Georgia Bulldogs: John Lilly

It’s almost that time. Georgia is scheduled to open spring practice next week.

In previous weeks, we've broken down several players and position groups to watch this spring. As we lead up to the Bulldogs’ first-team workout, this week we'll make five predictions related to the upcoming practices.

Today’s prediction: Jordan Davis makes a move at tight end

Like the prediction we made about redshirt freshman tailback A.J. Turman on Monday, this is another one that seems like common sense.

[+] EnlargeJordan Davis
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsJordan Davis will get the lion's share of the reps at tight end during spring and could be UGA's next star at the position.
The tailbacks are a bit depth-depleted because injuries will prevent Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall from performing at 100 percent and because signees Nick Chubb and Sony Michel aren’t on campus yet. That will provide Turman with a prime opportunity to prove himself.

Depth is an even bigger issue for Davis and the tight ends. All-SEC senior Arthur Lynch just exhausted his eligibility. Jay Rome is recovering from surgery, and coach Mark Richt said last week that he expects him to either miss all or most of spring. Signees Jeb Blazevich and Hunter Atkinson won’t arrive until summer.

If redshirt freshman Davis doesn’t make good use of what should be a ton of reps this spring, that will come off as an enormous disappointment.

The Bulldogs didn’t need him to play last season since Lynch and blocking tight end Hugh Williams were seniors, and Rome was also in the mix, although injuries cut his season short.

The depth chart looks completely different now, and Davis’ combination of speed, athleticism -- he was a distinguished hurdler in high school -- and a steady work ethic should begin to pay off immediately. If anything, he needs to learn to relax a bit, as tight ends coach John Lilly insisted last season that Davis often put too much pressure on himself.

Now is the time for him to settle into the routine of operating with the regulars on offense. Georgia’s coaches said last week that fullback Quayvon Hicks might take some snaps in an H-back role on offense, but otherwise Davis is the lone scholarship tight end available if Rome misses the entire spring.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Davis certainly looks the part of a pass-catching tight end with the frame to hold more size if necessary. Our prediction is that he develops the confidence this spring to accompany those physical tools, and that he will seize an on-field role for this fall.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Brendan Douglas has been the hurdler and the hurdlee, so he has firsthand knowledge of the embarrassment that accompanies an opponent leaping directly over you. The thing is, the Georgia tailback still isn't sure what he should have done when teammate Jordan Jenkins hurdled his attempted block during the Bulldogs' second preseason scrimmage.

It wasn't like he dove at Jenkins' ankles on the play. The 5-foot-11 back was nearly standing straight up when he lunged to block Jenkins, and the linebacker simply jumped straight over him.

“You're just like, 'What am I supposed to do?' He just cleared me,” chuckled Douglas, who also hurdled cornerback Shaq Wiggins in the same scrimmage. “I didn't dive on the ground or anything. I just kind of lunged at him a little bit and then he was over me. I didn't know if I should like grab his foot or what. It's kind of like you've just got to let him go at that point.”

[+] EnlargeJordan Jenkins
John Amis/AP PhotoGeorgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins says the art of hurdling a blocker is a matter of desire and swagger.
After clearing Douglas' block, Jenkins landed on his feet just a few steps from quarterback Christian LeMay and so spooked LeMay that he threw a pass directly to linebacker Amarlo Herrera.

“I was shocked I got over him,” Jenkins said. “Actually I stopped and thought, 'Oh God, I got over him,' and I just tried to get LeMay.”

Two months later, teammates still marvel at the athleticism required for Jenkins to pull off such a move.

“That was crazy,” tailback J.J. Green said. “I've never seen something like that where somebody was standing straight up and you just jump right over them.”

Most Georgia fans were first introduced to the in-game hurdle when All-America tailback Knowshon Moreno famously jumped over a Central Michigan defender in a 2008 victory. However, Moreno's legend began to grow two years earlier when as a redshirting freshman on the scout team, he jumped over teammate Donavon Baldwin in practice.

