One of the most popular topics around DawgNation has been the seemingly sparse opportunities for Georgia’s tight ends. It’s also the subject of this week’s Ask DawgNation question.
It’s a good question. I’m not sure of the answer, but I’ll try to look into it a little this week.
— Brandon Adams (@DawgNationDaily) September 23, 2018
The numbers back up the notion that Jake Fromm throws to tight ends less than Justin Fields does — although the sample size is small.
Four of Isaac Nauta’s seven catches came from Fields and one of Charlie Woerner’s two receptions was delivered by UGA’s backup QB — despite the fact he’s only attempted 17 passes.
Is it fair to say Fields favors tight ends more than Fromm? It’s probably best to get that answer from some experts who’ve played the position, but first some context.
Tight end usage (or the lack thereof) has become a touchy subject for Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
“I am so tired of the tight end questions,” Smart said in April. “I mean I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if they’ve caught it more or less. The end line for me is: How many points do we score?… So if they give us — like — 14 points for Isaac Nauta to score a touchdown, we’ll start throwing it to him more. If we get 21 points for Charlie to catch one, I promise you we’ll design a play to get a 21-point play. But right now we’re just trying to score points and if that includes tight ends, that’s great”
Touchdowns to Nauta and Woerner count the same as they would to any other player, but it might be fair to say Nauta, the former 5-star tight end (now a junior) was expected to have more than the six he has through 23 games in his career. The same could potentially be said for Woerner — the No. 16 player from Georgia in 2016 — who hasn’t recorded a touchdown among his 16 career receptions.
Smart’s explanation for why tight ends haven’t been a bigger part of the offense is characteristically blunt.
“Tight ends have to be a matchup disaster,” Smart said during spring practice. “A lot of it has to do with what that GPS number is — which his how fast they’re running.”
The GPS number Smart’s referring to is a digital measurement of movement occurring during practice. The insinuation from Smart seems to be that during practice (and possibly games as well), UGA’s tight ends aren’t doing enough to get open. Yet that doesn’t explain why Bulldogs tight ends have more catches from Fields than from Fromm.
A player who knows the position weighed in with his thoughts.
Randy McMichael was an All-SEC tight end at UGA in 2001 and played 10 seasons in the NFL. McMichael told DawgNation there’s a difference in the offense when Fields takes over for Fromm.
“When Fromm is in they do more max protection with the tight end staying in [to block],” McMichael said. “They give Fields easier looks that involve the tight end more.”
Whatever UGA is doing with Fromm is working well. Even without much tight end involvement, Fromm is tied with Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the SEC’s highest completion percentage (72.5), and the Bulldogs are second in the SEC in scoring (44.5 points per games.)
Yet questions persist about why tight ends aren’t more involved in the scoring, and among those asking is another UGA great.
Troy Sadowski was an All-American tight end for UGA in 1988 before playing eight years in the NFL. Sadowski told DawgNation he’d love to see his old position featured more.
“It frustrates me,” Sadowski said. “I know the talent, and I see the talent. Guys like Nauta can stretch a defense.”
That might be true, but lack of involvement for tight ends isn’t an issue unique to UGA.
Just one of the top 54 receivers in the country (based on total receptions) is a tight end. By comparison, four of the top 41 pass catchers in the NFL are tight ends. College football seemingly has de-prioritized tight ends even though the position remains a staple of many pro offenses.
Case in point, consider O.J. Howard — the last 5-star tight end recruit in the SEC prior to Nauta, who three games into his second season with Tampa Bay already has as many career NFL touchdowns (7) as he had his four-year college career at Alabama.
Yet those facts won’t convince many UGA fans that the lack of throws to tight ends is a problem that needs correction. The good news is Smart has a possible solution to the position’s woes.
Smart said during spring practice more receptions for tight ends could be possible simply because UGA was throwing it more during practice — an indication of what could also happen during games.
Indeed that’s been the case for Nauta, who’s seven catches through four games is three more than his total through the same span in 2017.
That’s something McMichael is hoping to see more of.
“Our tight end position is too damn good for them not to get the ball more.”
A lot of fans apparently agree.