Decreasing catches for tight ends in Georgia offense

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Isaac Nauta (18) celebrates his touchdown catch in the SEC Championship Game, one of 2 touchdown catches he had in the 2017 season.

It was a banner year for the Georgia offense, answering the questions from the previous year. The run game improved, the pass protection got better, the quarterback was accurate, the receivers didn’t drop passes, and …

Well, there was still that one thing.

Georgia has been known as the cradle of tight ends, sending them on to the pros while recruiting good ones to replace them. And yet the past few years their role in the offense actually has decreased, to almost non-factor status in 2017.

Georgia tight ends accounted for the fewest number of catches or receiving yards since 2008. That was the year the Bulldogs had Mohamed Massaquoi and somebody named A.J. Green, and they were throwing the ball often to tailback Knowshon Moreno.

Isaac Nauta had a big touchdown catch in the SEC Championship Game and another memorable touchdown against Mississippi State last season. But those were his only two, and for the season, the talented sophomore and three others combined for just 22 catches – seven fewer than Nauta had by himself as a freshman.

So what happened, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was asked before the Rose Bowl?

“I don’t think it’s anything the tight ends did. It’s just kind of the nature of our beast and the way it unfolded,” Chaney said. “The identity we took on, and we went with it. Next year, hell who knows, we might be back to being a multiple tight end [offense] – we still use multiple tight ends, we’re just not throwing to them as much as we have. When we do it’s productive. We just haven’t felt the need to do that right now.”

Indeed, it would be a bit nitpicky to carp at Georgia’s lack of tight end use. When a team wins the SEC, nearly wins the national championship, averages more than 35 points per game and averages 6.7 yards per play (12th in the country), there’s only so much room for improvement.

Still, could better use of Georgia’s tight ends have made the offense even more successful? Perhaps it would have taken it from good to explosive?

Well, let’s ask Georgia’s tight ends coach, who is … OK, being told there isn’t one at the moment. Shane Beamer has left for Oklahoma, but before he did, he pretty much echoed what Chaney said. There’s only one football, and Jake Fromm did a good job distributing it to Javon Wims, Terry Godwin and Mecole Hardman, with some cameos from Nauta. Nauta ranked sixth on the team in catches. The previous season he was third.

Georgia tight ends accounted for 245 receiving yards in 2017, down from 485 the season before. From 2009-13, the tight ends accounted for at least 500 yards every year. Since then they’ve yet to crack 500, and have been under 400 three times, including this season.

The decreasing impact of Georgia’s tight ends hasn’t hurt the team in recruiting, as 4-star tight ends Luke Ford and John FitzPatrick have both signed on. They should compete for playing time, and it’s not like the tight ends don’t play at Georgia. They start, and rotate in and get lots of snaps.

There just haven’t been as many balls thrown their way lately.

As we transition into Georgia’s offseason, we will take a look at the changes at each position group, the incoming players, and analyze how it could play out in 2018. In this edition, you may be shocked to know, we continue with …

Tight ends

Key losses: Jeb Blazevich, eligibility (2 catches for 19 yards).

Top returners: Isaac Nauta, Jr. (9 catches, 114 yards, 2 TD); Charlie Woerner, Jr. (9 catches, 100 yards), Jackson Harris, Sr. (2 catches, 12 yards).

Newcomers: Luke Ford, Fr.; John FitzPatrick, Fr.

Analysis: Perhaps one factor lately has been the inexperience Georgia has had at the quarterback position. The past two seasons, the team started freshmen, and in 2015 the quarterback was a transfer who arrived weeks before the start of practice. Maybe a quarterback more experienced in a system will be more adept at checking down, and tight ends tend to be check-down receivers. Or maybe that’s just a guess. Perhaps it’s time to just stop asking whether this is the year Georgia throws more to the tight ends, and be surprised when they do.

One guarantee: People will still keep asking why the Bulldogs don’t throw more to the tight ends.

Next: Offensive line.

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