“That was probably most impressive one I've seen,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “He did it down on the turf [practice] fields and I think he kept his feet and went on and scored.”

Hurdle sightings have become much more prevalent over the last few years as the sport's increasingly big and athletic players have demonstrated the ability to avoid blocks or tackle attempts at their ankles by simply jumping over their opponent.

Bulldogs tight end Arthur Lynch has attempted it a number of times, most recently when he successfully cleared Missouri defensive back Randy Ponder's diving tackle attempt along the UGA sideline, bringing some electricity back into Sanford Stadium after the Bulldogs had fallen behind 28-10 in the second quarter.

“I thought it really did bring the crowd back into it [against Missouri] and also just kind of gets into the mind of your opponent, as well,” Lynch said. “I know like in a boxing match, if you go for the body shot, body shot, body shot, go up top, you've got a guy thinking. I think it's the same concept. If you run somebody over, the next play he's going to lower his shoulder and not be able to see anything, and [you can] go over the top.”

But Lynch's successful hurdle still surprised his teammates -- even his buddy Aaron Murray.

“I didn't think he could get that high,” said Murray, Georgia's quarterback. “I don't think anyone did, but that was pretty sweet.”

On the final defensive play of Georgia's 44-41 win against LSU, Jenkins attempted his pass-rush hurdle again, but it didn't go quite as smoothly. Rushing from the right side, he tried to soar over a block from LSU's Travis Dickson – and he was nearly successful again.

He cleared Dickson with his right leg, but the LSU tight end caught Jenkins' left leg and flipped him into the air. Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger stepped backward with Jenkins flying toward him and Leonard Floyd rushing into his face and threw incomplete for a turnover on downs that sealed Georgia's win.

“I didn't pick up my leg like I was supposed to,” Jenkins said. “It's like when you try to jump a hurdle in track, if you don't pick up that back leg, you'll fall down.”

Nonetheless, the hurdle is proving to be an effective-enough technique that Georgia tight ends coach John Lilly instructs his players to look for chances to leap over smaller defenders who will try to take out their legs instead of attempting a traditional tackle.

But even when a player sees his opponent lowering his head and preparing to hit him low, Jenkins said it takes a little something extra to attempt the hurdle instead of a different method of getting away.

“You've got to have that swagger to do it,” Jenkins said. “As long as you have it in your mind, if you know you can do it, if you have it in your head thinking, 'I know I can get this guy' and just commit to that, you can do it. But if you're half-guessing yourself, it ain't going to work out.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- Life is significantly less stressful for John Lilly these days in Georgia’s tight ends meeting room.

This time a year ago, Lilly was coaching two talented -- and yet vastly inexperienced -- tight ends in Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome, plus true freshman Ty Smith, after Orson Charles jumped to the NFL and Aron White graduated. Today the Bulldogs seem to be on solid footing at the position after Lynch and Rome emerged as productive receivers and reliable blockers.

“It’s a fun room to be in right now,” said Lilly, Georgia’s tight ends coach. “They’ve had a little experience, they’ve had a little taste of it and now it’s, ‘Let’s get better. Let’s see how good we can be,’ rather than, ‘Let’s just figure out where to line up and what to do and how to do it.’ So that is exciting. Every guy that’s in that room kind of has the same attitude.”

Thanks in part to injuries that robbed the Bulldogs’ receiving corps of its depth, Lynch and Rome accepted larger roles in Georgia’s passing game in the second half of last season. Lynch made 18 of his 24 catches for 283 of his 431 yards after the midway point of the regular season -- a stretch in which Rome also made nine of his 11 catches and hauled in both of his touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeJohn Lilly
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNGeorgia assistant John Lilly is excited about his group of tight ends this season.
Such production breeds confidence, Lynch said.

