Georgia Bulldogs: Orson Charles

Continuing our run-up to Georgia's spring practice, this week we'll review the Bulldogs' five best recruiting classes of the past decade.

Today, we'll look at No. 1: the 2009 group that was built around a couple of stars and a larger group of key contributors on one of the best teams of the Mark Richt era (2012).

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAaron Murray enjoyed a record-setting career at Georgia.
The stars: You have to start with Aaron Murray: a four-year starter at quarterback who went on to set every significant SEC career passing record. The only All-American out of the class was tight end Orson Charles, who left after a standout 2011 season where he was a finalist for the John Mackey Award. But there were multiple All-SEC honorees (including Murray, Charles, offensive guard Chris Burnette and tight end Arthur Lynch) and future NFL players (so far including Charles, receiver Marlon Brown, safety Shawn Williams, nose guard Kwame Geathers, and defensive lineman Abry Jones with more to come in May) within the group.

The contributors: The strength of this group is its depth. More than half of the signees became at least part-time starters at some point and a dozen were valuable members of the 2012 team that finished fifth in the national rankings. Guards Burnette and Dallas Lee started for most of the past three seasons, Williams was one of the emotional leaders of the 2012 club, linebacker Michael Gilliard was one of the team's leading tacklers in 2011, and Brown and Rantavious Wooten overcame injury-filled careers to enjoy solid senior seasons. Brown was one of the highest-rated players in the class, but his impressive 2012 helped him finally break through and become an undrafted free agent signee with the Baltimore Ravens -- and then one of the top rookie receivers of the 2013 season.

The letdowns: There were some notable departures in this group, starting with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who eventually became a two-year starter at LSU after getting dismissed before his second season at UGA. Washaun Ealey, who led the team in rushing for two seasons, also parted ways with the Bulldogs before the 2011 season. In addition, ESPN 150 signee Dexter Moody never enrolled and cornerback Jordan Love and defensive linemen Montez Robinson and Derrick Lott left Athens early in their careers. Offensive lineman Austin Long was a huge recruit, but struggled with numerous health issues before finally contributing as a reserve in 2012. He left the team over an academic issue before the 2013 season. The off-field issues that robbed UGA of Ealey, Moody and Mettenberger's services are perhaps the biggest disappointments in this class, although the Bulldogs did just fine with Todd Gurley and Murray instead.

The results: There was more star power in other classes, and perhaps one or two of them will still catch up to this bunch before their time at Georgia is over, but the 2009 group was full of blue-collar players who produced for at least two seasons in Athens. The program was at a low point early in the class' tenure, but the group helped Georgia bounce back with consecutive division titles and seasons with at least 10 wins. Their time at UGA ended in disappointing fashion as injuries crippled a 2013 team that started in the top five. Nonetheless, the program is once again on solid footing thanks in large part to this group's on-field production and leadership.
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.”

Spring cleaning: Jay Rome 

April, 24, 2013
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Editor's note: Over the next couple of weeks, we'll clean out our notebook from Georgia's spring practice to tell the stories we didn't get to before the Bulldogs' G-Day game. We started with fullback Quayvon Hicks earlier this week. Today we catch up with tight end Jay Rome.

ATHENS, Ga. -- Jay Rome and Arthur Lynch established themselves late last season as weapons in Georgia’s passing game. Now Rome has an ambitious goal for the duo entering their second season as the Bulldogs’ primary options at the position.

