ATHENS, Ga. – Kearis Jackson is like you, Kirby Smart and everybody else. Last summer, when he and Georgia’s doctors first discussed a long-needed surgical procedure for his left knee, he didn’t think it was going to be a long, drawn-out deal.
Four months later, the Bulldogs’ starting flanker and returning pass-receptions leader still has not started game in the 2021.
One reason for that is Jackson hasn’t been 100 percent healthy. Another is because the young kids playing behind the junior from Peach County have been getting the job done at a high level.
But you can bet that Jackson eventually is going to return to prominence in the Bulldogs’ receiver rotation. It might even happen Saturday when No. 1-ranked Georgia plays host to No. 11 Kentucky at Sanford Stadium (3:30 p.m., CBS).
“It’s been a long four months, especially coming off knee surgery,” Jackson said after Georgia’s practice Wednesday night. “I’m just trying to get myself back into a role as a playing receiver. I’m getting back to being myself, almost feeling 100 percent. I’m just getting better each and every day with my teammates and my quarterbacks, getting that chemistry back down. Being able to be back out there with my teammates, I missed it so much. So, I’m getting back to myself.”
Folks might recall, Jackson is pretty good when he’s himself. Last year, he finished with 36 catches for 514 yards, which was the same number of receptions and one yard more than George Pickens had for the team lead.
And while Jackson hasn’t always been an everyday starter for the Bulldogs – he started just two games last season and seven in 2019 – he always has been a vital part of Georgia’s wide receiver rotation. Earlier this year, he was tabbed as the group’s captain by his peers and was appointed to UGA’s Student-Athlete Leadership Committee (SALC).
Then, Georgia coach Kirby Smart just sort of casually mentioned at SEC Media Days in Birmingham in July that Jackson had undergone “minor surgery” to “clean some things up” in Jackson’s left knee. Turns out that the arthroscopic procedure was a little more extensive than the coach let on or knew at the time.
Later, after preseason camp, Smart claimed Jackson to be “completely cleared” to play in the bulldogs’ season opener against Clemson in Charlotte. Only, Jackson wasn’t.
Turns out, Jackson was allowed only to return punts in that game and the next one, too. Still wearing a bulky brace on his left leg, Jackson didn’t catch his first pass until Week 3 against South Carolina, when he had two for 17 yards. Two for 35 yards against Vanderbilt has been Jackson’s season-high in offensive production so far. He has seven catches for 67 yards in Georgia’s six games this season.
Jackson’s fine with it.
“The guys have been making plays,” Jackson said of his fellow wideouts. “As you can tell on offense, we’ve been very explosive in the receiver room, the most explosive since I’ve been here. What we’ve been doing every day in practice has been translating over into games. So, I’ve just been enjoying watching from the sideline and I’m excited about what this team has done to this point.”
Jackson was made available to reporters Wednesday for the first time since the season started. Following are some of his thoughts on what has transpired this year:
Q: Did you have any idea that your knee rehabilitation was going to be so long and extensive?
A: It was a just a deal about playing football. They kept telling me that I needed to sit down, but I wanted to keep going. I wanted to keep practicing because, at the end of the day, I’m trying to get myself better and help my team. It was kind of a nagging injury from spring practice and I found I needed this little procedure done. So, I had that procedure done during the summer and it did hold me down a little bit. But that’s just football. It happens. At the end of the day, it’s about how you respond. And I believe my knee has been responding well. They’re just slowly working me back into getting those reps. But I feel like my knee is going to be better than it was before, honestly, with that little clean-up that they did. So, I’m excited.
Q: Why was it decided that you were recovered well enough to return punts (8 for 61 yards, so far) but not to be a part of the receiver rotation on offense?
A: One, I didn’t feel too comfortable with that brace on. I wasn’t 100 percent yet. The coaches felt confident enough that I could go back there and catch the punts. That’s the main thing about punt return, being able to secure the ball. The coaches felt comfortable enough for me to do that. And that’s the main thing: I’ve been able to secure the ball. As for playing receiver, my routes just where I wanted them to be at, so I didn’t want to put myself out there trying to go 100 percent knowing I can’t do it. It was more able what can I do and what can I put on film, I didn’t want to put any bad stuff on tape. So, if it meant sitting out four or five games, so be it. The next time I do get on the field I’m going to be 100 percent and that’s the most important thing.
Q: Obviously, the receiver group has been more explosive overall so far this season. Why do you think that is?
A: It’s all about doing simple better. I mean, if you go back and watch film from last year, you’ll see some things we weren’t able to do. The biggest thing from a receiver standpoint was being physical on the perimeter. That was keeping us from explosives, being able to block. That creates explosives from the running back room. And that’s the main thing, just doing the small things better than the other teams do, you’re going to create explosives. So we’ve been working on that last year.
Q: Can you talk about your close relationship with quarterback JT Daniels?
A: Yeah, JT has really grown as a leader. I have a great relationship with JT. We’re always joking around with each other. He’s such a (California) dude. He can’t change that about himself, but I love JT. He always has great energy and he’s a pro at what he does. Especially when it comes to film study and things like that, he sees things that we don’t see and he explains it to us so well. Like, ‘that’s why we should run this route that way.’ That’s why I like JT. He wants this team to be successful and that’s what it’s all about.
Q: What about this No. 1 ranking you guys are carrying into the Kentucky game Saturday?
A: Pressure is a privilege; coach Smart says it all the time. But we’re looking at it as though we want to be No. 1 at the end of the season. I mean, it’s great to be No. 1 now, that’s a great accolade. But we still have to go win each and every game from here on out. So, that’s the most important part, to be No. 1 at the end of the season.