ATHENS – It was a little more than two years ago that Kirby Smart, having recently become the Georgia football coach, proclaimed that he was “not a fullback guy.” During the next two years, however, Smart gradually did become a Christian Payne guy.
But now Payne is gone. And the fullback position might continue to be phased out of the Georgia roster.
Oh, there technically still are fullbacks on the roster. Nick Moore, a senior and a former Boston Red Sox farmhand, was Payne’s backup the last two years. Frank Sinkwich IV, who as the name indicates is the great-grandson of the former Georgia back, is also listed as a fullback on the spring roster. Sinkwich is a redshirt freshman.
But those are the only two expressly listed as fullbacks. The Bulldogs have not signed one since Quayvon Hicks in 2012 and have no plans to do so.
As for using the fullback position, evidently it’s not an emphasis this spring.
“Right now we’re not really working anything with fullbacks right now. We’re more just focusing on different run plays without fullbacks,” tight end Charlie Woerner said. “We’ll see in summer and fall camp if we incorporate the tight ends in that.”
Woerner was asked about it because the fullback role – at least in specific plays – instead could go to the tight ends. Sometimes that was the case last season, but not often, Woerner added.
“Christian was really good at what he did,” Woerner said.
Payne, a walk-on from Prince Avenue Christian School in Athens, was an undersized but physical and hard-nosed presence. When he operated as the lead back he tended to open big holes for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.
And while blocking was his main emphasis, Payne was handed the ball a few times, fullback dives to convert short-yardage plays. He only had 5 rushes for 18 yards last year, but they usually were crucial yards, including a 7-yard run to convert a first down at Notre Dame. Payne didn’t catch a pass last season, but he did have 12 catches for 119 yards, including a touchdown, over his sophomore and junior seasons.
But Georgia has seen that fullback is not necessarily an indispensable position: Payne missed the SEC Championship Game with a concussion, and Georgia’s offense still rolled to a 28-7 victory.
When Smart was asked about using the fullback this season, now that Payne is gone, he pointed more toward the tight ends. The thinking is pretty simple. As players get bigger but also more athletic, those traditional fullback plays can be taken up by tight ends, and Georgia continues to sign very good ones.
‘’In most traditional fullback offenses, you use tight ends in that role as a backup, because you only get to travel 70 [with 70 players]. So we’ll keep those portions of our offense,” Smart said. “We think those are good weapons to have, but it’ll be done by committee. It’ll be done by Jackson [Harris], [Isaac] Nauta, all those guys … Charlie. We’ll also have guys coming in the fall who can help with that.”
By that he meant the two tight ends who signed with the Bulldogs: John FitzPatrick and Luke Ford. He didn’t mean a fullback. Now that Payne is gone, Smart again appears not to be a fullback guy.
Then again, if another Christian Payne comes along, perhaps there will be a place for him in the offense. But maybe not a huge place.