ATHENS, Ga. -- Kirby Smart left Georgia's spring game with mixed feelings about his receivers.
The good news is that he has a tougher, more polished group that's seen its football IQ increase over the past month and change. Athleticism and brain power are meshing at an impressive rate.
However, no one has exactly stepped up to be the guy. In Smart's eyes, there is no go-to receiver or even a "dominant wideout" right now. That doesn't mean that there isn't one on his roster or in his incoming recruiting class, but to this point, no one is sticking out enough to be Mr. Reliable for quarterback Jacob Eason.
For now, Smart can live with that. Georgia hasn't played anyone but itself lately, and there's plenty of offseason time to address that. In the meantime, Smart can leave spring with a more positive outlook on a wide receiver group that is growing in the right direction.
“I’ll say this: What y’all saw today was the best showing that they’ve had as a unit from the 15 practices this spring,” Smart said after this past Saturday's spring game.
Top returning receiver Terry Godwin caught five passes for 130 yards. Javon Wims snagged four passes for 96 yards, including a beautiful leaping catch on a 47-yard pass from Eason. True freshman Jeremiah Holloman hauled in three passes for 77 yards, including a beauty of a 42-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Rarely mentioned sophomore Tyler Simmons caught five passes (three more than he had all of last season) for 114 yards and a 70-yard touchdown in which he literally yanked the ball away from his defender before sprinting away from his pursuers and into the end zone.
These were the performances people wanted to see after Georgia had just one receiver hit 400 yards last year (Isaiah McKenzie with 633). Yes, the defense, which was short-staffed in the secondary, was limited in what it could do, and the plan was to be pass-heavy. But other than a few drops and some procedural errors, Georgia's receivers had a pretty impressive close to the spring.
“It was exciting to see some balls down the field," Smart said. "That’s why you get 66,000 people here; they want to see the ball thrown, they want to see the ball caught, they want to see the ball scored. We wanted to give it to them.
“Those guys competed and played more physical this spring than they did last spring, which is what we challenged them to do."
Added Godwin: “All of our receivers, we were clicking on all cylinders. We knew where to be, when to be. When the ball was in the air, we were going up and making big plays.”
It was a nice glimpse of this group's potential. Holloman, who Smart said had an up-and-down spring, showed his deep-play ability with his wheels and how physical he can be when contesting passes. Simmons was certainly a pleasant surprise for this group, and fans had to be drooling over the plays Wims made.
The former junior college transfer arrived last year with loads of hype, but caught just 17 passes. This spring, it's been night and day for Wims. He and Eason have developed a solid rapport with one another, and it showed with him targeting Wims seven times. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Wims has the exact build the Dawgs need in their passing arsenal in a league like the SEC.
“Even when it’s contended, I can throw [Wims] the ball and he’s going to go up and get it," Eason said. "He’s been that guy this spring. I’m excited to see where this season goes with him because he’s been a baller this spring.”
Then, there's Mecole Hardman, who moved from corner to receiver. He's still getting used to the position, but he's starting to come along and finished with three catches for 68 yards this past Saturday. The question still remains if Hardman will stay at receiver, though. He might have all the shake, speed and wiggle you'd want from a receiver, but it's clear Georgia needs corner depth. With seven freshmen defensive backs practicing this fall and three more freshmen receivers joining Holloman, Smart is taking a wait-and-see approach on where Hardman plays.
Once Riley Ridley returns to full strength, Georgia could really stretch the field after he averaged 19.8 yards per catch on 12 receptions last year.
The receiving performances should be considered a success, but it's unclear if this unit is ready for anything more than a dress rehearsal. However, confidence is brewing inside this group. To Godwin, Georgia's receivers are ahead of schedule and itching to prove themselves. Whether that's with a central piece or not, Godwin sees plenty of firepower in this group.
“As a receiving corps, we’re not really looking for a go-to guy, we’re looking for playmakers in that room," he said. "We feel like we have a lot of those. We know when that ball is in the air, we’re going to get it.”