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Tight ends play big role for UGA

ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps the offensive personnel group that benefits most from Georgia's improved running game is its tight ends -- and that's an excellent choice of players to offer greater opportunity.

Entering the season, the Bulldogs knew they wanted to get the ball into the hands of their talented playmakers at the position, Orson Charles and Aron White.

"It's always been our design to get them the ball, because they've shown the ability to make plays," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "The balls just seem to go to them in these games. It's really been nothing different that we might've called to say, 'This is going to Orson or Aron period,' it's just what the coverage has dictated. They dictated where the ball would go to Aaron [Murray], and Aaron has done a good job of seeing it in those cases and getting them the ball."

In the absence of an effective running game, the Bulldogs often had difficulty getting the ball to Charles and White last season. Although he's generally considered one of the team's most dangerous receivers, Charles had more than 35 receiving yards in only four of the Bulldogs' 13 games. White made just one catch for 5 yards over the Bulldogs' last six outings.

They're already making a more significant impact this year, with an assist from Isaiah Crowell and a more vibrant ground attack.

Charles is the Bulldogs' second-leading receiver with 256 yards and has caught a touchdown pass in three consecutive games. After catching three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown two games ago against Ole Miss, White nearly made it two outings in a row with a score, only to have a potential touchdown pass slip through his fingertips last weekend against Mississippi State.

"I don't even want to talk about it," White said of the play. "I was so sick."

Nonetheless, the duo -- plus fullback Bruce Figgins, a converted tight end who has 63 receiving yards while sometimes operating in an H-back role -- provides an emerging group of weapons who make it even more difficult for defenses to account for all of the Bulldogs in the passing game.

That difficulty was evident last week when Charles blew past Mississippi State linebacker Brandon Wilson down the middle of the field for a 21-yard touchdown catch to conclude Georgia's opening drive.

It was almost too easy.

"They're like receivers, and linebackers are having a tough time covering those guys," said Murray, Georgia's quarterback. "Even the first touchdown to Orson, it's hard if you have the entire middle of the field, and you're one-on-one with Orson if you're a linebacker. He did a great job getting underneath the guy and catching the ball and getting a touchdown."

That is the kind of impact most expected Charles to make, as he entered his junior season as a consensus preseason All-SEC pick and appeared on some all-America teams. He opened the season with a career-high 109 receiving yards and a touchdown against Boise State and, while he went without a catch against South Carolina, he has had at least 40 receiving yards and a touchdown in each of the last three games.

"We're starting to tune in and understand what we can and can't do and understand the defenses," Charles said. "I think last year a lot of times we didn't catch the ball because we ran the wrong route or our routes were too short, our depth was too short, or we just didn't run full speed. I think we're starting to understand just to play harder, finish more blocks, and Bobo's starting to see that and starting to reward us."

That he is, although Bobo said it is not play-calling, but a variety of factors working in the tight ends' favor that results in them getting more touches.

"I think a lot of it's to do with we've done a better job of running the ball, and then we've had receivers step up in Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett. We've got more than one weapon. It's not just A.J. out there, we've got several guys," Bobo said, referring to A.J. Green, the Bulldogs' star receiver last season who became a first-round 2011 NFL draft pick.

"It's kind of hard for a defense to say, 'Hey, we're taking this guy away,' " Bobo said. "Aaron, for the most part, has done a real good job of spreading the ball around and getting it to the guy that's open, and guys have made plays when their number's been called."

That includes the tight ends, who are playing a more significant role than they have in several seasons and are making the most of the opportunity.

David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at davidchingespn@gmail.com.