Georgia’s coaching staff is looking for ways to change that in his sophomore year.
“It’s going to be a big, it’s already been a big offseason project to figure out ways to try and get him the ball,” coach Kirby Smart said on Georgia’s radio show on Monday night.
The five-star recruit from Elbert County who was rated as the nation’s No. 1 athlete by 247Sports learned the ropes as a defensive back last year.
Smart was asked if Hardman would have a chance to return kickoffs or punts.
“The easiest way is obviously the kickoff return game,” Smart said. “That’s what his skill set is. He’s a good straightline fast player. He was an explosive offensive player in high school. He’ll be a candidate for kickoff returns. Hopefully he can earn that job.”
The 5-foot-11, 183-pound Hardman had one kickoff return for 17 yards last season, but Georgia needs a replacement for Reggie Davis who finished his college career. It also lost punt returner Isaiah McKenzie, who had five career punt return touchdowns.
Hardman played in 11 games last year and had special teams tackles in four games with six total tackles on the season.
“He’s got to prove some ball security because he’s not a guy that carries the ball a lot or hasn’t a lot in the past year,” Smart said. “Punt returns will be the one that’s probably most up for grabs. That’s not something natural for Mecole. He’ll have to work on that really hard. We’ve got some other candidates there, but I’m hoping to see him on kickoff returns.”
UGA may take more ‘calculated risks’ on defense in seeking more tackles for loss
Georgia ranked in the top 16 nationally in total defense, pass defense and turnovers gained in the first season under Kirby Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
All of that may be encouraging but here’s one area that was not: tackles for loss.
Georgia was 13th in the SEC and 109th nationally at 4.8 per game. Alabama, where Smart and Tucker arrived from, had 7.9 last season. Texas A&M posted 8.5 per game.
“We’ve got to really improve defensively on tackles for loss and getting negative plays,” Smart said on Georgia’s radio show Monday night. “Sometimes you’ve got to take chances to do that. We’ve got to take more calculated risks to be able to get people negative plays.”
Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson led Georgia in tackles for loss with nine and a half in 2016. He withdrew from school last month after dealing with what the school called “a significant medical issue.” He was hospitalized following an adverse reaction to pain medication. Smart did not address Thompson on Monday night.
Outside linebacker Davin Bellamy, who was second on the team with nine tackles for loss, has put on weight as have outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. Smart indicated they were asked to put on about 10 pounds each.
Defensive tackle Julian Rochester, meanwhile, has lost 10 or 15 pounds. The 6-foot-5 rising sophomore was listed previously at 316 pounds.
Smart mentioned coaches going to get new ideas from other coaching staffs.
He said he planned to challenge the defense with some new things.
“That’s a big study for us defensively, who had the most tackles for loss, how did they do it?” Smart said.
Arkansas State, Michigan, Clemson, Texas A&M and Miami were the top five last season.
With UGA’s Roquan Smith out for ‘some part of spring,’ others get chance at ILB
Junior inside linebacker Roquan Smith will be sidelined for a portion of spring practices, coach Kirby Smart confirmed for the first time on Monday night.
“As you know, Roquan’s going to be out for some part of spring, that’s going to open up some spots at linebacker,” Smart said on Georgia’s weekly radio show.
Smith, Georgia’ leading tackler last year with 95, sustained a torn pectoral muscle, DawgPost.com reported last month.
Georgia opens spring practices on March 21.
Converted running back Tae Crowder will have more of a chance now “to really understand the defense,” Smart said of the redshirt sophomore. “He’s a great athlete, but he really doesn’t understand defense."
Early enrollee Monty Rice and junior Juwan Taylor will also compete at the position “to find out really who the depth is at inside linebacker.”
Georgia also returns junior starter Natrez Patrick and senior Reggie Carter at inside linebacker.