“You don’t really worry about that last play. If you made a mistake, you made a mistake,” Lynch said. “You’re numb to certain scenarios, but you also realize there’s more expectations. You’re not working to get around using the tight ends. I think the coaches are very much into involving the tight end.”

Although inexperience was the group’s biggest concern last season, depth was also a factor with just the three scholarship players on the Bulldogs’ roster. Depth remains an issue today after off-the-field issues led to Smith’s departure from the program, with freshman Jordan Davis replacing him as the third scholarship tight end alongside walk-on veterans Hugh Williams and Greg Mulkey.

Davis isn’t especially similar to Smith -- who appeared in eight games last fall -- but he is in a similar position as a likely freshman contributor simply because of the Bulldogs’ positional depth.

“Jordan knows the position he’s in,” Lilly said. “I think he’s got a lot of tools to work with. He’s a guy that is very, very conscientious, almost to the point of being overly serious. He needs to relax sometimes. But I do think he’s a guy that’s trying to be on an accelerated program to learn what to do and how to do it.”

At 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds -- up 20 since competing in the Georgia state track meet as a hurdler during the spring -- Davis already looks the part. He benefited recently from extra practice opportunities while an ankle sprain sidelined Rome, but admitted that Lilly does occasionally scold him for pressing during those practice reps.

“He gets on me sometimes about that because I really want to be able to contribute this year,” Davis said. “Sometimes he’ll correct me on a mistake that I make -- and it’ll be just a regular correction, not anything loud or anything. But I take everything pretty serious.”

As long as Lynch and Rome remain healthy, however, Davis’ time to become a heavy contributor will be next season at the earliest. He knows this season will be useful from a learning perspective -- and he has two solid leaders to follow.

Lynch, a preseason All-SEC pick, is typically listed among the top senior tight end prospects for next year’s NFL draft after a more-than-serviceable first season as a starter. He’s trying to ignore the preseason acclaim for now, however, and his reasoning is sure to please Georgia fans who believe the many NFL prospects on last year’s team grew distracted by their pro possibilities.

“It’s cool for that recognition and for those lists to be out there in the eyes and minds of scouts. It’s good for immediate exposure. But if I don’t match what I did last year and try to expand upon it, then it doesn’t really mean much,” Lynch said.

“I don’t really put too much stock in it. Maybe I would’ve if we won the national championship last year and I wouldn’t have been so intense to win every game. But I think that’s my most important thing.”
ATHENS, Ga. -- John Lilly is reluctant to divulge the steps he has occasionally taken to determine which football programs were interested in recruits he was pursuing.

The instinct creating that hesitance is not self-preservation, however.

“I’ve got to save all those stories for the book someday,” Lilly joked.

And a book he could write. One of the ace recruiters on Mark Richt’s coaching staff -- Lilly played a key role in Georgia landing signatures from top prospects Tramel Terry, Shaq Wiggins and Tray Matthews in the most recent recruiting class alone -- Georgia’s tight ends coach came to Athens after spending a decade as Bobby Bowden’s recruiting coordinator at Florida State.

John Lilly
Courtesy of UGA Sports CommunicationsPrior to his job as Georgias tight ends coach, John Lilly was Florida State's recruiting coordinator.
There are surely dozens of stories, featuring some of the sport’s biggest names over the past decade, which would keep the average reader enthralled. And yet the long hours spent on the road to accumulate those stories come with a cost.

Like many of his fellow assistants, Lilly is a husband and a father to young children. When coaches are on the recruiting trail throughout the spring evaluation period -- on top of the already-demanding schedules they keep during the season -- they’re away from those they love most.

“You don’t want to miss anything,” Lilly said. “Obviously when you’re out of town, you don’t see your wife, you don’t see your children, they don’t see you. Right now, speaking for me, my children are almost 4 and 2. They don’t necessarily keep track of time and time doesn’t mean as much to them, but they realize after a couple days, ‘Hey, where’s dad?’ It does make it a little bit harder.”

