Charles Happy in Athens-North
By BJ Bennett
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Orson Charles must now earn his stripes. In the form of six former Georgia players, he has proven paths that he can follow.
Georgia tight end Orson Charles brings a versatile skill set to the Cincinnati Bengals. At 6'3'', 250 pounds, the Tampa-native put up receiver-like numbers during his college career. He caught 94 passes for 1,370 yards and ten scores during his three seasons with the Bulldogs, averaging over 14.5 yards per reception. Charles has proven he can catch, is confident in his blocking ability and has an upside as high as any incoming NFL tight end.
Like any rookie, Charles is learning on the fly during the off-season leading up to his freshman year. He is currently taking part in OTA's in southern Ohio and is taking notes from coaches and veterans alike as he prepares for his professional debut. Cincinnati opens their 2012 season on September 10th on Monday Night Football in Baltimore and will begin the pre-season with a home clash with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on August 10th. Charles, though, has his sights set on the present and, later, training camp. He's now learning from, among others, his Georgia brethren on his new team. Including Charles, the Bengals have six former Bulldogs on the roster.
"Talking with some of the Georgia guys on the team, some of my teammates, they said the biggest change you have to adjust to is all of the free time that you have on your hands. Great players eat up all of their free time after practice, going and watching film, talking to the coach, doing rehab and working out," Charles explained. "An average player probably is just going to go out every night or go back to the hotel straight from practice. It's all about how you manage your time."
With a half-dozen former UGA players on the roster, all of whom were recruited by and played under current head coach Mark Richt, Charles has personal resources he can turn to during his professional transition. A sense of familiarity is a luxury most NFL rookies don't take with them to their new home.
"I feel like I'm still in college because everywhere I'm looking I'm seeing Geno doing this or Mr. Geathers doing that or A.J. just talking. Clint, I actually went to his house and was just chilling with him. It definitely feels like I'm still in Athens," Charles admitted of the reunion of former Bulldogs. "I've been asking them a couple of questions, asking A.J. what he has had to adjust to, asking Mr. Geathers, since he has been in the league ten years, what are some of the things that have allowed him to be in the league a long period of time. Definitely having them on my side, in my corner, knowing where we came from is definitely a blessing."
Green became the Bengals first rookie All-Pro player in 30 years. He and Charles know each other well, having combined to catch 159 passes in 2009 and 2010 from Charles' former high school teammate and current Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray. There was no first-year learning curve for Green, as he helped lead Cincinnati into the postseason. It's a seamless jump Charles both saw coming and hopes he can learn from.
"We kind of already knew that A.J. was going to do this. The same thing y'all are seeing on Sundays, we saw it on Saturdays and even in practice," Charles recalled. "Learning under him, definitely learning under Jermaine Gresham, Donald Lee and others at tight end has definitely helped and definitely shows I can contribute to this football team as a not-scared-to-play rookie."
As Charles takes part in his first NFL off-season, he's relying on his Athens associations in more ways than one.
"To tell you the truth, it's pretty much the same thing I saw at Georgia," Charles said of his NFL playbook. "Once I got my playbook, I remember texting my coach...he was kind of excited and wanted to see how things were going. One of the first things I said was 'thank you for preparing me for the next level'. Some of the same terminology, the same calls, the same schemes that we did at Georgia we are doing in Cincinnati. So I feel like I kind of have an upper edge on some of the rookies but I still have room to grow in different areas."
Many NFL teams value players from SEC programs. The league has won six straight BCS national championships, in large part, due to superior talent than the rest of the country. Players from schools like Alabama, LSU, Florida and Georgia are no stranger to playing against of the best of the best. It's an experience Charles believes gets he and peers ready for the professional ranks.
"When I say that playing in the SEC is a better conference to play in and helps you get ready for the NFL, that's not me knocking down any conferences out there. There is great football everywhere like USC, Texas. But we play a big game week in and week out. If you don't bring your A game, if you don't play your best, you are going to get embarrassed or you are going to let your teammates down. Our coaches definitely prepare us to play our best, watch film. We play athletes every week so you have to be able to bring your A game and study," he added.
The next few months for Charles will be critical as the start of the new NFL season approaches. As they do for any rookie, challenges wait ahead. This former Bulldog must now earn his stripes. In the form of six former Georgia players, though, Charles has proven paths that he can follow.
"I'm very comfortable," he said of being in Cincinnati. "The coaches are real down to earth. They explain things a couple of times then after a certain period of time they expect you to understand it and get it. I can watch film with my coach any time of the day. After practice, everyday, I ask coach what he thinks I need to work on and what I need to do to become a better player. I enjoy everyday I go to work with my coaches and I just love the atmosphere around here."
As busy as the rest of the year for Charles will be, he may still take some time to look back as he continues to move forward. After all, his Bulldogs are getting pre-season top five attention in some summer polls.
"Nobody needs to be worry about Georgia," Charles laughed. "Georgia will be by far fine. Maybe I might be a little too early, but I feel like they will definitely have a run towards the national championship and I definitely wish them the best of luck."
If the UGA rookie glances at the SEC scoreboard a few times this fall, he likely won't be the only one in Cincinnati to do so.