Tight end usage takes on added importance following George Pickens injury
The tight end position now takes on greater significance in the Georgia offense following the injury to talented wide receiver George Pickens.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, it knows a good bit more about what it has at the position than it has in previous years.
In each of the last two offseasons, Georgia has gone out and brought in some more experience at the tight end position. In 2019, Eli Wolf came from Tennessee and Tre’ McKitty arrived from Florida State last season.
Their additions signified some of the turnover at the position and really the Georgia offense as a whole. Former top recruit Luke Ford transferred to Illinois, while Wolf, McKitty and Charlie Woerner all graduated.
Georgia doesn’t have that problem at tight end or with the rest of the offense. The Bulldogs bring back fourth-year junior John FitzPatrick at the position, along with Darnell Washington, Ryland Goede and Brett Seither.
The only newcomer this season is 4-star signee Brock Bowers. And unlike Washington and FitzPatrick, Bowers is an early enrolled and already going through spring practice.
That experience will be big for Bowers if he is to break onto the field this season. His speed and athleticism bring a different element compared to the giants that FitzPatrick and Washington are.
“Brock is another great kid,” FitzPatrick said. “We’re really excited to have him aboard. He’s really smart and a good player. He joins a great group of tight ends along with Ryland Goede, Darnell, you name it. I’m excited to have him here.”
Bowers isn’t the first highly-recruited tight end fans want to see with the ball in their hands. That would be Washington. The sophomore is an athletic marvel at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds. It’s about as close as we’ll get to ever seeing what Lebron James would look like as a football player.
Washington had only seven catches and 166 yards as a freshman. But most of that production came in the final two games of the season in wins over Missouri and Cincinnati.
Now with a full, and more normal, offseason under his belt, Washington seems poised to become an even bigger headache for opposing defenses. Especially after Georgia lost its most physically gifted pass catcher in Pickens.
“He’s going to be a problem,” McKitty said. “I said it a lot, even talking to teams this offseason, guys that come in as a 5-star think they know it all and have a big head but he really came in willing to learn. He came to me asking questions all the time and that’s huge. I think he’s going to be a great player in the future.”
The size that Pickens possesses drew a lot of attention on the outside. Fortunately, UGA has a 6’7” tight-end who can play on the boundary and force a lot of defensive attention his way. If you leave a defender on an island against him it’s trouble.
2. Darnell Washington pic.twitter.com/3tgw5u4ZXD
— Graham Coffey (@DawgOutWest) March 24, 2021
FitzPatrick also noted the more studious approach Washington has taken this offseason.
“Darnell’s done a great job. He’s focused more,” FitzPatrick said. “Taken a better hold of the playbook. He’s gonna continue to do that and lead and perform like we want him to.”
While FitzPatrick lacks the buzz or recruiting hype of Bowers and Washington, he shouldn’t be considered an afterthought either. He actually caught more passes than either Washington or McKitty and scored a touchdown in Georgia’s win over Arkansas.
In Georgia’s Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati, Washington and FitzPatrick combined for seven catches and 87 yards. That kind of production on a regular basis would be another significant development for the Georgia passing game for the 2021 season.
Especially as it now must replace Pickens.
FitzPatrick, and head coach Kirby Smart, have noted how much further along the offense is in its development compared to the 2020 season.
“It’s pretty unique to have that much experience on offense,” Smart said. “It’s showed for two days; we’ve been behind defensively and been ahead offensively.”
For as much progress as the Georgia offense has already made, the Bulldogs still need to go further to reach the truly elite levels.
FitzPatrick and the other members of the team recognize this fact and hope that the experience and knowledge they have leads them to playing games bigger than the Peach Bowl.
“We’re just excited, eager and hungry,” FitzPatrick said. “We all have a bunch of experience and we want to use that experience. We don’t want to be sitting there watching when it comes to January, we want to be playing in those games.”
John FitzPatrick speaks on George tight end position
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