Georgia Bulldogs marvel at athletic ability of center Jared Wilson

ATHENS — His size and speed are things of legend at Georgia’s Butts-Mehre football complex. Exact numbers are unavailable and, frankly, unverifiable at this point. But everybody in the Bulldogs’ camp agrees – Jared Wilson is exceptionally fast for a man who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 310 pounds.

“This guy runs faster than a lot of our defensive backs, believe it or not,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said this week. “Our tight ends, our quarterbacks, too. His numbers are extremely athletic.”

The man Wilson is replacing as Georgia’s center this season validated that statement when talking with reporters covering the NFL Scouting Combine.

“He’s quick and he’s fast; he can jump really high,” said Sedrick Van Pran, who started the past 44 games at the position over the past three seasons. “His lateral quickness is ridiculous. I’m trying not to say too much. You’re just going to have to see for yourself.”

Soon enough. Wilson and the Bulldogs will put their wares on public display in the annual G-Day spring scrimmage April 13 at Sanford Stadium (1 p.m., SEC Network-plus). In the meantime, Georgia was conducting its fifth practice of 15 during the spring session Thursday afternoon. More than 600 high school coaches from across the Southeast attended as part of the Bulldogs’ annual football coaches’ clinic.

A lot of eyes will be on No. 55 because Georgia’s offense plays out of the shotgun more than 90% of the time, and the center makes line calls on every play. That makes Wilson, a junior from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, arguably the most important new starter on the football field for Georgia headed to next season.

Wilson knows it, and he’s down for it.

“It’s what you want,” he said of becoming a leader on an otherwise veteran-laden offensive line. “… I think I have (leadership qualities) in me; it just hasn’t been brought out. I have three little brothers at home. We’re all two years apart. I feel like it’s always been instilled in me. I just haven’t had a chance to bring it out yet.”

Being athletic is an underappreciated aspect of playing center. Not only are there the mental challenges of it – starting with remembering the snap count – but centers must have innate quickness to be able to get the ball off, get up their head and hands, and move – fast – either forward, backward or laterally. They often need to get to the second level to cut off linebackers or run-stuffing safeties.

Smart, for one, doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I am excited for the rest of the world to get to see Jared Wilson,” he said before Tuesday’s practice. “I don’t put a lot of high expectations on people and anoint people. He has a lot to do to be the best player he can be. … But he is really athletic.”

As for the truth to his mythical status as a speed demon, Wilson shrugs modestly.

“I don’t really talk about it a lot, but I played soccer most of my childhood,” Wilson said. “My athleticism, I think, came from that. But the center position is really unique. Watching film, you see some really athletic guys. Watching myself, I think I’m a tad bit faster. But bringing speed to this offensive line, especially, it’s just another extra piece the puzzle.”

Tight ends shining

The tight end position – again – is looking like one of great strength for the Georgia offense. Junior Oscar Delp, the heir apparent to the role played by Brock Bowers the past three seasons, probably leads the offense in “oohs and ahs” made over the first two weeks of spring practice.

As usual, the Bulldogs are running a lot of two-tight end sets, or “12″ personnel, and sophomore Lawson Luckie has turned some heads as well. So has freshman Jaden Reddell, before he was slowed by a recent hamstring pull.

In summary, Georgia’s offense hasn’t looked much different in the early going than it did the past three seasons.

“The coaches aren’t treating us any differently,” said Delp, Georgia’s fourth-leading returning receiver last season, with 284 yards and three touchdowns on 24 receptions. “We’ve been doing the same things as the previous seasons. I don’t see a lot of change. We’ve just got to keep making plays and doing things we know we’re capable of and that all the coaches know we’re capable of. We’re a passing offense, and they like the tight ends a lot.”

Any doubt about that was erased in an offseason that brought in a pair of freshman signees and a high-profile transfer at the position. All-Pac 12 tight end Ben Yurosek, a graduate transfer from Stanford, won’t get here until his winter quarter concludes.

Yurosek’s transfer came with the knowledge that sophomore Pearce Spurlin would need to medically retire because of a heart condition.

“Experience, size and speed,” Smart said of Yurosek, a 6-5, 245-pound senior who caught 108 passes for 1,342 yards and five TDs in 35 games with the Cardinal. “Knowing Pearce’s unfortunate situation, we were going to be short there. (In Yurosek) we felt like we are getting a really talented, experienced, mature body type. We need that at that position.”

He said it

“There is no crying out there from my end. I want what is best for the student-athlete. Sometimes I question the system we have now, whether it is best for the student-athlete. It’s not necessarily best for the sophomore, junior or senior. It may be best for the freshman. I would love to see a little more fair system for the players, in terms of within the players. But I don’t have a lot of coaches complaining, saying they want to get out of the profession. They enjoy the profession.”

– Smart on the growing impact of NIL on college football