All-SEC tight end provides versatility in passing game

On his spring speaking tour, Georgia football coach Mark Richt gets lots of the same questions from Bulldogs fans.

One this year centered on what the Bulldogs would do in the passing game to replace top-five overall NFL draft pick A.J. Green.

“Right now Orson Charles is the best receiver we’ve got,” Richt said.

Gallery: Bulldogs begin 2011 practice

Of course, the junior tight end was selected preseason first-team All-Southeastern Conference by both the coaches and the media.

Go ahead and flex him out as a receiver, too, if you want. That’s fine by Charles.

“I typically call myself a receiver and a tight end,” Charles said. “A lot of the boys are clowning me about that because I played receiver in high school, but I feel like I still have that skill set in my toolbox that I can pull out and play receiver.”

Charles has 49 catches for 796 yards and five touchdowns in his two seasons at Georgia.

Quarterback Aaron Murray revealed this week that he wants Charles — his teammate at Tampa Plant High School — to top that this season.

“My goal is to get him into the 50s this year,” Murray said. “I think he definitely has the talent to do that.”

Murray wants the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Charles to set a new Georgia record for catches by a tight end.

Shannon Mitchell holds the mark with 49 in 1993. Charles had 26 last year. Junior Tavarres King is the team’s leading returning receiver with 27.

Receiver Marlon Brown could emerge into the player many expected when he was a big-time recruit. Freshman wideout Malcolm Mitchell already has some fans drooling.

Yet the last time Georgia won an SEC championship, 2005, its leading receiver wasn’t a wide receiver. Tight end Leonard Pope caught 39 passes for 541 yards and four touchdowns.

“Orson already thinks he’s a receiver,” wide receivers coach Tony Ball said. “And that’s how we use him.”

Added sophomore quarterback Hutson Mason: “He’s so agile, he’s so versatile that we can use him in so many different formations and personnel (groupings). That’s what I love about him.”

Murray’s eyes will certainly search for No. 7.

“I’m going to be looking for Orson all year, just the way he’s been able to get open and create mismatches with defenders,” Murray said. “His knowledge of the playbook is increased this offseason after two full years in it. I think now we’re able to use him in a lot of different situations that use his talents. I think he’s definitely going to have a tremendous year.”

Charles plans on showing his skills whether that includes clearing a path when the ball’s not in the air or catching passes while matched up against linebackers and safeties.

“I feel like I can do both,” Charles said. “I like to show people that I can do both — catch the ball and block, make catches downfield and contribute in the passing game and running game and do whatever it takes.”

Richt called Charles’ spring the “most dominating performance” of any Bulldog.

“The last guy that I can remember giving that kind of effort on every play, every day was (David) Pollack,” Richt said. “I see that attitude and effort and relentlessness to be great and not caring what anybody says about him. I really like that about him.”

Charles should be a top contender for the Mackey Award for the nation’s top tight end.

“I want to win,” Charles said.

He’s not talking about that individual honor, but winning an SEC championship.

“I want a ring,” Charles said. “I’m hungry for it.”

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