It seems almost laughable now. Two years ago, Georgia’s tight ends were all abuzz because they thought offensive coordinator Jim Chaney taking over their position group meant more balls would be coming their way.
Fast forward to this year and there was optimism again because James Coley was taking over the offense. The new OC liked to throw the ball around a lot, the theory went, and tight ends were some of his favorite targets at Miami, where he’d last called plays.
Yet here the Bulldogs’ tight ends are heading into the last one-third of the regular season as the least-utilized skill position on the team. Through seven games, the three-man group has 14 catches between them for 153 yards, or an average of two catches for 21.8 yards per game.
And it would appear to be trending downward. There has not been a tight end reception in the past two games, and just two in the game before that.
“We’re just doing whatever they ask us to do, and lately it’s been a lot of blocking, especially with the weather we had last week,” tight end Eli Wolf said. “But when our number is called, we’ve got to be ready to make a play. I feel like early in the season we were doing that a lot and we need to get back to that. But, like I said, whatever they’re asking us to do, we’re going to try to do it at the highest level.”
Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but the Bulldogs missed out on one of the better tight ends in the country Wednesday when 5-star prospect Arik Gilbert committed to LSU. At one time, UGA was thought to lead for his services.
Georgia’s tight ends were well utilized in the passing game early in the season. Wolf, who joined the Bulldogs this summer as a graduate transfer from Tennessee, had four catches for 73 yards against Murray State. Tight ends had seven catches for 102 yards in the first two weeks.
Wolf leads the position with nine receptions for 116 yards. Senior Charlie Woerner, who was expected to become more of a receiving threat this season, has just four catches for 15 yards so far. Redshirt freshman John FitzPatrick is the only other tight end with a catch with a 22-yarder against Murray State.
It’s definitely not trending the way Woerner expected in the preseason. At the time, he said he was “definitely looking forward to the challenge” of being more involved in the passing game.
Now he hasn’t had a catch in the past three games. But Woerner wasn’t complaining last week as the Bulldogs prepared for Kentucky.
“I think we have a great tight end group,” he said. “I’m just doing what I’ve been doing the entire time I’ve been here and that’s work hard and be a selfless player.”
Georgia’s offense has come under scrutiny in recent weeks. The Bulldogs average 234.4 yards passing per game, but they haven’t produced many explosive plays through the air. Wolf’s 24-yard catch is the longest play for the tight ends so far. None of them have recorded a touchdown.
But don’t try to tell the tight ends they’re not involved in Georgia’s offense. On the contrary. The fact is, they’re on the field a lot for the Bulldogs. They often utilize two of them at once and they’ve even had three in the game when tackle Cade Mays lines up at the position in an overloaded set.
They’re a vital part of the Bulldogs’ run-blocking scheme.
“Perimeter blocking for a tight end, if you can do it, is a mismatch because there tends to be smaller bodies out there on defense,” Wolf said. “So, if you can cover them up with a big body, it gives our backs more room to run. Inside we have to hold our own, too, and it forces the defense to play a heavier personnel, which can be a mismatch there, too. So, there’s a lot you can do and we feel like there’s a lot of different things we can do to help the team.
“I’m just happy to be on the field and getting a lot of snaps.”