When it comes to Southeastern Conference football assistants, nobody may have been dealt a better hand in 2021 than Georgia fourth-year receivers coach Cortez Hankton.
George Pickens, Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton, Demetris Robertson and Arian Smith are gearing up for a March 16 start to spring practice, and that's not even the full arsenal. Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint are still nursing injuries from last year, but they expect to prominently figure into plans this fall on an offense headed by second-year coordinator Todd Monken and returning quarterback JT Daniels.
Blaylock, the stepson of Chattanooga Lookouts co-owner John Woods, suffered the second torn left ACL of his career last August, while Rosemy-Jacksaint sustained an ankle fracture and dislocation at the end of his 32-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of last November's 44-28 loss to Florida.
"They're working to come back," Hankton said Tuesday afternoon. "We do have a return-to-play protocol, and they're right on schedule. From a mental standpoint, they have been awesome. They are so positive, and they have the energy to fight to come back.
"Those are two of the most positive, football-savvy guys, especially when it comes to helping the younger guys. Any way they've been able to help has been a huge plus for us."
Blaylock's stellar freshman season in 2019 included a 112-yard performance during a 55-0 drubbing of Arkansas State, an 8-yard touchdown in the 24-17 topping of Florida and a 51-yard score in the 21-14 win at Auburn. He played in 12 contests with three starts that year, while Rosemy-Jacksaint played in Georgia's first six games a year ago before his setback.
"Both of those young men are running straight-line, and they're beginning to increase their workload," Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart said. "They're not working with us in our offseason conditioning program, meaning that they're not in our actual drills. They have to work separate, but they are increasing speeds.
"(Georgia director of sports medicine) Ron Courson has done a tremendous job with those guys."
Jackson led the Bulldogs last season with 36 receptions for 514 yards and three touchdowns, while Pickens essentially matched him with 36 catches for 513 yards and six scores. Burton had 27 receptions for 404 yards and three touchdowns, and though Smith had but just two catches all year, they covered 86 yards and produced a touchdown.
Hankton, who added the role of Georgia's passing game coordinator before the 2019 season, knows he has a stacked room but is also aware that significant steps must be taken before even the first comparisons are made to what Alabama's receivers have produced the last couple of years.
"We are talented, and you see some flashes of things, but we have to become more consistent at the position," Hankton said. "There are some things that we can improve on, so we can't be complacent or comfortable just because we have the skill set to perform at a high level. We need to compete day in and day out and be very intense about getting better."
Despite the absences this spring of Blaylock and Rosemy-Jacksaint and the recent departures of Matt Landers, Trey Blount, Tommy Bush and Makiya Tongue through the NCAA transfer portal, the receivers are expected to dominate the secondary this spring in Athens. The starting cornerbacks from last season, Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes, elected to bypass their senior seasons for an early crack at the NFL, while third corner DJ Daniel was a senior and declined to use the NCAA's extra year of eligibility.
Tyrique Stevenson was a sophomore and had the versatility to excel at corner and safety, but he transferred to Miami shortly after helping the Bulldogs cap an 8-2 season on New Year's Day with a 24-21 topping of Cincinnati in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
"We had two receivers come in midyear, and that has helped our numbers there," Smart said. "We also had some guys who signed last year who we think will be good football players. We've got a good group there, but it's defensive back where we have some limiting with the second-team spot, especially when you consider dime is six DBs.
"The cornerback position is completely open. We're going to search to find guys who can play that position at a high level, because across the SEC, people are throwing the ball better and better and better. Those guys can get exposed, because our conference probably plays more man-to-man than anybody else."
One of the 2020 receiver signees Smart was referencing was Ladd McConkey of North Murray High School, who never saw the field last season.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.