ATHENS — Isaac Nauta did the usual thing when recalling himself as a freshman last year: Wide-eyed, inexperienced and “running around pretty much not having any idea what was going on.”
But there was something else Nauta was his first year at Georgia: Too good not to play.
The 5-star prospect walked into a tight end unit that was fairly loaded with experience, with an established starter, but when you’re as skilled as Nauta, the coaches find room for you. He ended up the team’s third-leading receiver overall, and easily the top tight end. Strong and athletic for his size (6-foot-4 and 246 pounds), Nauta was a mismatch for defenses and became a favorite target for quarterback and fellow freshman Jacob Eason.
And given that he was just a freshman, perhaps in all the discussion over where Georgia will turn for its passing game this year, Nauta is being overlooked.
“Yeah I definitely feel like I can be that guy,” Nauta said Thursday. “That’s one of my goals is to get open, catch the ball to make plays and help this team win. But we’ve also got a bunch of guys that can make plays. Like I said, whatever we’ve got to do, whatever I’ve got to do, to help this team win, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The right things to say, obviously. Nauta also said the right things about improving this year, because for all his success last year (29 catches for 361 yards and 3 touchdowns) there were definitely areas to firm up. A few drops. Help in run blocking.
“I just need to finish blocks better. That’s just something I felt like I needed to do,” Nauta said. “Catch everything that’s thrown my way. I had no excuses for dropping passes. And just being a good leader, for one. I just feel I need to start talking more, and get more involved in that area. And just being a good teammate.”
Presence strength, dilemma for UGA’s offense
Nauta was able to succeed last year basically on pure athleticism and composure. That comes across in interviews: He’s polished, used to attention after years as a sought-after recruit, first at Buford High School, and then his senior year at IMG Academy.
“Nothing spooks him,” fellow tight end Jeb Blazevich said. “I feel like the bigger the stage the better he plays. I just think he’s doing an amazing job, especially the passing game.”
So his presence is a strength for Georgia’s offense, which needs all the help it can get. But it also creates a dilemma.
Nauta and fellow rising sophomore Charlie Woerner are both untraditional tight ends, smaller and more athletic, which is a mismatch when they’re running routes, but can be a disadvantage on other plays.
“That’s almost the hard part, I feel like,” Blazevich said. “What’s their niche on the team, what can they kind of fit into in terms of roles. Do you want them to bulk up, because they can be big guys and fit on the line. They can be speedy guys and flex out to wide receiver. Do you want them to be in the middle there. Athletically they can fulfill a bunch of different roles, so it’s just finding out what their bodies are going to develop into, and their skill set, and then using that to benefit the offense.”
Nauta needs to block better for UGA
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and tight ends coach Shane Beamer are surely trying to figure that out. For what it’s worth, Nauta’s physique doesn’t seem to have changed much from last year. He just emphasized, as mentioned earlier, the need to block better.
When it comes to someone of Nauta’s talent, you want to firm up areas he can improve, but not take away from what he already does very well: Make big catches and big plays.
“I definitely need to make a big step in Year 2. Just going back and watching old film, there’s definitely steps I can do to get better,” Nauta said. “I think I’ve improved already this spring with a couple things I’ve been trying to work on. But there’s still a long ways to go.”
G-Day is Sat., April 22. The spring game begins at 2 p.m. and will be seen on SEC Network.