Bulldogs Beat

Reload or rebuild? Three things to watch for from Georgia’s receivers in spring practice

Tyler Simmons runs from University of Massachusetts Minutemen on November 17, 2018. UGA won the game over UMass 66-27.
Tyler Simmons runs from University of Massachusetts Minutemen on November 17, 2018. UGA won the game over UMass 66-27. Special to the Telegraph

Spring football practices provide an important few weeks for players. It’s during spring that those players who hope to make the jump from rotation player to starter get a big chance to improve before the season rolls around. Competition heats up, too.

Enter, Georgia’s suddenly-depleted receiver unit.

Yes, the loss of veteran receivers Terry Godwin, Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley — between them nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns — is a tough one to overcome, but the Bulldogs return with a group of receivers ready to fill the void.

Here’s what you should watch for from the Bulldogs’ wideouts as spring football gets going on Tuesday.

Can Tyler Simmons take that next step?

Junior Tyler Simmons was routinely praised by head coach Kirby Smart dating back to 2017 due to his physical blocking style, speed and ability to contribute on special teams. He featured more on offense in 2018, but a shoulder injury suffered against Missouri provided a tough setback.

Simmons didn’t catch a pass or record a carry against Vanderbilt, LSU and Florida, and caught just one pass for three yards in Georgia’s SEC East-clinching win over Kentucky. He did, though, see extended snaps late in the season against Auburn, then went for a career-best 130 all-purpose yards against UMass.

“He’s fun to watch,” said Jake Fromm after Georgia’s 66-27 rout of the Minutemen, a game in which Simmons scored on the Bulldogs’ third play from scrimmage. “He’s a really explosive guy, you get to see the speed he has. ... Fast guys definitely help. It threatens (a defense) vertically, and it makes my job that much easier.”

The next step for Simmons, then, would be to make himself a viable starting candidate. He’s big and fast, so he’s got the physique and ability for the job. And given the state of the position group, he’ll be one of the more experienced candidates going into spring ball.

But the receiver room is a depleted one, and thus the competition stiff. That only increases now, with the addition of transfer Lawrence Cager.

How will Lawrence Cager fit in?

Cager, a graduate transfer from Miami, announced he’d be joining the Bulldogs on February 9. The 6-foot-5 rising senior from Towson, Maryland led the Hurricanes with six touchdown receptions in 2018, and averaged out at 17.8 yards per reception. He was the Hurricanes’ second-leading receiver in 2018.

Cager was, obviously, one of the taller options in Miami’s passing game, which made him a favorable mismatch in one-on-one coverage.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though. Cager suffered a torn ACL before the 2016 season, which forced him to miss the entire season. He returned to the field in 2017, and caught 16 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns.

Cager brings experience and a massive frame, both big pluses for a group replacing its three leading receivers from 2018.

Then there’s Demetris Robertson

Demitris Robertson, a sophomore transfer from Cal, gained considerable hype prior to his first season in Athens. It has not translated into results.

Robertson did not record a single catch in four games of action in 2018, and his only touches came on four rushing attempts. He finished with 109 rushing yards and one touchdown, though 72 of those yards (and the lone score) came on one play in the Bulldogs’ season opener against Austin Peay.

Robertson, to be fair, dealt with what Smart called an “unspecified injury” for most of 2018. The former five-star recruit from Savannah had 57 catches for 837 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons at Cal, where he only played two games his sophomore year due to a lower-body injury.

The talent is clearly there. But Robertson failed to make any real impact in 2018 outside of his 72-yard touchdown run in the season opener.

But, with Georgia’s receiving corps in reload mode, he’ll have the opportunity to prove he’s deserving of consideration for a starting spot in 2019.