Bulldogs rebuild at tight end
Charles, White departures make way for different breed at key position
ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia's coaching staff knows its tight ends once again will play an active role in the Bulldogs' offensive scheme. The question is how much the coaches will be forced to change how they utilize Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome -- players with prototypical tight end frames and skillsets -- from how they used wideout-like Orson Charles and Aron White in recent seasons.
"That's a really good question. We're learning that right now," Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Monday morning's practice. "We're really trying to see what these guys can be, and then we'll have to make decisions on what we try to do with them.
Tight end historically has played an active role in Georgia's pro-style passing game under Richt, and Lynch, Rome and freshman Ty Smith expect to carry on that tradition this season. That possibility is part of what attracted them to Georgia to begin with.
"When I was trying to make my decision, one of the most important things I looked at was which offense did I think I would be utilized the most in," said Rome, a redshirt freshman whom ESPN rated as the nation's top tight end prospect in 2011. "Here at Georgia, we run a pro-style offense where we have a lot of opportunities for the tight end to get the ball, a lot of opportunities to make plays. You had a lot of great tight ends here in the past, and ultimately that had to go into my decision to come here."
Throughout Richt's tenure Georgia has featured pro-caliber talent at the position, but last season might have been the high-water mark. Charles, White and Bruce Figgins, who played fullback last year because of the Bulldogs' tight end depth, signed with NFL teams.
But last year only continued a trend that spans Richt's entire UGA career. Of the six different players who ranked as Georgia's top receiving tight end in Richt's 11 seasons, five of them were drafted and four -- San Diego's Randy McMichael, Cleveland's Ben Watson, Pittsburgh's Leonard Pope and Cincinnati's Charles -- remain on active NFL rosters.
"The thing about using the tight end is that I think if you have the talent, you're going to use it," Lynch said. "It just so happened that Georgia had a lot of talent at the position for many years, and they used it. Last year was a great example of that."
Charles was one of the nation's top tight ends last season -- he was a John Mackey Award finalist, in fact -- finishing with 45 catches for 574 yards, which ranks as the best season by a tight end in the Richt era. White added nine catches for 101 yards and four touchdowns. And the duo completed their careers as Georgia's co-leaders for touchdown catches by a tight end with 10 apiece.
At the same time, Lynch played in all 14 games, but did not catch a pass, Rome redshirted, and the Bulldogs' third tight end, true freshman Ty Smith, was still playing high school ball.
Needless to say, the Bulldogs do not have much in the way of actual on-field production, but they're supremely confident in their capabilities.
"Even though me and Artie, we're a little bit more of the big tight end type than Aron and Orson were, I think we might be underestimated about how good we are as receivers, too," said Rome, who wowed the crowd at Georgia's spring game with a leaping catch and run for a 66-yard touchdown. "So I really believe that we can bring a whole new type of tight end back to Georgia.
"Aron and Orson, those guys were great and took me under their wing, but with me and Artie in there, you have the opportunity to have those big bodies in there that can do more of the big-body things and still be able to get downfield."
It should come as no surprise that Lynch seems unconcerned about compiling statistics. He has taken the unselfish route throughout his career, first agreeing to redshirt in 2010 to gain a year of separation between himself and Charles and then ballooning up to nearly 280 pounds in order to serve as a blocking tight end who wouldn't get the chance to catch many passes last season.
He did as his coaches asked this summer and trimmed down to about 255, where he can be quicker and able to serve as a more well-rounded tight end.
"If I can go out there and make an impact at tight end like we did last year, that's all I care about," Lynch said. "I don't care about individual statistics; I don't care about whether I'm getting touchdowns. I just want to win the game.
"I honestly think personal success comes through team success. If you want to have success on a personal level, you can't do that by yourself. You have to be able to play as a team and win as a team."
TIGHT ENDS IN THE RICHT ERA
A look at the leading receiver among tight ends, by season. (*-Led team in receiving)
|* 2005||Leonard Pope||39||541||13.9||4|
|* 2006||Martrez Milner||30||425||14.2||3|