ORLANDO, Fla. — If a recent trend continues, we’ll see more in the passing game out of tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome in the Capital One Bowl.
For most of the 2012 season, the primary role of Georgia’s tight ends was to block. But their contributions in the passing game picked up as the season progressed. Lynch and Rome each caught at least one pass in the Bulldogs’ past five games. They combined for 22 catches and 330 yards and a touchdown during that stretch.
Most notably, Rome scored Georgia’s first touchdown in the SEC Championship game against Alabama. And Lynch had the last reception of the season, a 26-yarder down to the 5-yard line where the game eventually ended.
“It’s a lot more fun,” Rome said of being involved in the passing game. “Football is fun whether it’s just blocking or if I get to catch routes. But at the end of the year we started to become a more primary target, and I think it’s great. It’s fun out there catching balls and getting your name called. It’s just fun to get out there and run around a little.”
Georgia has a rich tradition when it comes to producing productive, pass-catching tight ends. But the Bulldogs had four games early in the season where a tight end did not have a reception.
Then the Bulldogs lost wideouts Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown to season-ending knee injuries midway through the season. Suddenly quarterback Aaron Murray found himself looking for new targets.
“I thought they were very productive this year,” coach Mark Richt said of the tight ends, who combined for 32 catches, 546 yards and four touchdowns. “As the year went on we went to them more and more. Some of it had to do with the injuries that we had with Brown and Bennett. That just provided those guys with more opportunities to make plays.”
Rome believes at least some of it had to do with earning Murray’s trust.
“I feel like it was just a matter of time, a matter of the coaches and Aaron gaining confidence in the skills me and Artie have,” he said. “I think they’ve been there all season. There have been some little things here and there we’ve improved on during the season and got better at.
“But I feel like the whole year we’ve been able to make plays. It was just a matter of the coaches and Aaron getting comfortable with us out there. We’re new faces out there, and they had to get comfortable, but I think we’ve shown them we can make plays.”
No rush on D-line coach
The Bulldogs will not have a fully dedicated defensive line coach on the sidelines when they take on Nebraska on Tuesday. Richt said he does not expect to hire a replacement for Rodney Garner until after the team returns to Athens on Jan. 2.
“We’ll be excited about who’s next,” Richt said. “I’m getting bombarded by a lot of people who are very interested in the opportunity. So we won’t have any trouble hiring a very quality person where Rodney was.”
In the meantime, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has taken on the added responsibility of coaching the defensive line in preparation for Tuesday’s bowl game. Grantham also handles the Bulldogs’ outside linebackers as a position group. Graduate assistant Brandon Wheeling has been putting the unit through its paces during practices.
Work hard, play hard
Georgia practiced in full pads Thursday at Celebration High, its second workout in Orlando. The players were then treated to an afternoon and evening at Universal Studios.
“Today was one of the most crucial practices because we want to stay focused on our business,” offensive guard Chris Burnette said. “We want to enjoy our time after practice at the parks, but we’re here to win a football game. It’s going to be a tough battle, and we need to make sure we’re ready.”
On Thursday night, Universal Studios hosted something called “Dawgs on Top Night.” After another morning workout Friday, the team will have the option of visiting SeaWorld or attending the Russell Athletic Bowl between Virginia Tech and Rutgers. Former Bulldog Brent Benedict is a starting offensive guard for the Hokies.