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Thursday, June 4, 2009

From the Mailbag: Tight End Toss-Up

So far this week I've been posting the responses from Mark Richt and Mark Fox to questions from you guys. Today's question comes from another anonymous commenter (this time, I'm assuming it's from former Atlanta Brave Pascual Perez): Do you believe that the two incoming freshman TEs are physically ready to mix it up inside early in the season, or should we expect to see a good amount of Bryce Ros on running downs and two TE sets until Figgins returns from suspension?

This really is the big question when it comes to the tight ends. There's no doubt that between Arthur Lynch, Orson Charles and Aron White, Georgia has some serious talent in the passing game. But who blocks?

First, let's dispense with the Bryce Ros talk. Ros has made a little progress, but that's about it so far. He's picking up on the details, but he has yet to prove he can take that knowledge and turn it into success on the field. That may happen at some point this season, but he's still a bit of a mystery.

"Bryce is getting his first real chance – even in the preseason last year and bowl practice, he would get some reps but as far as really having a chance to show what he can do and to learn," tight ends coach John Lilly said. "His answers to questions and those things are starting to come together. Now can he take what he knows and take it on to the field."

Of course, it's not an in-depth knowledge of the playbook and an ability to dodge defenders that is the main concern this year. It's blocking. UGA's offensive line should be improved, but with Bruce Figgins -- the Bulldogs' top blocking tight end -- out for the first six games, and a group of inexperienced tailbacks, all of whom have had problems in the blocking game in the past, in the backfield, that O line might not be getting much help.

The first option, ideally, will be Aron White, who got some nice experience down the stretch last season and was the only tight end to play significantly in spring practice.

"He really had a fine spring," Mark Richt said of White. "He runs good routes, he's got good hands, he's playing with energy. There's no question in my mind he'll be productive for us this year. We're going to let everybody compete. But he's shown me enough as a route runner and a ball catcher and a guy who is smart and serious about getting better."

Those things are great, but what about the blocking? That's been the knock on White since he arrived, mostly due to his size. At just 6-foot-4, 235, White is big -- just not that big. So while he's technically sound in the blocking game, he simply doesn't have the brawn to win every battle.

"He has his moments where he does great, but most of the time, he's just battling his tail off," Richt said. "But that's OK because if you're tenacious enough and you put your hat in the right spot and you're good fundamentally, you can be a good blocker. You don't have to just lift them up and roll them. He's ready to play Southeastern Conference football right now."

But what about the two fresh faces? Are they ready for SEC football?

Arthur Lynch looks to be the obvious answer in the blocking game, as he looks the part of the prototypical tight end more than anyone else on the roster. At 6-foot-5, 245, Lynch played in a more traditional tight end formation more often in high school and coaches have complimented his blocking skills even before he has practiced at Georgia. But there's a big difference between stopping rushers in high school and doing it in the SEC.

Orson Charles looks like he could be one of Georgia's most impactful freshmen, but most outside observers are expecting far more production in the passing game -- where Charles dominated in high school as a hybrid tight end, often lining up in the slot -- rather than establishing himself as a top blocker. Lilly isn't necessarily convinced that's the case.

"The big thing with him, it's like people look at Bruce is a blocker and Aron's a receiver, and they look at Artie and Orson the same way," Lilly said. "But Orson's a better blocker than people give him credit for and I think Artie's probably a better pass receiver than people give him credit for."

The bottom line, however, is that someone -- and possibly several someones -- will have to step up and handle those blocking duties, and at this point, even the coaches don't know who it will be. But, Richt said, he's happy he at least has a couple strong candidates to choose from.

"It's doubtful right now in my mind that either one of (Charles or Lynch) would redshirt," Richt said. "Not that we're predicting anyone will, but I would think both those guys have a great opportunity to play this year."


Mike In Valdosta said...

Not sure about this coming year, but it will be great to have impact TEs again. I believe that was something we have been sorely missing.

Anonymous said...

Is there any chance of Ros being converted to a fullback in order to step in when the two others graduate?