Much has been made about Sony Michel practicing with the slot receivers during individual drills. Considering Michel’s play-making ability, Georgia would seemingly love to find other avenues to get the ball in his hands.
But just how much, or how often, will Michel line up as a receiver during the 2017 season?
It’s an answer Michel himself doesn’t have at the moment. What Michel does know, however, is that he is primarily a running back. However else offensive coordinator Jim Chaney wants to use Michel won’t be seen until the season starts.
“I’m a running back first and foremost,” Michel said. “That’s what you guys are supposed to do, get stories about me playing receiver. I can’t really tell you guys I’ll play receiver. I don’t know. All I can do is go out there and do what I’m supposed to do.”
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In his three previous seasons, Michel has proven he can make plays both as a runner and receiver. In 2016, Michel totaled 840 rushing yards and 149 receiving yards. That included a 33-yard receiving score in Georgia’s 31-23 Liberty Bowl win over TCU.
With fellow running back Nick Chubb returning for his senior season along with Michel, Chaney has had Michel practicing a good bit at receiver just in case he’s called upon to play the position.
“It’s great learning from those guys, seeing their approach when they’re out there on their island,” Michel said. “Sometimes me and the ‘X’ (receiver) will switch and I have to learn some of the things they’ll do – some of the releases they take and some of the coverages they’ll see, and how they approach their routes.”
Michel hasn’t been the only running back to practice at slot receiver. Brian Herrien and D’Andre Swift have received some reps in the slot as well.
Splitting out a running back in the slot certainly seems like a wrinkle Chaney wants to try this season. Still, Michel isn’t sure how much or how often his number will be called to line up at receiver.
“How much am I expecting? It depends. Whatever Coach Chaney calls we’re going to run,” Michel said. “I’m not anticipating anything or expecting anything. I’m just being prepared for whatever’s called.”
With only one tailback lined up in the backfield, moving Michel to receiver when Chubb is in the game would seem like an inventive way to attack defenses.
At least during spring practice, Georgia’s defense had trouble with the look.
“It’s a nightmare looking across and having to check Sony,” inside linebacker Natrez Patrick said during the spring. “It opens the field. It’s a good change I think.”
Michel said he hasn’t spent time in the receivers meeting room but that he has taken tips from multiple coaches about the position.
While Michel very well could play more at receiver this coming season, it wouldn’t be something too unfamiliar. In two seasons playing for former head coach Mark Richt, Michel lined up at receiver on occasion. His best season catching the ball came as a sophomore, when he tallied 26 catches for 270 yards and three touchdowns.
The challenge for Michel is learning and mastering two positions. When he is at running back, he must know certain assignments on that given play. The same applies when he is a receiver.
“You gotta do what the position is called for,” Michel said. “If you line up at receiver, you’ve got to be a receiver. When you line up at running back, you gotta be a running back. Once I line up out wide I have to do what receivers do.”