Post-spring position review: TE

April, 18, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of Georgia’s position groups at the end of spring practice. Today we examine the tight ends:

Returning players/stats: Arthur Lynch, Sr. (12 starts, 24 catches, 431 yards, 3 TDs); Jay Rome, So. (one start, 11-151, 2 TDs); Ty Flournoy-Smith, So. (no catches)

Arthur Lynch
AP Photo/Alex MenendezArthur Lynch became a bigger threat for the Bulldogs in the second half of 2012 and is UGA's second-leading returning receiver.
Newcomers: Jordan Davis, Fr. (ESPN No. 15 tight end, expected to enroll this summer)

Key storyline: As with Wednesday’s receiver to watch, Chris Conley, Georgia tight ends Lynch and Rome started to play a much larger role in the passing game in the second half of last season once injuries created opportunities for more balls to come their way. Now established in the passing game, Lynch and Rome could build on last season’s 582 combined receiving yards by getting off to a quicker start as receivers this fall.

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UGA TE to watch: Jay Rome 

April, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- At the midway point of last season, many Georgia fans were asking why the Bulldogs’ tight ends -- and Jay Rome in particular -- weren’t playing a bigger role in the offense.

Rome caught only two passes in the first eight games last fall as a redshirt freshman, playing almost exclusively in a blocking role. That was not what anyone expected from the player whom ESPN rated as the nation’s top tight end prospect when he signed with the Bulldogs in 2011.


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ATHENS, Ga. -- He came into Georgia’s spring practice as one of the most talked-about players on the Bulldogs’ roster and leaves having validated that buzz.

[+] EnlargeJosh Harvey-Clemons
Radi Nabulsi/ESPNJosh Harvey-Clemons, listed as the starting strong safety, can move around on Georgia's defense. He was named the team's most valuable defensive player in spring practice.
But Josh Harvey-Clemons was still stunned when Georgia’s coaching staff last week named him as the team’s most valuable defensive player for the spring.

“I was shocked. I would have never guessed that,” said Harvey-Clemons, wearing a wide grin after his Black team rallied to beat the Red 23-17 in Saturday’s G-Day game.

The rising sophomore strong safety figured that Sheldon Dawson, who intercepted three passes before injuring his hamstring and missing G-Day, or early enrollee Tray Matthews, whom teammates lauded for his hard hits in practice, would win the award.

“But I thank God they did give it to me,” he laughed.

It was an easy choice, said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, because of the varying ways that Harvey-Clemons can impact a game. He is the Bulldogs’ starting strong safety in the base 3-4 defense, but can shift to nickelback and outside linebacker in other packages, forcing opponents to account for his whereabouts.

“There’s certain guys on your team that you look for explosive plays out of and I think he’s going to be one of those guys,” Grantham said.

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Georgia Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- In reviewing Georgia’s seven recruiting classes since 2006 -- when ESPN entered the recruiting game -- last week, we opined that the Bulldogs’ 2009 haul was the best of the bunch. As the various member sites from Recruiting Nation collectively review their schools’ 2009 classes today, let’s take a closer look at what made that group so special.


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By the numbers: UGA classes since 2006 

January, 18, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Here’s a breakdown of Georgia’s last seven recruiting classes and what they managed to accomplish in college and beyond:

2006
ESPN top five classes: Florida, USC, Texas, Georgia, Notre Dame
Georgia’s ranking: 4

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About Them Dawgs: Arthur Lynch

December, 30, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Georgia’s Capital One Bowl date with Nebraska, we will review the season for a key Bulldogs player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at tight end Arthur Lynch.

No. 88 Arthur Lynch
Junior/Tight end
21 catches, 394 yards, 2 TDs

Role in 2012: After contributing almost exclusively as a blocker before this season, Lynch finally got a chance to catch some passes this season and had a productive fall.

The good: After a fairly quiet first half of the season, Lynch made his presence felt in the second half. He had three catches in each of the last four games, including a couple of long catches on the Bulldogs’ last-gasp drive that died at Alabama’s 5-yard line in a 32-28 loss in the SEC championship game. Lynch had only two receptions in his career (all the way back in 2009) before this season, but showed he can be a weapon in the passing game by ranking fourth on the team with 394 receiving yards.

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About Them Dawgs: Jay Rome

December, 29, 2012
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Editor’s note: Each day between now and Georgia’s Capital One Bowl date with Nebraska, we will review the season for a key Bulldogs player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at tight end Jay Rome.

