Continuity is rare in college sports, particularly in college football. 2021 should be a year where Georgia gets lucky in that department, bringing back the core of the team’s offensive staff. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken showed his ability to open up the playbook with JT Daniels at the helm. Running backs coach Dell McGee is one of the most respected coaches in the country, and has consistently helped develop great talent at the position. But this can finally be the year Georgia’s receivers put the Bulldogs over the top.
Cortez Hankton enters his third season as Georgia’s pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach. He will have the opportunity to coach an immensely strong unit. Georgia’s receiving group is as loaded as it has been since the 2017-18 team that made the College Football Playoff. It all starts with junior wideout George Pickens. The 6-foot-3, former five-star receiver commands respect from every defense that he faces because of his physicality, size and speed. Pickens missed two games last season because of injury, but still managed 513 yards and a team-high six touchdowns in the eight games he did play.
Pickens has had some questions about his character in the past. He was ejected from a game against Georgia Tech during his freshman year for getting into a physical altercation with an opposing player. Last year, Pickens received a personal foul penalty for squirting water on a Tennessee player as the player ran towards Georgia’s sideline. Hankton spoke about Pickens’ improved mental maturity in a media availability session on Tuesday.
“It’s just one of continued growth and maturity, and he has embraced it,” said Hankton on Pickens. “When you look at our entire team and you talk about altruism, I think there’s this aura of selflessness and a positive vibe, which has really continued to grow. It really shines brighter. For him, he’s embraced that, so I’m looking forward to how he continues to move forward.”
The ‘Dawgs will also be led by a pair of sophomore receivers who came onto the scene late in the 2020 season. Jermaine Burton seemed to have improved chemistry with JT Daniels at the quarterback position. Burton had a breakout game in Georgia’s final home game against Mississippi State totaling eight catches for 197 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Burton also won SEC Freshman of the Week for that performance. He is a true vertical threat, which should help him improve even more in 2021 with all of the talents that Georgia has around him this upcoming fall.
Arian Smith is perhaps the biggest unknown and “X-factor” of all of Georgia’s receivers. Smith missed most of the 2020 season with injuries, but played in the final four games of the season and showed flashes of what may be in store. Smith has speed that you cannot just teach. In addition to being a four-star recruit, Smith was one of the best track sprinters in the country. He won the boys elite 100 meters race at the 2019 Nike Elite Prefontaine Classic. If Smith can stay healthy, he becomes such a dynamic piece in this group.
“Just like any young receiver, it’s just about understanding the technique of how to play to position and continuing to grow from a football awareness and a knowledge of the playbook and how he fits in the grand scheme of things,” Hankton said about Smith. “That’s really big with all of our guys, and we’re looking for Arian to grow as a receiver.”
The Bulldogs will bring back some experienced veterans as well who should be solid contributors throughout the season. Kearis Jackson is back for another season after an impressive 2020 campaign. Jackson was tied with Pickens for a team-high 36 catches to go along with 514 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Jackson’s ability to return punts and kicks makes him a valuable asset to go along with his playmaking ability in the slot.
2021 could be the season where Demetris Robertson breaks out to be the player Georgia fans hoped he would be. Robertson’s time at Georgia has been relatively quiet after a 72-yard touchdown run in his first game as a Bulldog against Austin Peay in 2018. The California transfer is using his extra year of eligibility afforded by the NCAA, hoping to leave his mark at Georgia in his last season.
“I think [Demetris Robertson] brings a veteran presence to our room,” said Hankton. “When you have a guy who is willing to come back and really embrace his role on this team, and he’s going to continue to compete, you have to be excited about that.”
Georgia will be without Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint for the spring. Both are both recovering from season-ending injuries. Nonetheless, all of the players named above should give Georgia one of the best passing attacks in the country this upcoming fall. When you factor in the ability of tight end Darnell Washington and running back James Cook to make plays in the passing game as well, there is no excuse for the Bulldogs to not dominate opposing defenses. Spring practice starts on March 16, with G-Day set for April 17 at Sanford Stadium.
“We learn from the things we didn’t do last year,” said Hankton. “There are always going to be areas that we can improve, and that’s always going to be something that we want to push forward.”