Tripp Moves to TE

ATHENS – Two years ago, Kiante Tripp was a defensive lineman.

At the beginning of fall camp, he was the starting right tackle on the offensive line. For Georgia's opening game, Tripp was the starting left tackle. Last Saturday, he was in at tight end, wearing the sixth different uniform number of his three-year career as a Bulldog.

"By the time I leave here I might know the defensive plays, offensive plays, what the receivers and quarterback (are) supposed to do," Tripp joked. "I might do a little snapping, might punt a little bit. I might do kickoff, too."

Kickoffs might be stretching it, but at 6-foot-6, 290 pounds, Tripp isn't exactly the prototype tight end either.

After a run of injuries, however, he is the best option Georgia has to fill the position, head coach Mark Richt said, and the sophomore is off to a pretty impressive start.

Tripp's first action of the season at tight end came during a goal-line situation last week against Alabama. He executed his play perfectly and provided the key block to spring tailback Knowshon Moreno for a touchdown.

"I'm a quick learner," Tripp said. "I keep my playbook with me, so clearly I'm going to be alright."

Starting tight end Tripp Chandler injured his shoulder against Alabama and won't play in Georgia's next game against Tennessee on Oct. 11. Richt said the injury could last longer than that.

Backup Bruce Figgins also has a shoulder injury and is likely to miss the season, and redshirt freshman Aron White has never started a game.

That meant a move had to be made, and the athletic Tripp became the obvious solution.

"(Richt) called me to his office, said here's the situation, laid it down for me," Tripp said. "He was like, ‘I need you.' I was like,

‘Coach, I'm a team player, if you need me there, I got you.' Like all the years before that."

White will likely get the starting nod against the Volunteers, although Richt said Figgins could still see action.

Figgins separated his shoulder two week ago against Arizona State and will need surgery to repair the injury. Richt said the sophomore could play with a brace, however, and elect to have the surgery later in the season.

"He's trying to get ready to play Tennessee, and we're not counting him out," Richt said. "It's pretty honorable for him to do that, but it's strictly his decision. I talked to him face to face, and it's his goal to play the game."

Figgins could play one more game and still be eligible for a medical redshirt, an option Richt said he's likely to take.

While Figgins won't be a long-term solution, Tripp said he would be happy to make his move a permanent one.

"I like the position," Tripp said. "I'll catch a couple passes, get a couple touchdowns here and there. I'm already blocking, so that's no problem."

The real problem is Tripp's size. Ideally, coaches would like him to trim down to around 260 pounds, but the weight loss would prevent Tripp from returning to the offensive line this season, and that's not something Richt is ready to guarantee.

Georgia was already thin at left tackle after starter Trinton Sturdivant went down in camp with a season-ending knee injury. Although Vince Vance has now stepped into the role, Richt knows another injury could necessitate another move for Tripp. In fact, the only certainly for Tripp is that anything can happen.

"I'm not sitting here saying that might not be his thing for the rest of his career, but I'm not ready to say that right now," Richt said. "I'm not saying that's not going to be the case either."

What might determine Tripp's future is how quickly he can integrate himself into the passing game. With his size, he makes an inviting target, but learning routes and catching passes adds a degree of difficulty he hasn't been faced with before.

"We're not building an offensive passing game around him at this point," Richt said.

Tripp's lack of pass-catching experience could tip off defenses as to Georgia's intentions on offense, too. With Tripp in the game, the Bulldogs would be more likely to run the ball, while the undersized White is clearly the more adept receiver.

As far as Tripp is concerned, however, that's a temporary problem.

The sophomore has spent most of his life playing basketball, and those skills he learned on the hardwood transfer well to the gridiron.

"I've been playing basketball since I was little, so catching the ball and stuff like that, that's like being on the basketball court," he said.

Besides, Tripp said, once the big 290-pounder has the ball in his hands, he likes his chances of finding some open field.

"I don't know what the safeties might be thinking," Tripp said. "They clearly are not going to want to tackle me."

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