ATHENS - Jay Rome is sometimes overlooked when it comes to key Georgia players returning from injury. That's especially the case this week, as the focus went on the setback incurred by his good friend and high school teammate Malcolm Mitchell.
But Rome, the junior tight end, could be primed for a breakout season if he's healthy. He's not yet, but there's still plenty of time.
"It's not 100 percent yet, but I can definitely feel major improvement," Rome said after Saturday's practice.
Last season Rome tore the Lisfranc ligament in his right foot, causing him to miss the final four games. It ended up requiring two surgeries, first to correct it by putting in five screws, and five months later to take the screws out. He couldn't put pressure on the foot between surgeries and a bit after the second one. So all told Rome said he wasn't able to run for seven-to-eight months.
Rome missed spring practice, though he was at nearly every one, watching and rooting on his fellow tight ends. He's back to nearly full-speed at preseason practice; tight ends coach John Lilly and athletic trainer Ron Courson are constantly keeping tabs on Rome, asking how he's feeling, making sure he can do the net drill. Rome said he has done every drill, but been limited in some of them.
"It's definitely a few different things where I might favor it a little bit more. Just a certain type of routes and different things," Rome said. "But I can definitely feel it getting better."
Rome enters the season with 20 career catches, for 251 yards, and two touchdowns. He spent the past two seasons working behind Arthur Lynch, who's now with the Miami Dolphins. So now it's Rome's turn, and his health is being watched closely by everyone, Rome included.
"At first I really felt it was gonna really be that way, (that) I was gonna have to come back and really prove something to myself and to my teammates and to my coaches. But the more I went along I realized it wasn't really about proving myself, but I have to do what's best for me and for my recovery," he said. "I know for a fact that once I get back to 100 percent I'm not going to have to prove myself to anybody. I'm going to be able to let my play speak for itself."
Meanwhile, Rome said he has spoken with Mitchell, his classmate from Valdosta High School, who is also returning from injury. Mitchell re-injured his surgically-repaired knee last week, and his status for the season opener is uncertain.
But Mitchell is in good spirits, according to Rome.
"He's gonna be all right. He's a tough guy, and that's physically and mentally," Rome said. "I really think that he's gonna be back really soon."