ATHENS — The very first question Georgia coach Kirby Smart was asked in his press conference on Tuesday was not about trying to repeat as national champions, the quarterback position or replacing all the talented members of the 2021 team.
Smart was first asked about a player that left the team in August under less than clear circumstances. Of course, said player was also the highest-rated tight end prospect in the history of modern recruiting rankings and was dubbed as a high-profile addition from LSU via the transfer portal.
That player is Arik Gilbert.
“Arik has done a great job integrating back to the team,” Smart said. “He’s been here for a while now. He’s done the work we’ve asked of him. He’s doing well academically.”
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To that final point, Gilbert was recently named Academic Player of the Week. Teammate Kearis Jackson also noted that Gilbert has gotten in much better shape since rejoining the team, though neither Smart nor Jackson specified when that officially was.
“He was up in weight but ever since he’s been back he’s been (doing) nothing but grinding,” Jackson said. Getting his weight back right, putting in the work and being the player he’s capable of being.”
Smart did clear some of the mystery surrounding Gilbert, as the Georgia coach revealed that he would be taking reps at tight end, even though the online Georgia roster lists him as a wide receiver. Georgia will be without Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington this spring, as both players recover from offseason surgery. Bowers is out with a shoulder injury, while Washington is dealing with a lower leg injury.
“Our expectation of Arik is to be the best person he can be first and foremost and hopefully be the best player he can be. He’s had a really good offseason, he continues to work but that doesn’t put an expectation that he’s going to set the world on fire.”
Even with Gilbert now being back with the team, the questions won’t stop. People will crave updates from a player that has such incredible physical gifts. Factor in the injuries at the tight end position, and he’ll have an opportunity to showcase what he can bring to the Georgia team.
But above all, Georgia wants to make sure that Gilbert is in as good a place mentally as he is physically. That’s what is most important for Gilbert this spring.
“He’s working really hard, he’s done everything we’ve asked. He’s fortunate that he’s going to get a lot of reps because of the two guys we have out,” Smart said. “I think sometimes the expectations are so great sometimes it can affect them psychologically.”
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