ATHENS — We knew at some point Georgia was going to learn what it had in its tight end room after Brock Bowers. Most thought that day wouldn’t come until the 2024 season, with Bowers off to the NFL by that point in time.

Instead, Georgia is going to learn this season what it has in Todd Hartley’s tight end room. Bowers is expected to miss the next four to six weeks following ankle surgery on Monday. The school announced the surgery on Monday.

Bowers left Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt in the second quarter. From the moment he stepped on campus as a freshman, Bowers has been the team’s leading receiver. He led Georgia in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns in each of the past two seasons and was well on his way to doing it again in 2023. To date, he’s got 41 receptions, 567 yards and 4 touchdowns.

More so than just his statistical output, Bowers has a unique gravity about him that opens everything else up for the rest of the offense.

“You can’t just key him because when you play zone defense, you don’t know who has him. When you play man defense, you can’t cover him,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said following Georgia’s win over Kentucky. “So there’s illusions, you know? There’s a rocket motion, and one guy has the receiver. The receiver goes across the field, and now that defensive back that had the receiver, he has Brock. But he didn’t know he had Brock before the motion occurred. So there’s bumping going on. There’s all kinds of action going across the field, and it’s a nightmare because if you put your eyes in the backfield and you think you’ve got to stop the run, 19′s behind you. And I’m sure teams wanted to stop 19 that could, but we’ve got other answers.”

In the tight end room, first up in replacing Bowers will be Oscar Delp. The sophomore tight end has had a front-row seat in watching Bowers work the past two seasons.

That should help him with the enormous shoes he’s about to try and fill.

“Having a guy like that in our room to kind of teach me and the younger guys and everyone else in that room, it’s huge,” Delp said of Bowers in August. “It’s almost like having another coach in there. I mean, he’s an awesome dude. He’s one of my best friends on the team and we’re hanging out all the time. But just the way he approaches practice and meetings and walk-throughs and everything, it really puts everything in a different perspective and I think it pushes everyone in the room a little bit more.”

Delp had 2 receptions for 32 yards following Bowers’ injury on Saturday. On the season, he’s fifth on the team in receptions (13) and receiving yards (160). He’s also caught two touchdowns.

Behind Delp on the depth chart, Georgia has two freshmen in Lawson Luckie and Pearce Spurlin. Luckie played 7 snaps in the team’s win over Vanderbilt and will likely occupy a role similar to what Delp did prior to Georgia’s injury.

Luckie had a standout spring practice for Georgia, perhaps the best of any 2023 signee. But he suffered an ankle injury in August that required surgery, the same procedure that Bowers underwent on Monday. Luckie did not make his debut until the team’s game against Kentucky but he did travel with the team to Auburn and could’ve played in the game if need be.

Much of Bowers’ production will likely be funneled out to the wide receiver room. Expect Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Ladd McConkey, Rara Thomas and Dominic Lovett all to see an uptick in usage as an effort to try and replace what Bowers brought to the fold.

Bowers is also an elite blocker, both in the traditional run game as well as in many of the quick screens the Georgia offense employs. His impact in that regard should be overlooked.

There is no replacing Bowers. He’s arguably the best player in college football when healthy. The Bulldogs should though have enough talent in the aggregate to at least keep the Georgia offense humming. Quarterback Carson Beck may be without his top option, but Georgia’s greatest strength, even more so than Bowers, was always its depth and waves of talent.

Hartley is the highest-paid tight ends coach in the country. Bowers’ development is a big reason for that. But whether it be his work with current Pittsburgh Steeler Darnell Washington or his recruiting wins when it comes to Delp and Luckie, Hartley brings a lot to the table for Georgia.

These next handful of weeks without Bowers should show just how truly strong the Georgia tight end room is.

“He set a precedent. He set a standard of how to practice at tight end,” Hartley said of Bowers this August. “He set a standard of how to watch tape at tight end. The best thing for Oscar Delp is seeing how Brock Bowers does it. The best thing for seeing Lawson Luckie and Pearce Spurlin is seeing how Brock Bowers does it.

“Hopefully long after he’s gone, the legacy he’s left stays for many years about how you’re supposed to work, how you’re supposed to approach each day and how you become a pro, man. Because that guy is a pro in everything he does and hopefully that leaves a lasting legacy.”

What Brock Bowers’ injury means for Georgia football