But coaches understand that situation when they accept the job. The wins and losses from the fall are the true measuring sticks that determine whether they hold onto their positions, but it’s their behind-the-scenes work as recruiters that stocks the depth chart with talent that makes wins easier to achieve.

“It is what you make of it,” Georgia inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti said, specifically referring to the travel-heavy evaluation period between mid-April and the end of May. “Everybody talks about it being a grind, but it’s just part of the job. You can enjoy it or you can complain about it and I choose to enjoy it.”

NCAA rules help somewhat, since the entire staff is not allowed to be on the road recruiting at once during the spring, and the group is allowed only so many evaluations during that time period.

But the breaks are short-lived if the coaches are doing an adequate job in determining who to chase for their next recruiting class.

“Really the second week after the spring game, we’ve been on the road recruiting and evaluating players, crosschecking -- meaning I may see one guy and someone else may go see him -- and just trying to do a diligent job of recruiting players that can help us be successful at Georgia and win the SEC,” Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said at a UGA Alumni Association meeting in Atlanta in mid-May.

Olivadotti and Lilly said it is not unheard of for them to hit 10 to 12 schools in a day in May, provided that they are within close proximity. Such days are not ideal in most cases, however. Recruiting is about building relationships with players, coaches and families -- and that’s a time-consuming process if done correctly.

That’s why coaches typically make only a handful of daily stops in the final weeks leading up to national signing day while trying to solidify their recruiting classes -- a big change from when their off-campus contact with players is restricted in the spring.

“Most of us really enjoy the relationships you form with people because at the end of the day, it’s just fun to get to know a lot of people in a lot of places and all that,” Lilly said. “But if you’re really going to spend time with people and get to know them and them get to know you, you’re probably maxing yourself out if you go to any more than [10 or 11 in May]. If you’re in the January mode, you may only hit a couple in a day at that point.”

By the time signing day arrives, the coaching staff has already started laying the groundwork for the next class -- and often the one that’s two years away. It’s a process that never truly ends for coaches at the country’s elite programs.

“You’d better know everybody that’s walking the halls for two or three years down the road if you can,” Lilly said.

Watch List TE takes in Georgia 

March, 13, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- ESPN Watch List tight end Jeb Blazevich (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Christian) is known for his eloquence and thoughtful answers when discussing his high-profile recruitment. Always respectful and diplomatic, Blazevich responds to inquiries with a skilled precision that any politician would envy. But when asked whether he could sum up his recent visit to Georgia in a hypothetical tweet, Blazevich shifted gears and demonstrated his knack for brevity.

ATHENS, Ga. -- After his 2012 offense set several school records, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo received a three-year contract that includes a $240,000 raise, pushing his guaranteed salary to $575,000 annually.

“I think he deserved a three-year deal because that’s really what’s happening out there in this league,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said before Thursday’s practice. “And his salary’s very competitive with his peers and I think he’s earned that.”

Mike Bobo
Jeff Vest/Icon SMIGeorgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo received a three-year contract that included a $240,000 raise.
Bobo and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham now both are operating on three-year deals. Bobo had been coaching on renewable one-year contracts since joining Richt’s first UGA staff in 2001.

According to salary figures that UGA released to ESPN.com on Thursday, Bobo and each of Richt’s nine assistant coaches received salary increases following a 2012 campaign when the Bulldogs fell just short of an appearance in the BCS championship game.

“I think we’ve got a great staff and I want to keep them,” Richt said. “But it’s a very competitive league in a lot of areas. There’s the competition on the field, there’s the competition in recruiting and then sometimes there’s a competition to hang on to your assistant coaches.”

Offensive line coach Will Friend received a $90,000 raise, pushing his annual salary to $300,000 per year. Friend also added the title of running game coordinator to his resume.

Meanwhile, wide receivers coach Tony Ball received a $50,000 increase to $260,000.

