- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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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.
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.”
1073dRadi Nabulsi and Kipp Adams