ATHENS, Ga. — In the tight ends meeting room, a set of goals for the 2009 season is printed on the bulletin board. The first item on the list reads: Gain back the respect of your teammates and restore the tradition of this university.
The words were penned by sophomore Aron White after he watched his unit struggle to the point of embarrassment a season ago, but it’s a goal that Georgia’s two newest tight ends — freshmen Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch — had in mind before they even arrived in Athens.
“We did our research, and it was Tight End U back in the day,” Charles said. “We’re trying to rebuild that. We talk about it every day. We can do it, so why not now? What’s holding us back?”
For most of the past two decades, Georgia’s offense has featured a dominant tight end, including future NFL stars, such as Ben Watson, Randy McMichael and Leonard Pope.
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Last season, however, the tradition hit rock bottom. A series of injuries to Bruce Figgins (Shaw High) and Tripp Chandler combined with a lack of depth to create a scenario in which the position almost was abandoned from the offensive scheme.
By year’s end, Georgia’s tight ends had accounted for 10 catches.
“It took a toll on us last year, and that’s just not the way a Georgia tight end is supposed to perform,” White said. “We took it upon ourselves to make some changes and change the mentality in our unit room.”
A re-emergence by the tight ends isn’t simply a goal for White and his cohorts. It’s a necessity for the entire offense.
While Georgia relied on a dynamic running back, a strong-armed quarterback and a bevy of experienced wide receivers last season, many of those big producers will be missing in 2009.
That puts the pressure on the tight ends to handle their share of the offensive workload, not just in the passing game.
“We need a tight end at the point of attack to help us establish the run game,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “Last year, you just had so many injuries at that position week in and week out that it changed our philosophy a little bit. Toward the end of the season, you’re seeing four wides, where really we’d like to have a tight end there in most of our formations.”
That shouldn’t be a problem this season, White said.
Last season was defined by the limitations at tight end, but the story this year might be just the opposite.
With the addition of the athletic Charles, who had 75 receptions and 21 touchdowns as a senior at Plant High School in Tampa, Fla. last year, and Lynch, a more traditional bruiser, White thinks this year’s crop of tight ends could be the most dynamic the school has seen.
“We’ve got some tremendous bodies in there that can just run and jump and catch and block,” White said. “It’s just an exciting time for the tight ends at Georgia.”
The excitement begins with Charles, whose decision to spurn Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina late in the recruiting process made him an instant favorite among Georgia fans.
Charles is long and lean, looking more like a bulked-up wide receiver than a typical tight end. His athleticism makes him an immediate matchup problem for defenders, and his ball skills border on the astonishing, White said.
During a practice last week, the quarterback lofted a pass to Charles, who was running a drag route over the middle. The ball was overthrown, and Charles dived, reaching out his right hand to tip the ball back toward his body before corralling it with his left.
“I was just like, this is definitely a guy who can make some plays,” White said.
Charles’ athleticism makes him effective, but he knows he still has to handle the grunt work of a true tight end.
He sought Georgia’s most muscle-bound players, such as Shaun Chapas and Fred Munzenmaier, during his first trip to the weight room this summer. He made a point of packing on as many pounds as possible before reaching the practice field.
“That was a very good thing to see — a person who wants to work and is eager to work — and he’s translating that very well over to the football field,” White said.
While Charles works to prove he is more than a hybrid tight end, Lynch is happy to keep his versatility a secret.
White said his first inclination is to describe Lynch as a brute, a fitting title given his immense strength. But there is more to his game: Lynch’s speed and skill often surprise opponents and observers.
“He’s naturally big, but he’s played basketball his whole life, so he can still move and run and jump and cut,” White said. “That was just a surprise to me how athletic he was. He’s deceptively fast because he’s so long and big that it doesn’t look like he’s moving that fast, but he’s out there running with the best of them.”
White is the veteran of the crew. He has backed up his goals for the season with action during the offseason.
During his first two years in Athens, White oozed talent but didn’t have the physique to match up with SEC defenders. This offseason, however, he met with a nutritionist regularly, hit the weight room harder than ever and stayed in Athens for the month of May, taking one class but mostly working on building strength.
The result is a new 237-pound body he hopes will allow him to hold down blocks without cutting his speed.
“I think the versatility that we have in our room as far as athletes is really going to help,” White said. “If you have a tight end out there that’s a threat down the field but has the durability and the strength and the mind-set to stick their nose in somebody and bury a block and sacrifice their body on the line, that puts teams in a tough spot.”
Georgia’s defenders already have gotten a firsthand look at the havoc the team’s tight ends could cause this season. Charles and Lynch have earned raves from teammates during preseason practice. While White is mending a sore hamstring, he has gotten in on some of the action, too.
“(Last year) they combined for 10 catches,” Charles said. “These two scrimmages, I had five catches alone, and Aron and Artie had a couple themselves. So it’s showing that they want to change everything up, and we’re showing we have the athletes to get it done.”