ATHENS — Georgia football had another impressive freshman recruiting haul in the early signing class, but the Bulldogs figure to be working the transfer portal just like everyone else.
One name that immediately strikes interest is former LSU freshman Arik Gilbert — who at 6-foot-5 and 253 pounds is technically a tight end, but runs and catches like an elite receiver.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has been focused on his team through the bowl game and plans to visit with some of his juniors and seniors to discuss their futures.
But it was obvious from UGA’s game plan on Friday in its 24-21 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati that the tight end is a viable element of the game plan.
Georgia targeted its tight ends eight times, with John FitzPatrick making four catches for 41 yards including a grab on the game-winning drive, and Darnell Washington making three catches for 46 yards, including a highlight-inducing 38-yard play.
Smart noted earlier this season the Bulldogs are looking to grow their suddenly explosive offense utilizing double tight end formations.
“You can never have enough good tight ends in the SEC, because they are big, they are athletic, and they can catch the ball,” Smart said after the 49-14 Missouri win, when Washington had two catches for 61 yards and was targeted four times.
“There are so many things they can do, it’s one of those things we want as many as we can get, and we want to get the ball.”
The “Ace” formation, the double tight end look, is popular in the NFL because it’s difficult for defenses to match up with.
Smart hired former Tampa Bay coordinator Todd Monken, who orchestrated an offense that led the NFL in passing in 2018.
The results took hold with JT Daniels under center at quarterback and players becoming familiar with the scheme.
“Coach (Todd) Monken really likes using multiple tight end sets, it is done a lot in the NFL,” Smart said. “ You can mismatch people and have the ability to run the ball, and then also flex them out and throw the ball. It’s really frustrating (to defend).”
Time will tell if Gilbert proves to be that flex for the Bulldogs.
Gilbert left the struggling Bayou Bengals program toward the end of the season with the team 3-5 on the field at the time and facing with NCAA compliance issues and sexual misconduct investigations off the field.
Indeed, LSU issued a self-imposed bowl ban for this season and still has to deal with whatever the NCAA deals out moving forward.
Gilbert, who originally chose the Tigers over Alabama, was LSU’s second-leading receiver at the time of his departure with 35 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Wherever Gilbert ends up, he’ll have an immediate impact and is already being compared to anticipated first-round 2021 NFL Draft pick Kyle Pitts.
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