ATHENS — Georgia is counting on Oscar Delp this season. You don’t need to hear Kirby Smart motivating the sophomore tight end at practice to know that.

In a literal sense, no player has bigger shoes to fill than Delp, as he’s the expected replacement for Darnell Washington. The latter is now impressing as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the 6-foot-7, 280-pound tight end was a star in his role for the Bulldogs last season.

Georgia hopes Delp can provide a similar value, even knowing he’s not the same player as Washington.

Delp is listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, 20 pounds heavier than he was a season ago.

“He knows there’s a void with Darnell leaving that we have to have at the point of attack from the tight end standpoint,” tight ends coach Todd Hartley said. “He knows he has the potential to fill that void. So he had to attack his blocking technique, his run game fundamentals, his pass game fundamentals. And he has done that. When he came in, that is where he has lacked the most.”

Georgia won’t ask Delp to play a starring role in the offense as the Bulldogs return Brock Bowers at the tight end position. But as Delp knows better than anyone, you’re one injury away from being forced into a bigger role.

Delp was thrown into the deep end in last year’s Ohio State game, when Washington left with an ankle injury. Hartley was thrilled with how Delp held up in Georgia’s 42-41 win.

But the Georgia tight ends coach has been even more impressed with how Delp has improved since then.

“When it mattered the most when Darnell came out in the semifinal game he was able to go in there and perform at a high level,” Hartley said. “Even from that point though, even from the Ohio State game, the growth he’s had from spring to summer to now has been exponential. I’m very proud of how hard he’s worked.”

Hartley called Delp a “projection tight end” as Delp has largely been a wide receiver prior to arriving in Athens. He hadn’t been asked to stick his nose into the chest of a defensive lineman or linebacker and move them out of the way.

He’s going to do that often this year, even if Georgia is less reliant on two tight end sets than they were a season ago. Georgia was in 12 personnel for over 60 percent of its snaps last season, with Bowers and Washington being a big reason why.

Delp is still going to see the field often for Georgia. He’s being pushed by two freshmen in Lawson Luckie and Pearce Spurlin, with the former having a very strong spring camp.

But Delp has made considerable gains as well and shouldn’t be ignored.

“You’ve got to find a way to get your playmakers involved and show them that they could have a chance to change the gameplan,” Hartley said. “These guys, specifically in my room, I think they’re a special group. I think they’re very well connected. They truly care about each other. We talk about feeding the fire and being truly selfless, putting the team first in all that we do.”

Todd Hartley shares his thoughts on Oscar Delp