ATHENS – The years go on, and almost nothing about the Georgia football team remains the same. One year the offense is a strength and the defense a weakness, the next year it’s the opposite. The secondary goes from worst to first in the SEC. The offensive line goes from weak link to strong suit, and then back to being the weak link. And so it goes seemingly everywhere.
The exception, and for the right reasons, is tight end.
From Randy McMichael and Ben Watson to Leonard Pope, Orson Charles and Arthur Lynch, the Bulldogs have always been able to count on the position group. All in all, the program has produced six NFL draft selections at tight end since 2002 (the previously mentioned five plus Martrez Milner).
There’s little reason to believe that won’t continue into the tenure of Kirby Smart, who inherits a deep and talented group, as he acknowledged last week.
“We’ve got a really good tight end group,” Smart said. “We’ve got some big dudes who can block. We’ve got some smaller guys that can really run and catch. We’ve got some new guys that are talented.”
The trick is actually using them in a way that makes the offense noticeably better. That’s anything but automatic, as last year showed.
There was a lot of breath wasted last year talking about how then-new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was going to utilize the tight ends. Georgia’s tight ends were excited about it. Jared Cook, who played tight end for Schottenheimer with the St. Louis Rams, said it would be great.
Yeah, so the tight ends accounted for only 14 percent of Georgia’s receptions (28 out of 199), 13 percent of the receiving yards (306 out of 2,406), and just one touchdown catch. Yup, only one.
So will that be different under new offensive management? Smart thinks so, citing offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s use of the tight end not only at Pittsburgh last year – tight ends were the team’s third and fifth-leading receivers – but Arkansas and Tennessee.
“I’m excited about that group, and I’m really excited because Jim Chaney’s history against me as a defensive coordinator is he abused me with tight ends,” Smart said.
So who does Chaney have at his disposal to abuse other teams with at Georgia? Plenty. Let’s delve into it:
- Returning starter: Jeb Blazevich, Jr.
- Others returning: Jackson Harris, Soph.; Jordan Davis, Jr.
- Early enrollees: Isaac Nauta, Fr.
- On the way: Charlie Woerner, Fr.
- Analysis: Remember how Smart pitied what Shane Beamer had to walk into on special teams? Well it’s the opposite for Beamer on tight ends, his other responsibility. This group looks deeper and better on paper than last year. Perhaps moreso than any other year. Jay Rome is the only tight end who is gone, and he was held to eight catches and 88 yards as a senior. Harris showed a lot of promise early in the year. Nauta was a five-star and probably the nation’s best tight end recruit. And Woerner, a four-star recruit, brings a lot of potential when he’s at tight end. (He will start out in a hybrid receiver/tight end/H-back kind of role.) The biggest question might actually be Beamer, who has never coached tight ends. Predecessor John Lilly had been a tight ends coach for years and was respected enough at it that the Los Angeles Rams hired him. But Beamer has coached multiple positions on both sides of the ball, so there’s good reason to think he’ll adapt and develop this unit well.
- Bottom line: Blazevich should be the favorite to start, with Nauta’s development this spring very much worth watching. Harris, who had a solid freshman season catching (on the rare occasions it was thrown to him) and blocking, will need to keep it up if he wants to stave off Nauta. And Davis, who has just four career catches, will need a big spring too.
Here are the previous stories in our series:
- Part I: Georgia has cornerbacks covered
- Part II: Bulldogs have safety in numbers
- Part III: A new era for Georgia’s OLBs
- Part IV: Strong LB play rests on Carter’s shoulders
- Part V: Georgia still seeking that great nose
- Part VI: Dogs look for growth at D-end
- Part VII: Georgia’s muddled kicking situation
- Part VIII: Punting duties anybody’s guess for now
- Part IX: UGA’s special-teams strength returns
- Part X: Success of UGA’s offense centers on line
- Part XI: A return to the old guard on the O-line
- Part XII: Competition intense, options many at tackle