What’s certain is that George Pickens — Georgia’s expected top receiver for 2021 — will miss a substantial part of this season due to an ACL injury. How the Bulldogs’ receiving corps performs in his extended absence remains to be seen.
Georgia has been without Pickens in the past, whether it be due to injury or suspension, but in a season where his efforts were sure to warrant considerable targets, other players will have to step up.
Junior Kearis Jackson returns this season as a player who can fill several different needs on the offensive side of the ball and is one who even saw some time on special teams as a returner.
Jackson put up three touchdowns on 36 receptions last year lining up in both the slot and out wide. He believes his side has what it takes to navigate some of this spring’s early challenges, and that confidence and competition all remain high between his teammates.
“I feel like without George being here, we do have a talented role,” Jackson said. “That’s what we do with recruiting. Coach [Cortez] Hankton did a great job with bringing guys in and things like that, so with George being out, we do have other guys who can ... step up and be able to reach those opportunities.”
Jackson is quick to credit this year’s spring practice schedule as a vital component of their group’s development. Following a season without spring reps due to the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple receivers have now had the advanced opportunity to work at several positions in the offense.
Additionally, all receivers have benefitted from the chance to establish budding relationships with junior quarterback JT Daniels, who has all but wrapped up the starting role under center for 2021.
“I’m glad that we got this spring, unlike last year, to be able to see what everybody will be able to do,” Jackson said. “We’ve tried everywhere for everybody. Being in this type of offense, you have to know each position. That just increases your value and increases your role as a player on offense.”
Pickens’ departure has opened avenues for younger players like freshmen Justin Robinson and Adonai Mitchell to impress this spring in hopes of landing increased roles come the fall.
From early enrollees to seasoned seniors, Daniels welcomes the advanced contributions that returning players like Jackson, Demetris Robertson and Jermaine Burton will take in leading an otherwise youthful group. Burton himself sustained a hyperextended knee injury on March 30 and is already involved with conditioning exercises again, head coach Kirby Smart said on April 3.
In Pickens, Daniels lost his most experienced and talented option out wide, but after serving more than half of last season as Georgia’s scout team quarterback, Daniels has developed chemistry with wide-outs that span the entire roster. Connectedness shouldn’t be an issue.
“Obviously we have a loaded receiver room. It’s great to see some of the young guys, [Justin Robinson], Jermaine [Burton] before his little knee thing, [Demetris Robertson] has been stepping up and Kearis [Jackson] is always Kearis,” Daniels said. “You have a great receiver room, and as much as you hate to lose George, and you do there’s no understating that, you got a lot of guys that are going to work their butt off and try to develop and produce in any way they can.”
Despite having played in only four games as a Bulldog, Daniels has become the de facto leader of an offense that is expected to be the strength of the team in 2021. His determination and work ethic are sources of inspiration for players around him, especially the ones that will be catching his passes.
“JT comes in every day and just treats everything like a pro,” Jackson said. “He really cares about the receivers and not just the receivers but the team as well. He’s doing a great job by leading us as an offense out there in practice every day, doing his job and just making sure that we say on page.”