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No. 5 Georgia: Bulldogs can't wait to see what LSU transfer Arik Gilbert can do

Brandon Sudge
Macon Telegraph
LSU tight end Arik Gilbert is tackled by Auburn defensive back Roger McCreary during their game last season at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Gilbert has transferred to Georgia, where Bulldogs teammates hope the 6-foot-5, 248-pound tight end can make a big impact.

HOOVER, Ala. — JT Daniels stood at the podium last week in his best formal look. He brought his Southern California swagger to the lights beaming down at the Wynfrey Hotel to set the SEC media days stage for another anticipated season. Georgia's quarterback expected to speak on his development and of the team's expectations.

He heard it and responded with depth. But he heard about a teammate yet to wear a Bulldogs uniform more than anything.

"I've been asked about Arik (Gilbert) more than anything today," Daniels quipped.

Everyone who filled the ballroom had anticipation for the LSU transfer who is a former five-star prospect and showed to be the unicorn of playmakers with a 6-foot-5, 248-pound frame. He will suit up for the Bulldogs on Sept. 4, according to head coach Kirby Smart, who told local reporters that Gilbert is eligible to play immediately at wide receiver.

Smart's pursuit of Gilbert had an easy motive. He needed a player with a dynamic element.

Smart uses time in his offseason to study offenses across the country. All of the most productive offenses have a plethora of playmakers. Georgia carries an expectation into the season to raise its offense to another level with a full season of Daniels and enhanced development under second-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

LSU tight end Arik Gilbert catches a pass from Tigers quarterback Max Johnson during last year's game at Texas A&M. Gilbert had 35 catches for 368 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season for LSU.

Georgia's playmaking corps recently faced depletion with star receiver George Pickens' ACL tear — but Gilbert provides a semblance of replenishment.

The Bulldogs also have a returning core of Kearis Jackson, Jermaine Burton and Dominick Blaylock (who seeks a healthy season after an ACL tear in consecutive seasons).

"Any time you can get a skill player that can do things with the ball, you're always looking to be dynamic," Smart said. "You look at teams that have won the national championship recently, they're most dynamic on offense and at the skill positions."

Gilbert notched 35 receptions for 368 yards and two touchdowns in 2020, and had potential to be one of LSU's next premier pass catchers behind the likes of Ja'Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson and Russell Gage. The Marietta, Ga., native who left Baton Rouge in December after being "homesick," originally intended to transfer to Florida and created a bit of a saga.

A change of heart landed the do-it-all offensive weapon in Athens.

Tight end Arik Gilbert, who was a five-star tight end in the 2020 recruiting class, runs after a catch at the 7-on-7 tournament during the 2019 The Opening competition in Frisco. He went on to sign with LSU but has transferred to Georgia.

"I think he's going to be an All-Pro tight end, an All-American and has a chance to be a first-round draft choice," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. "We wish Arik the best. He's an outstanding young man. His momma's a great lady."

"He's an excellent player. I think he's a mismatch for a lot of people that will go to guard him," LSU star cornerback Derek Stingley said. "I'm excited to see what he does this coming year."

Daniels walks away impressed after each interaction with Gilbert. The offensive leader notices Gilbert spending plenty of time mastering the intricacies of Georgia's offense, much like Daniels.

The coaches have taken a methodical approach to Gilbert mastering the learning curve for a Bulldogs offense that presents numerous schemes in order to provide complexity for opposing defenses. Gilbert shows it in each of the little details from signals to route running and reads by the defense.

"Arik spends hours with the coaches," Daniels said. "He asks me a lot of questions. He has what he has by birth and combines that with what I call a 'weekend worker.'"

Daniels might not have expected one of the hottest topics in Hoover to be a player who didn't represent the program at media days, much less someone who has yet to wear a Georgia uniform.

After each question, though, Daniels' answer is the same: It's a glowing review.

"He does a lot of the things that really impress you regardless of his talent level, and then you add that to the level of talent he brings," Daniels said. "He's a special player."

Our preseason Top 25

For the last 12 years, the American-Statesman's sports staff has spent July breaking down our own preseason Top 25 rankings. Last year's eventual College Football Playoff semifinalists ranked first, second, third and ninth in our 2020 poll.

Our previous Top 25 team stories:

No. 25 Ole Miss: Rebels are hoping, banking on good returns from Lane Kiffin 3.0

No. 24 Washington: Huskies' Morris looks like the quarterback to run with — for now

No. 23 Louisiana: Billy Napier could be college football's next big thing (if he wants that)

No. 22 Penn State: Nittany Lions' safeties honed their craft at Lackawanna

No. 21 Oklahoma State: The next Gundy (Gunnar) begins his Cowboys career

No. 20 Iowa: Hawkeyes' Dane Belton knows path to NFL goes through team's success

No. 19 Coastal Carolina: Ready or not, the Chanticleers intend to stay awhile

No. 18 Texas: Bijan Robinson looks ready to carry the load for Longhorns

No. 17 Wisconsin: Spirited spring helped Badgers bond, players say

No. 16 Miami: Manny Diaz seems intent on building Hurricanes from local talent

No. 15 Oregon: Ducks' program is now  reaching recruiting, NFL draft high marks

No. 14 LSU: Questions that Tigers have taken with them this summer

No. 13 Indiana: Texas A&M transfer Camron Buckley gives Hoosiers another weapon

No. 12 USC: All signs are pointing up for Trojans, making it sunny again in California

No. 11 Florida: Gators have holes to fill, but already sounding confident

No. 10 North Carolina: Tar Heels' Sam Howell managing the hype, expectations

No. 9 Notre Dame: All-American safety Hamilton could help Irish on offense, too

No. 8 Cincinnati: Fickel, Ridder have taken Bearcats' program to new heights

No. 7 Iowa State: Breece Hall stays close to roots as Heisman talk builds

No. 6 Texas A&M: Aggies rebuild their line around All-American Kenyon Green