ATHENS — Arik Gilbert was always going to be something of a curiosity for Georgia this spring, given his backstory. But it now seems like he very much has the attention of Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

Part of that is through the circumstances of his position. Georgia coach Kirby Smart once again stated that Gilbert would be a tight end for the Bulldogs.

“Last year, it was probably a greater deficit, something that he wanted to be - more of a wide-out. He was lighter,” Smart said. “He’s a little heavier, now. He’s more physical. He’s a tight end, and that’s probably how he is going to develop.”

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The Georgia coach estimates Gilbert comes in between 265 and 270 pounds now. In addition to the physical challenges presented by playing wide receiver at that size, there’s a greater opportunity at tight end this spring.

Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington are both out this spring with injuries. Ryland Goede also picked up an injury over the weekend as well. That leaves Georgia with just three scholarship tight ends. Gilbert, freshman Oscar Delp and junior Brett Seither.

“We are all in there getting reps. Everyone is taking on a huge load with the tight-end room going down,” Seither said. “[Arik Gilbert] has been good. He’s played well. He’s doing extra and working hard.”

All those extra reps have helped Gilbert improve his conditioning stamina to this point. Talent and ability have rarely been a question for Gilbert, dating back to his time as a 5-star recruit at the high school level.

Since his arrival at Georgia last summer, it’s the other areas of the game where Gilbert has been working to get onto the field.

“What’s happening right now, he’s starting to make more and more plays, but he’s having to really work his stamina to be able to sustain during practice,” Smart said. “I mean, play-after-play-after-play, it’s like ‘oh man, I’ve got to condition myself to get back, go again, burst and run.’”

If there’s any hand-wringing about Gilbert playing tight end and not receiver, just look at what Bowers did for Georgia last season. The Bulldogs moved him around the offense and found a variety of ways to get him the football.

With Gilbert’s endless athleticism, that’s the mold he could potentially follow.

Smart is hesitant to be too effusive in his praise of Gilbert, especially after previously noting the massive external expectations Gilbert faces. He’s not Bowers 2.0 right now or even the player we saw at LSU when he caught 35 passes in eight games as a freshman.

But he’s making progress this spring. And for a player who wasn’t doing that during the 2021 season, it’s a welcome sign for Smart.

“He has not arrived. He’s come so far from not being able to execute a play to be able to execute a play, know what to do, and hurry back to get the call for the next play and line up,” Smart said. “I’m just proud of the way he’s fought to learn it.

“He’s fighting stamina out there because he is taking so many reps. I’m really pleased with his growth.”

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