Each of Georgia’s remaining assistants received $25,000 raises: Grantham (to $850,000), inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti (to $285,000), defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos (to $235,000), tight ends coach John Lilly (to $235,000) and running backs coach Bryan McClendon (to $235,000).

New defensive line coach Chris Wilson is scheduled to make $250,000 in 2013.

“It was good for them, but it was good for me as well because I really think these guys are tremendous,” Richt said of the staff raises. “I think every one of them are and over time, I want to continue to try to bless them the best we can financially and stay as competitive as we can in that area.”

Lilly a key factor in UGA class 

February, 7, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Multiple coaches had a hand in Georgia’s landing another top-10 signing class on Wednesday, but John Lilly might have been the standout in the collaborative effort. The Bulldogs’ tight ends coach played a key role in recruiting at least six of the Bulldogs’ 32 signees, including two of their top early enrollees.


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Coaches' take: Tramel Terry 

January, 28, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Watch highlight footage of Tramel Terry excelling at both receiver and running back in high school and you’ll see where the conundrum lies for Georgia’s coaches, who must determine the best way to use the speedster in college.

His coach at Goose Creek (S.C) High School, Chuck Reedy -- a former college coach himself -- even wrestled with where to play Terry before Georgia decided to deploy him at wideout when he enrolled earlier this month. And Reedy amusedly recalled a conversation concerning that very subject with Terry’s lead UGA recruiter, tight ends coach John Lilly, from last fall.

“I said, ‘I really think he’s a running back. Even though that’s not where he played when he was younger, we played him there the last two years about half the time,’” Reedy said. “But he just made a lot of plays, was really instinctive and had good vision and all those things. I said, ‘I’m just not sure that’s not where he needs to play.’

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DawgNation on the radio: Garner to AU

December, 21, 2012
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Longtime Georgia recruiting coordinator, assistant head coach and defensive line coach Rodney Garner accepted a job with Auburn University on Thursday night. What does that mean for the Bulldogs with less than seven weeks until signing day? DawgNation joined ESPN’s Athens, Ga., affiliate 960 The Ref to talk about that and more. Some of the topics discussed ...
  • What effect will Garner’s departure have on recruiting?
  • Will Todd Grantham take over the defensive line?
  • Who will be the next recruiting coordinator?
  • Will this hurt Georgia’s chances with Montravius Adams and Reuben Foster?
  • Could Mark Richt elect to hire a special teams coach?

Listen to the show here.

Weekend rewind: Georgia 

December, 10, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The Georgia coaching staff was on the road Friday, as usual, checking in on commits and targets alike. In what had to the most fortuitous turn of events of the day, tight ends coach John Lilly and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti just happened to be stopping by Auburn (Ala.) High School right after the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker, Reuben Foster, decommitted from Auburn University. Both coaches met with Foster, who reopened his recruitment, citing reports that his mentor Trooper Taylor had been let go at Auburn.

Later that night, another coach would also prove lucky as defensive line coach Rodney Garner was on hand to congratulate Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga./Dooly County) after the top-ranked defensive tackle won the chance to play for the Georgia Class A championship.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and running backs coach Bryan McClendon were on hand to see the Bulldogs’ top tailback target, Alvin Kamara (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), win his semifinal game as well. Alabama’s Kirby Smart was also there, and the battle for Kamara is still neck and neck.

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Shaq Wiggins gets bookend visits 

December, 4, 2012
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TYRONE, Ga. -- Less than 24 hours before the SEC championship game, three members of the Georgia Bulldogs’ coaching staff were in Tyrone, Ga. Assistant head coach Rodney Garner, secondary coach Scott Lakatos and inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti were at Sandy Creek High School watching the Patriots host a playoff game against Burke County (Ga.) High School. On the field was Georgia’s top-rated verbal commitment, cornerback Shaq Wiggins.

The fact that the coaches would be playing Alabama for a chance at the national title was not lost on the ESPN 150 four-star recruit.

