.

But Jackson said not to count out seeing Pickens at some point eventually this season.

“If you’re a playmaker, you’re itching to be out there,” Jackson said of the junior split end. “But he’s doing the smart thing taking it day-by-day. … He’s in treatment every day and putting in the work, because he’s ready to get back.”

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