No. 87 Jay Rome
Freshman/Tight end
11 catches, 152 yards, 2 TDs

Role in 2012: After redshirting behind Orson Charles and Aron White in 2011, Rome formed an effective tight end tandem with Arthur Lynch this fall.

The good: Rome played in every game and started once, against Georgia Tech, as a redshirt freshman. Rome caught at least one pass in each of the last five games and caught touchdown passes -- the first two of his career -- in the last two games. His 19-yard grab in the second quarter against Alabama helped Georgia take a 7-0 lead in the SEC championship game.

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Recruiting rivalries: Georgia vs. Florida 

December, 4, 2012
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Georgia’s recent success against Florida has been a long time in coming. The Bulldogs had not beaten the Gators in back-to-back seasons in more than two decades, dating back to 1988-89. Florida has an 18-5 record over Georgia since 1990 so the rivalry has been mostly one-sided. But thanks to some recruiting success, Mark Richt has turned the annual showdown in Jacksonville, Fla., back into one of the most highly contested battles of the year.

And he did it with some ringers from the Sunshine State.

Quarterback Aaron Murray has struggled against the Gators but is 2-1 in his career against them. In his first win he completed four passes to tight end Orson Charles of Tampa, Fla. All-SEC kicker Blair Walsh, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., always said the Florida game was the biggest of the year and he scored 22 points against the Gators in his career. Keeping Murray upright this year was a freshman from Jacksonville, right tackle John Theus.

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UGA-UF: Top 10 recruiting battles 

October, 24, 2012
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The Florida-Georgia rivalry doesn't just take place in Jacksonville. The two schools compete all year long on the recruiting trail around the Southeast. Kipp Adams of DawgNation and Derek Tyson of GatorNation take a look at ten of the top battles for blue-chip players, five from each school's perspective.


Georgia

DT Marcus Stroud (Thomasville, Ga./Brooks County): The year was 1996. Florida was coming off six straight wins over the Bulldogs and to make matters worse, the Gators had a verbal commitment from elite Peach State defensive tackle prospect Marcus Stroud. Gators WR Jacquez Green was Stroud’s host during his official visit to Florida, and he felt Stroud was definitely going to be playing for the Gators. Signing day arrived, and what happened then became one of the all-time recruiting surprises of the past two decades, with Stroud switching his commitment to Georgia. Stroud’s Sports Illustrated cover energized a fanbase looking for any glimmer of hope against their rival in Gainesville. The next year, alongside starting quarterback and future offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, Stroud helped end the losing streak against Florida in 1997. The No. 13 overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft, Stroud played in the NFL for more a decade, earning three Pro-Bowl/All-Pro selections in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

DT Jeff Owens (Plantation, Fla/Plantation): The 6-2, 265-pound defensive lineman took official visits to Florida, FSU, Georgia, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech, and ultimately chose the Bulldogs -- although his father wanted him to stay in-state and play for the Gators. Owens went on to start 37 games at Georgia, making 102 tackles, five sacks, 13 tackles for loss, two fumbles forced, two fumbles recovered and three pass breakups.

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UGA midseason report card: WR/TE 

October, 10, 2012
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Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is halfway over and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We’ll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- One of the highlights of Georgia’s first five games was the production the Bulldogs were getting out of so many different players in the passing game. They enter the second half of the season in a slightly less certain position.

[+] EnlargeBrown
AP Photo/John AmisWith Michael Bennett out for the year due to injury, Marlon Brown and company will have to step up their efforts.
After the Tennessee game, Michael Bennett, Tavarres King and Marlon Brown all ranked among the SEC’s receiving leaders, plus tight end Arthur Lynch had enjoyed big games here and there. However, Bennett -- who was leading the team in catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches at the time -- suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, altering the dynamic within the group.

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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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