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November 27, 2021 Atlanta - Georgia's tight end Darnell Washington (0) gets tackled behind from Georgia Tech's defensive back Tre Swilling (3) during the first half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, November 27, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

‘Unsung heroes’: Georgia football tight ends to play pivotal role against Alabama

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Georiga football needs tight ends to impact receiving, run blocking game against Alabama

ATHENS — For years, many in the Georgia community have wanted to see the Bulldogs further involve its tight ends in the offense.

After the 2021 regular season, it’s safe to say Georgia has done so to a satisfactory amount. And with excellent results.

Georgia’s leading receiver is Brock Bowers, the freshman tight end from Napa, Calif. He’s hauled in 37 passes for 652 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 55 yards and another touchdown.

The 10 touchdown catches are the second-most in school history. He’s one behind the mark Terrence Edwards set back in 2002.

Bowers though isn’t the lone talented tight end on Georgia’s team. There’s also Darnell Washington and John FitzPatrick. The latter is the best blocker of the bunch while the former is a hulking nightmare, standing at a listed 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds.

Much like the Georgia team, the strength of the group isn’t so much the individual brilliance of each member but rather that the position is littered with talented players.

“The huge difference in our offense is the production we’ve been able to have in terms of explosive plays, use of tight ends who are talented,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Let’s be honest, insert Brock Bowers and insert Darnell Washington, you’ve increased the talent level at that position.”

Heading into a pivotal matchup against Alabama, the tight ends will once again be asked to be difference makers for Georgia. And not just in the passing game, but as blockers well.

As boring as that might sound, Alabama’s Will Anderson necessitates it. He leads the SEC in both tackles for loss and sacks this season. The sophomore outside linebacker could very well be a problem for Georgia, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Jamaree Salyer.

Bowers, FitzPatrick and Washington will be asked to redirect Anderson and other Alabama defenders away from Georgia’s ball-carriers.

“I think Coach (Todd) Hartley has done a tremendous job with them in run blocking,” Smart said. “It’s hard to find tight ends that can block defensive ends in the NFL, but in the SEC. Our guys -- we don’t leave them out on an island often, but they hold up when they have to block in the run game and get movement and read things. They do a tremendous job.”

In addition to blocking the likes of Anderson, the tight ends will need to attack Alabama’s linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field. Alabama has been vulnerable to big passing performances this season. If Stetson Bennett is to deliver one of those on Saturday, he’ll need to find Bowers, Washington and FitzPatrick when open.

“Anytime you’ve got those players they’ll make you a better player. It makes it easier to throw it to them, they make the offense better,” Bennett said.

What makes the trio difficult to defend is that they’re not three replicas. Washington and FitzPatrick are similar in size, but Bowers is a much more athletic, though smaller, tight end. His nimble frame allows him to move around in formations. And run through a flat-footed defense as he did against Georgia Tech last weekend.

While many have long hoped for a day when tight ends would be featured in this offense, members of the Georgia defense did not have to wait long to see they were going to be a big part of this team.

Linebacker Nakobe Dean knew what Georgia had at tight end on the first day of practice.

“You’ve got Darnell, he’s huge. Brock, you can just see his ability out there,” Dean said. “It was always great to go against them in practice. They definitely made a lot of the DBs and linebackers better this season just being able to get in different types of matchups with them being two different types of tight ends.”

Georgia has relied on its tight ends this year in part because it has been forced to do so. With all the injuries at wide receiver, Georgia needed a way to supplant some of that production. Bowers and FitzPatrick have been two of the only four pass catchers to play in every game this season, along with Ladd McConkey and Adonai Mitchell.

Washington missed the first five games of the season with a foot injury, but unlike Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson, he hasn’t been slowed by any other lingering injuries.

Mix in the talent, consistency and scheme and it makes sense why the tight ends have been a vital part of the Georgia offense. Even as the rest of the offense gets healthier, it’s clear this position is going to need to play a significant role in Saturday’s game against Alabama.