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Jim Chaney is clearly a good guy and has done a good job working with freshman quarterbacks twice now. So isn’t there a prestige drop-off — a downgrade — from coaching QBs to tight ends? How do you think Kirby Smart justified it to him and how do you think he took it?
— @UpstateDawg, Ithaca, N.Y.
Do you think Isaac Nauta and Georgia’s other tight ends will have 1,000 yards receiving this season?
— Participant on the Towers’ Take Facebook Live podcast
Who do you think are Georgia’s top 10 tight ends of all time?
— Stepfan Salter, Albany
Apparently tight ends are on a lot of people’s minds. These aren’t even all of the questions I got on the subject this week. The most common one I get is whether I think Georgia’s tight ends are going to be targeted more in the passing game this season. Apparently coach Kirby Smart gets that one all the time, too, because he was complaining about it when he was asked yet again on the Coaches’ Caravan last month. So, clearly, I need to write about the tight ends and/or the tight end coaches. I’ll handle the above queries once at a time.
First, on Chaney now coaching tight ends and not quarterbacks anymore. I can’t say for certain how he received the news of the change because I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to him. Assistant coaches are off limits for interviews. However, Smart usually has the coordinators meet with the media during preseason camp. But I do know Chaney well enough to know he accepted the reassignment and offensive reorganization just fine and doesn’t have a problem with it.
It really doesn’t have anything to do with him. This move was all about Smart being able to keep James Coley on board. As I’m sure you know, Coley was offered the offensive coordinator job at Texas A&M by Jimbo Fisher, with whom he’d worked at LSU earlier in his career. Smart didn’t want to lose Coley. Coley had come to Georgia from Miami, where he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, so it made sense to offer him a promotion and raise to return to those duties and remain in Athens, where he and his family preferred to stay. Also, Coley is a native of Miami, and his high-level recruiting in that area is extremely valuable to UGA.
In the meantime, make no mistake about it, this is still Chaney’s offense. While he is no longer working directly with the quarterbacks, he is still very much involved with them. And the play-calling on game days is still going to be up to him. He and Coley will be working closely on strategy and the play script, but it will be Chaney who will be sending down the calls from the press box. My understanding is Chaney will remain up there while Coley will be on the sideline talking to Jake Fromm and Justin Fields as soon as they come off the field. It seems as if it should be a good arrangement. Also, Chaney coached tight ends during one of his stints in the NFL and worked a lot with lines, so that should be a good fit for him as well.
As for whether Georgia’s tight ends will go over 1,000 yards receiving, it’s pretty easy for me to say no, or at least highly unlikely. The only receiver to ever record more than 1,000 yards in a season is Terrence Edwards, who had 1,004 in 2002, and he was a wideout. As for tight ends, Smart’s general philosophy is they block first and catch passes second. There are times that the tight ends are targeted more based on defenses the Bulldogs face, but they’re usually the primary receiver on a pass play only a few times a game.
Last season, tight ends caught 22 passes, or about 1.5 per game. Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner led the way with 9 each. Nauta led the tight ends with 29 catches for 361 yards in 2016. Now obviously Georgia can choose to throw the ball more, and I expect the team will this season, maybe considerably. But even if the Bulldogs are throwing the ball all over the place, tight ends will be splitting reps — junior Jackson Harris and freshman Luke Ford also will be looking for some snaps — and I just don’t see 1,000 yards between them.
The better question is will any of these tight ends finish with 1,000 receiving yards in their career? That’s the better gauge for greatness at Georgia. UGA’s football media guide doesn’t include a career statistical ranking for tight ends over the years and, as we’re in kind of dead period here in the middle of the summer, I couldn’t find anybody at sports communications who could locate a verifiable list. But based on my own flawed research, I came up with only five tight ends who had more than 1,000 yards in their careers. And that segues nicely to the next tight end question: Who are Georgia’s best tight ends of all time?
I’ll offer my top 10 list and encourage debate in the comments section. It’s unscientific, and I may have overlooked one or two guys. And let me offer one more qualifier: The role of the tight end has changed considerably in the modern era of football. For instance, Billy Payne was an exceptional tight end when the Bulldogs won the SEC championship in 1966 (and before he moved to defensive end), but the roles were quite different then. So my list includes only two players from the 1980s and one before then. Without further ado, my list:
GEORGIA’S GREATEST TIGHT ENDS
Player, years; career stats (catches-yards-touchdowns), comment
- Shannon Mitchell, 1990-93; 99 catches-1,146 yards-5 touchdowns: Holds Georgia record for receptions in a game with 15 against Florida in the “Monsoon Game” of 1993 and in a season with 49 for 539 yards that year.
- Randy McMichael, 1999-2001; 90-1,213-5: Would’ve owned all the records had he played his senior season. Had 71-yard TD vs. Georgia Tech.
- Larry Brown, 1995-98; 80-1,077-6: Great athlete who also played basketball. Played in every game in his career and was All-SEC.
- Leonard Pope, 2003-05; 65-1,044-1o: One of three Georgia tight ends with 10 career scores. Measured 6-8 and 264 pounds.
- Orson Charles, 2009-11; 94-1,370-10: One of the highest-rated tight ends Georgia ever signed, he, too, had 10 career TD catches and also had the best single season with 574 receiving yards in 2011.
- Benjamin Watson, 2001-03; 73-945-7: Eight catches for 93 yards came as a freshman at Duke before transferring to play at Georgia. Still playing in the NFL 15 years later with the New Orleans Saints.
- Clarence Kay, 1980-83; 51-727-5: No tight end has won more SEC championships (3). Incredible athlete who managed that production in the Herschel Walker era.
- Richard Appleby, 1973-75; 48-902-6: Versatile athlete who often flexed wide as a receiver and is known for making some of Georgia’s most famous touchdown catches.
- Troy Sadowski, 1985-88; 42-493-4: A great blocking tight end who developed into a dependable receiving target over his career and played in the NFL.
- Arthur Lynch, 2009-13; 56-907-8: Had 30 catches for 459 yards and 5 TDs as a senior after beginning his career as the perceived “blocking tight end.”
That’s my list. Love to see yours.
Thanks for all the questions. Keep sending them in!
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