How Georgia can deal with uncertainty around WR Arik Gilbert who is missing time due to ‘personal reasons’

CBS Sports

Saturday's news that Georgia receiver Arik Gilbert is away from the team dealing with what Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart called "personal issues" feels like the type of news item that will cause some rash reaction amid the dog days of preseason practice, when interest in college football is rising but substantive information is scant. 

With restrictive media policies leaving little on-field action to dissect as the midway point of camp for most programs approaches and the Bulldogs firmly in the national spotlight, there will be a temptation by many to declare the absence of Gilbert — no matter how temporary or permanent — as a cause for recalibrating lofty projections for what Georgia can accomplish.

After all, the Bulldogs open against Clemson at a neutral site in Charlotte and would certainly benefit from having such a highly touted weapon available to gain a competitive edge in a game with massive implications. They will also be without veteran target George Pickens in that game as he recovers from a spring ACL tear. 

But there are a couple of reasons why the uncertainty surrounding Gilbert shouldn't cause fans to rush for a cashout on their UGA bets for the Clemson game.

While the former five-star prospect from the 2020 class enjoyed a successful freshman season at LSU with 35 catches in eight games for the Tigers and should absolutely factor into UGA's offensive plan if and when he is back with the team, he's also changing positions to play wide receiver and learning a new offense. For a player who was not on campus for spring practice, those realities suggested his learning curve was likely just beginning within Georgia's scheme.

Considered a tight end out of high school, Gilbert lined up out wide just 6.5% of the time for LSU last season while playing the majority of his snaps out of the inline position typically associated with tight ends. Though he played a decent amount in the slot last year, it's clear the plan is for Gilbert to adopt a role far more dynamic and versatile than the one he played last season.

For a Georgia offensive staff that has plenty of other weapons at its disposal, the move to wide receiver from tight end for Gilbert already felt like more of a long-term project meant to facilitate College Football Playoff success than one designed to be clicking on all cylinders on Sept. 2.

#college, #football

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