ATHENS, Ga. -- Perhaps no position coach on Georgia’s staff is starting from scratch this spring moreso than tight ends coach John Lilly.
Lilly had one of the nation’s most productive tight ends last season in Orson Charles -- who opted to leave UGA after his junior year to enter the NFL draft -- and also had a solid second option in 2011 senior Aron White, who tied Charles for the school’s tight end career record with 10 touchdowns.
With Charles and White out of the picture, Lilly is left with rising junior Arthur Lynch and redshirt freshman Jay Rome to play a much more active role this season. Lynch has two career receptions and played mostly as a blocker and on special teams last year, while Rome -- ESPN’s top-rated tight end prospect in 2011 -- is trying to catch up after spending the winter with Georgia’s basketball team as a walk-on forward.
Lilly discussed Lynch and Rome with DawgNation’s David Ching earlier this week, as well as what he expects from incoming freshman Ty Smith and whether he expects the role of the tight end to change this season in Georgia’s offense.
Here is what Lilly had to say:
Q: How are you seeing Artie and Jay filling their new roles?
JL: They’re certainly progressing as you would expect and you would hope. I think Artie’s a guy that you pull for. He’s been in the program for three years and kind of waited his turn so to speak. I think he’s really doing a nice job trying to lead. Obviously he’s a guy that knows the vast majority of what we’re doing and understands why we do what we do and how we’re doing it. Now it’s his time to play like a starter. Jay is playing catch-up a little bit with having been gone to play basketball and being gone some through the offseason and missing some of that time -- not so much the football time as far as Xs and Os stuff, but the weight room, the quickness, some of the things that come along with the offseason program. But they’re certainly getting a lot of reps. There’s not a lot of bodies out there from that standpoint, so they’re getting a lot of reps and getting a chance to get better.
Q: Jay talked in January about how basketball workouts might help him agility-wise. Is that an observation that you’d agree with?
JL: I don’t know. I’m a little biased. But they’re two different games. I think anybody that has played both or plays both, you know the conditioning’s different in the two games. The change of direction stuff is just different in the two games. You’d like to think some of it probably helped him in just running around. A lot of times you do think in recruiting that you can evaluate a guy’s ability to move by how he plays defense and some of those things on the basketball court, but I don’t know. I guess that remains to be seen.
Q: I’m thinking because of the numbers that you hope that Ty Smith can come in and play right away. Is that the idea right now?
JL: Sure. I know since I’ve been here we’ve played three every year. They’ve had some role and at some level they’ve played and had to prepare at a high level. So certainly with him being that third guy, coming in we’d like to see him be able to progress to be able to play as a freshman.
Q: Is it really a necessity that there be a No. 1 tight end, especially as a pass-catcher?
JL: Well, you’ve got to start out with somebody. Certainly somebody gets announced in pregame and all those kinds of things. I’ve never gotten too hung up on all that. Really you want everybody in your meeting room preparing like they’re the starter because any play they’re in for, in the type of schedule that we play, you basically are playing with a starting unit because the games are going to be close and every play matters. So they all have to prepare like starters. So I don’t know. I want them to compete to be that first guy, but I don’t know that you have to have somebody that’s outright like that.
Q: With a guy like Orson last year who put up such big numbers and was a finalist for the John Mackey Award, people would look at the depth chart that’s coming in and assume that the role of the tight end would decrease a little. Is that necessarily the case? What kind of change do you think will occur with the tight end position in the passing game?
JL: I don’t want to put a number on it. You take -- and I don’t even remember the number -- Orson and Aron and even Bruce Figgins’ touches and you add up their number of touches together. I don’t know what that number was, but it was up there decent. I don’t know what the number will be this year, but certainly it’s what we do offensively. I don’t know how much what we do is going to change and I think those guys are a focal point. That’s why guys come here. They play tight end and they know they’re going to be involved heavily in the passing game and they’re going to get some at-bats so to speak. So I wouldn’t expect it to change a whole lot and maybe even grow because I think our wideouts being a year older, a year more experienced, the respect that they’re going to draw is going to be that much more. Our running backs being what they are, the respect our running game’s going to have helps your play-action game. So I would think they’re still going to have a chance to put up a lot of good numbers.
Q: You look at them in pads and they’re the prototypical idea of a true tight end, where Orson and Aron are not necessarily that. They’re different kinds of players. Do you think that will make them play a more traditional tight end role in the offense?
JL: I don’t know, I think they come in all shapes and sizes. Everybody talks about all the guys in the National Football League and you look at New England and they’ve got one guy [Rob Gronkowski] that’s the taller, bigger body, but he can certainly run around pretty well. And then you’ve got another guy [Aaron Hernandez] that’s 6-1 and 245 or something like that and he can do a lot of different things for them. They’re both very successful and kind of different packages as far as physically. I don’t know that you really put yourself in a corner with what they are. But they probably look a little more like what people would draw up in the dictionary.