Though Georgia had Brock Bowers, one of the most dominating tight ends in the country, last season and had Darnel Washington down the field as well, head coach Kirby Smart still wanted more. So Smart has decided to put Arik Gilbert, one of the most highly touted players coming out of high school, back at his regular position. Gilbert has moved from the wide receiver room back to the tight end group, making an already talented group even stronger.
Gilbert, from Marietta, GA, started his college career at LSU, where he played eight games as a true freshman. He recorded 368 yards and two touchdowns on 35 receptions and looked like a player who could have a tremendous career in Baton Rouge. But after opting out of the final two games of the 2020 season, Gilbert decided it was best to leave the program and play closer to home at Georgia.
Though there was a lot hype about Gilbert transferring to the Bulldogs, he missed the entire 2021 season due to “personal reasons,” forcing him to play catch up physically. When players arrived back for winter workouts this year, the staff knew they had some work to do to get him back in playing shape. On the Bulldogs’ spring roster, Gilbert was listed at 248 pounds, but Smart mentioned on Thursday that he’s actually around 265-270 pounds. So the talented playmaker needs a lot of conditioning.
“He came back a little heavy, and he admittedly will tell you that. He’s done a tremendous job of being in our cardio club and dropping weight—probably between 265-270 (pounds)—and he’s dropping.
“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,” Kirby added. “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.’ I’ve been pleased with him and Brett (Seither) and Oscar (Delp) have taken a tremendous load on and have gotten a lot of reps.”
Even though he is still listed as a wide receiver, he has been moved to tight end, and has helped the group over the last few weeks, especially with depth now that Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington are out for the spring. Bowers is recovering from shoulder surgery, and Washington suffered a foot injury. So Gilbert has the opportunity to receive a lot of attention.
Smart says that Gilbert is such a physical presence that the move just made sense, but he’s also proud of the way he has taken on the challenge and pushed every day to get back to his old self.
“We think he is a tight end at the end of the day. Last year, it was probably a greater deficit, something that he wanted to be – more of a wide-out. He was lighter. 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. The certain requirement that it takes to play receiver is it requires stamina, running every play, going to cut off blocks. Our tight ends are receivers. They do play receiver. They don’t go out all the time, and that’s something he’s had to do.
“He’s comfortable in his own skin right now, and he’s got a way to go,” Smart added. “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. 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.”
Georgia coaches, including offensive coordinator Todd Monken, are hoping Gilbert continues this upward trend over the next few months. And the thought of Gilbert, Bowers and Washington all seeing significant playing time together next season should scare opposing coaches in the SEC.
Maybe we’ll find out in the season opener.