Back in August, Lynch just said he wanted to “turn the page” from the Orson Charles/Aron White era.
The page has turned. These days, the Lynch/Rome era is looking pretty good at Georgia.
The pair, both inexperienced entering this season, have gone from an afterthought in the passing game to a key part of it. Much of that was due to injuries at receiver, but when the balls started coming their way more, the two took advantage.
By the end of the year, and in the team’s biggest game, the pair were a focal point. Rome caught the first touchdown in the SEC championship. Lynch had the long catch that set up the fateful final play.
“It’s me trusting them more,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “At the beginning of the season I was, ‘Hey, I’ve got so many receivers I’m just gonna throw to receivers that’s one-on-one coverage.’ But, now it’s, ‘Hey, I’ve got these tight ends, they’ve gained my trust with how they’ve played in games, with how they’ve practiced. I’m gonna start going to them more.’”
Lynch and Rome have actually come close to the receiving yardage total that Charles and White had last year. The Lynch/Rome combo have 546 receiving yards, with one game to go, while Charles and White had 675. And Charles had 574 of those.
The graduation of White and Charles’ decision to turn pro left a potential big void in Georgia’s passing game. The Bulldogs like to use the tight end, and Murray had spent two seasons knowing he had Charles or White as a dependable check-down receiver.
Lynch had been around the program for three full years, but he redshirted one year and hardly played the other two. The junior from Massachusetts was known as a good blocker who was an unknown in the passing game.
Rome, who redshirted last year, was the athletic pass catcher who spent his freshman year with the Georgia men’s basketball team. His blocking ability was the unknown.
But then this happened: Lynch turned into a big-play threat, averaging 18.8 yards per catch, behind only receiver Tavarres King among regulars. And Rome didn’t prove a liability in the run game.
In fact, their ability — compared to the inconsistent blocking of their predecessors — is an underappreciated part of Georgia’s resurgent running game.
“They’re two big-body guys who are able to block the best defensive ends and linebackers in the country,” Murray said.
Said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, “We run a lot of different combination plays, and different things at the line, and them two can handle a lot of stuff. It’s enabled us to run more things offensively.”
Then there’s the passing game. Both are big targets: Lynch at 6-foot-5 and Rome at 6-6. So, in order to be part of the passing game, it was just a matter of gaining Murray’s trust — and seeing the field.
When the season began, Bobo chose to emphasize the team’s plethora of receivers. The spread formation resulted in the tight end often watching from the sideline as four or five receivers were on the field, with Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown excelling as inside receivers who ran routes to the middle of the field.
But then Bennett suffered a knee injury after the team’s fifth game. Brown went down with his own knee injury a few weeks later.
Gradually, the two tight ends who combined for just one catch during the first two weeks took on a bigger role.
During the final five games, Lynch and Rome combined for 22 catches and 330 yards.
“I just feel like it was a matter of time,” Rome said. “A matter of the coaches and Aaron gaining confidence (in us). Because the skills that both me and Arty have, I feel like they’ve been there all season, maybe little things here and there we’ve improved on in the season, we’ve gotten better at.”
Said Lynch, “I think we’re pretty versatile guys. Are we gonna be the same receiving types as Orson and Aron? No I don’t think so. But I don’t think we’re the same type of players. I think we’re able to do the same type of things they were asked to do here. There’s nothing that we can’t. But I think we’ve proven ourselves on the tape to make defenses account for us.”