Georgia depth chart analysis: We’ve heard this before about the tight ends

Georgia tight end Jeb Blazevich saw his catches (and targets) go down in 2016.

It’s time to have a little Flashback Friday, or as it occasionally goes around these parts, Things That Were Said That Didn’t Quite Work Out.

After Kirby Smart hired Jim Chaney last year, one thing Smart said he liked so much about his new offensive coordinator was that he “uses the tight ends well,” specifically citing tight ends who had played for Chaney at Arkansas and Tennessee.

Then that spring and preseason, Georgia tight ends like Jeb Blazevich waxed on about how excited they were, given Chaney’s history and what they were doing in practice. Then came the season, and … well …

Blazevich’s catch total dropped from 15 to six, Jackson Harris went from four to one, and Jordan Harris went from one to the Blutarsky-esque zero-point-zero. Now, a lot of that was because the freshmen took the catches: Isaac Nauta had 29 catches, the third-most on the team, and Charlie Woerner had five.

But when you consider that those catches comprised 19 percent of the team’s catches, despite all that talent, it certainly seems the tight end position wasn’t used as much as it could’ve been. It was reminiscent of 2015, when all that spring and preseason talk about Brian Schottenheimer using the tight end didn’t work out that way. (Tight ends only caught 14 percent of the team’s passes, so Chaney did at least increase the total, thanks to Nauta.)

It was pointed out to Blazevich a couple months ago that it has been two straight years of big expectations for throwing to the tight ends, but it hasn’t happened that way. Is there a simple reason why, Blazevich was asked? He thought a couple seconds before answering. “I don’t think so. I think it’s always a bunch of different things,” Blazevich said. “At the end of the day I need to look at myself and especially my group of guys, and us as an offense and us as a tight end group. I think it all falls back on me in particular, and what I can do, and then of course the tight ends, what we can do.

“It’s on us at the end of the day. If we’re getting wide open it doesn’t matter what they call, we should be able to get wide open. There’s always a million different reasons and factors.”

It was a diplomatic, and defensibly accurate, answer.

Now we approach spring practice, where undoubtedly there will be more happy talk about the usage of the tight end. Bear in mind what we’ve heard the previous two years. But also bear in mind that there’s still a ton of talent in that room. Let’s break it down.

TIGHT ENDS

  • Returning starters: Isaac Nauta, soph. and Jeb Blazevich, Sr.
  • Others returning: Jackson Harris, Jr.; Charlie Woerner, Soph. Jordan Davis, Jr.
  • Early enrollees: None.
  • On the way: None.
  • Analysis: Nauta and Blazevich were essentially co-starters, and their snaps were probably fairly even, with Harris also seeing at least a share of the action. But when it came to being targeted and catching passes, Nauta dwarfed them, partially because he’s just that good – a mismatch for the defense – and partially because of his instant rapport with classmate and quarterback Jacob Eason. That won’t change, and Nauta should build on his big freshman season and be an All-SEC candidate. He does need to improve his blocking, however, especially on the perimeter, which was an issue for the entire offense. As for Blazevich and the other tight ends, there are still snaps available, because Nauta can’t play every down, and with the double-tight end and other different sets Chaney will use. The absence of Isaiah McKenzie this year may necessitate using Nauta more in those inventive sets, such as catching passes out of the backfield or an H-back role. That could open snaps for the other tight ends. Blazevich has proven his worth, Harris is a good blocker who has caught passes when thrown to him, and Woerner showed flashes too, when not slowed down by injuries. Davis hasn’t really had a chance to see the field. They should all try to use the spring to show Chaney, Smart and Shane Beamer they need more opportunities.
  • Bottom line: Despite what Blazevich says, the responsibility for getting the tight ends more involved mainly lies elsewhere. Yes, Chaney could do more, and it’s a good bet his offseason adjustments include doing that. But Eason having more experience could help too. So should we expect a resurgence of the tight ends in 2017? Hey, after the last couple years, let’s wait and see first.

Next: Wide receivers

PREVIOUSLY IN DEPTH CHART ANALYSIS SERIES

Safeties | Cornerbacks | Outside linebackers | Inside linebackers | Defensive line | Place-kicking and kickoff specialist | Punters | Return specialists and long snapper | Offensive tackles | Guards | Centers