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Laremy Tunsil hosts Georgia coaches 

December, 3, 2012
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ESPN 150 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) watched the two schools atop his leaderboard face each other in the Georgia Dome on Saturday night. The No. 4 prospect in the nation has had Georgia and Alabama as his leaders for months and is expected to pick between the two on signing day.

So who was he rooting for in the game?

“Georgia,” Tunsil said. “I really wanted Georgia to go [to the BCS title game] to see how they were going to do. It was pretty good game.”

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Film review: Georgia vs. Alabama 

December, 3, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Let’s take a look at three key plays from No. 6 Georgia’s 32-28 loss to No. 2 Alabama in the SEC championship game on Saturday.


Dogs pull off fake punt

The score: 0-0

The situation: Georgia faced fourth-and-10 from the Alabama 36 on the first play of the second quarter.

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Arthur Lynch talks hurdles, Clowney

October, 4, 2012
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Georgia was trailing Tennessee 30-27 on Saturday when the Bulldogs got the ball back with 37 seconds left in the first half. On first down, quarterback Aaron Murray hit tight end Arthur Lynch for a 16-yard completion to the Tennessee 49-yard line. While the catch was instrumental on the drive that ended in a Marshall Morgan 50-yard field goal to tie the game, the play was more memorable in how it ended.

The 260-pound tight end tried to hurdle 6-foot-1 defensive back Byron Moore. Lynch was unsuccessful and he blames coach John Lilly.

“The linebacker was supposed to match me but luckily I came open on the other end on a little drag route,” Lynch said. “I went upfield and it is funny because for the past couple years with Orson [Charles], Aron [White] and myself here, Coach Lilly would always bust our chops about never hurdling anybody -- people would always chop our legs down. As I caught the ball and turned upfield, the first image in my mind was coach Lilly’s face. I was like, ‘This better work or I am going to blame Coach Lilly.’ ”

It didn’t quite work as you can see in the video above.

“I went back and watched the film and I was mad because I could have easily went around that guy, gotten 10 more yards and gone out of bounds,” Lynch said.

Lynch of course had to tease his coach.

“Coach, this is completely your fault,” Lynch said. “You have been such a great coach up until this point. ... He got a laugh out of it.”

Lilly and Lynch may not be so jovial Saturday when they face No. 6 South Carolina. The Gamecocks have two of the best defensive ends in the SEC in the 6-6 Jadeveon Clowney and 6-8 Devin Taylor. Lynch remembers his previous battle with the twin towers.

“I played against them last year and they were both very good last year -- fast, long, strong guys,” Lynch said. “They are able to get their hands inside of you. So it will be a good test. It is going to come down to the fundamentals really -- our footwork, our hand placement and just being able to play fast, play smart and play aggressively.”

Jordan Davis plays bigger than he looks 

September, 26, 2012
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THOMSON, Ga. -- Georgia Bulldogs’ commit Jordan Davis (Thomson, Ga./Thomson) doesn’t look like the prototypical blocking tight end. Rather, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound senior calls to mind some of Georgia’s pass-catching tight ends like Orson Charles or Aron White. But when you see Davis on the field in the wing-T offense, images of Ben Watson or Jermaine Wiggins spring up due to his talent at sealing off defenders.

[+] EnlargeJordan Davis
Radi Nabulsi/ESPN.comAt 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, Georgia commit Jordan Davis relishes the blocking aspects of playing tight end.
“I have been blocking most of my career,” Davis said. “I am pretty good at catching, but there is room for improvement. I am great at running routes, but with my ankle I can’t plant and get back to the ball. I think I am a better blocker. I have some weight to gain and some power to gain, but I think I am up to date on where I need to be as a blocker.”

Davis had a bum ankle in his recent game against St. Pius X (Ga.), but he was the only one who could tell.

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Georgia Bulldogs WR Chris Conley
ESPN.com SEC reporter Edward Aschoff talks to Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley about his directorial debut and stepping into the role as a go-to player in the Bulldogs' offense.
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