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(Bob Andres/AJC)
Depth is a concern after Georgia lost three tight ends off last year's team, two of them unexpectedly. But the Bulldogs believe Charlie Woerner can carry on the strong tradition at the position.

After mass exodus at tight end, Georgia’s Charlie Woerner is ready to step into limelight

Chip Towers

PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL ANALYSIS

Part V: The Tight Ends

This is Part 5 in a 15-part series breaking down and analyzing each position group for the Georgia Bulldogs in advance of spring football practice, which is scheduled to begin on March 19.

ATHENS — There’s at least one person who is not at all bothered by the mass exodus Georgia experienced with its tight end position after last season ended. That’d be tight end Charlie Woerner.

For the last three years, the rising senior from Tiger, Ga., has seemed to be right on the cusp of a breakout season. Everyone has seen flashes of what Woerner appears capable of, with his exceptional size, speed and dual abilities to block and to catch. But it never seemed to sustain. Either a change in strategy, an injury or a liberal rotation at the position would keep Woerner in the shadows.

That shouldn’t be the case this season. The Bulldogs have worked hard to build back the depth it lost from last year’s team and certainly will utilize it. But more than ever before, Woerner will be the unquestioned main man at tight end. In fact, he’s working extra hard this offseason on his conditioning because, early on at least, he will have to handle the vast majority of the repetitions in practice. It would follow that would be the case in games as well.

What we’ve seen from Woerner so far tells us that’s not a bad thing. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end is actually bigger and faster than the 6-3, 240-pound Nauta. To date, Woerner has caught 25 passes for 298, which breaks down to an average of 11.92 yards per catch. He had two catches for 27 yards against Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Woerner’s career high is three receptions in Georgia’s Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma. All of those came in the first half, then he broke his leg and was unable to play in the National Championship Game. Remarkably, he enters his senior season without a touchdown.

Woerner’s numbers pale beside Nauta’s. In the same number of seasons, Nauta caught 68 passes for 905 yards and scored eight touchdowns. The former 5-star prospect entered the NFL draft and is working out this week at the combine in Indianapolis and is obviously a special football player in his own right.

But the belief is that Woerner will be able to do everything Nauta did. And along with transfers, signees, returning lettermen and walkons, Georgia will once again field a strong group of tight ends.

Here’s a closer look at Georgia’s tight end position heading into spring practice:

TIGHT ENDS

  • Returning starters: Charlie Woerner, 6-foot-5, 245 pounds
  • Others returning: John FitzPatrick, 6-6, 230, R.Fr.
  • Early enrollees: Ryland Goede, 6-7, 235, freshman; Eli Wolf, 6-4, 236, graduate transfer
  • On the way: Brett Seither, 6-5, 228, freshman.
  • Analysis: Georgia lost Jackson Harris to graduation, Isaac Nauta to the NFL draft and Luke Ford to transfer. That’s significant attrition at any position, much less one in which the Bulldogs often utilize two and three players at a time on the field. But coach Kirby Smart did a fantastic job of addressing the losses. UGA had already signed 4-star prospect Ryland Goede in the early period in December, they accepted the graduate transfer of Eli Wolf, a former team captain at Tennessee, and they added another tight end on National Signing Day in February in 3-star prospect Brett Seither of Clearwater, Fla. So including the return of redshirt freshman John FitzPatrick, they were right back to full pool at the position. Spring practice will be a bit of challenge as Goede will still be recovering from an ACL injury suffered during his senior season in high school, Seither won’t join the team until July and Wolf will be learning the system. But Woerner and Fitzpatrick should benefit from a lot of snaps with the first team during the 15-workout spring practice, and the whole group should be good to go for volunteer workouts in the summer.
  • Bottom line:  Georgia’s use of the tight end has changed dramatically under Smart’s leadership. It went from one that was used primarily as a receiving target to one that is mainly about blocking. To what extent it will be utilized in either regard under new offensive coordinator James Coley is unknown. Coley coached tight ends while also serving as offensive coordinator at Florida State and was offensive coordinator at Miami before coming to Georgia. His tight ends at “the U” caught a lot of balls, including 47 and 54 his first two seasons with Clive Walford leading the way. The Bulldogs’ tight ends caught 42 balls between them this past year, including 11 for 148 yards by Woerner. So it wouldn’t be hard to improve on that. However Coley decided to divvy up the passes, after this latest replenishing, Georgia’s tight end corps would appear to be up for the task.

UP NEXT: Georgia’s wide receiver corps suffered a major talent bleed after last season. Can the Bulldogs be expected to march that group’s production in 2019?

SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW