Bowers used it twice against Alabama-Birmingham on Saturday, at least once for a first-down gain against South Carolina the previous week and in some of the Bulldogs’ earlier games as well. Bowers’ stiff-arm prowess was reflected in his stat line against the Blazers: Nine receptions, two touchdowns, 121 yards gained – 110 yards after the catch.
Bowers’ quarry of receptions in the Bulldogs’ 49-21 win put him over 2,000 yards receiving for his career. He now has 2,079 yards with 22 TD catches. It was his eighth career game over 100 yards.
Georgia’s Jamon Dumas-Johnson ribbed Georgia’s star tight end, saying that Bowers can’t get away with stiff-arming him or his fellow linebackers. They’ll just grab it and bring him down, Dumas-Johnson quipped.
“Nah, he’s lying,” Bowers said when informed of the claim. “Sometimes they’re lucky, and they don’t get it (the stiff-arm). Usually, they’re not close enough to me to do that.”
On this point, coach Kirby Smart concurred.
“There’s no stiff-arm because (Bowers has) usually caught the ball and run away from them when they’re on him,” Smart said of the linebackers. “You know, there’s not an opportunity to. Maybe on a run-after-catch-type deal, a screen or something like that. But Brock’s stiff-arm is pretty strong. I mean, I saw that firsthand.”
Bowers’ big-play prowess has helped produce a sort of healthy rivalry between him and fellow tight end Oscar Delp. A 6-foot-5, 245-pound sophomore from Cumming, Delp has physical traits that are remarkably similar to the 6-4, 240-pound Bowers. Bowers insists he is faster, though it’s hard to tell on the field. There seems little doubt that he is stronger than Delp. But Delp, who has eight catches for 109 yards and a score, has played close to the same number of snaps and is fast-developing as a receiver and a blocker.
One-upping his all-star position-mate must have been on Delp’s mind Saturday when he tried to hurdle a UAB defender. Trouble was, Delp didn’t clear 6-foot, 190-pound safety Keondre Swoopes, who wisely never left his feet and stayed upright on the play. Swoopes’ tackle actually flipped Delp in the air. He landed – hard – on his back, right on the UAB sideline.
“He said he might need to put the hurdle away for a little bit after that,” Bowers said with a laugh. “I was on the sideline and thinking, ‘oh my gosh, no way he’s gonna try to hurdle that guy!’ He tried it. It was bad.”
Bowers left the hurdling to Darnell Washington last season when the 6-7, 280-pound tight end seemed to perfect the art of leaping defenders.
“I’m going to let Darnell stick with that,” Bowers said last year. “People aren’t really trying to ankle-bite me like they are him anyway.”
There might not be a tight end anywhere who can match Bowers when it comes to flexibility and agility. Just ask Ohio State, which saw up close Bowers’ “matrix move” to get himself and the ball past the first-down marker on a crucial fourth-down play that sustained Georgia’s comeback in the College Football Playoff semifinals last season.
No, Bowers prefers keeping his Nike cleats on the ground. With 4.5-second, 40-yard speed, that has served him and Georgia well. His speed and agility was on display again Saturday when he caught a midrange pass on the Bulldogs’ sideline, stopped, juked two defensive backs, then restarted on the way to a 41-yard touchdown. There was a little bit of arm action involved on that play, too, though not Bowers’ patented stiff-arm. This was more of a shove.
Bowers’ personal favorites Saturday were two other plays he made without the football in his hands. He was credited two “pancake” blocks against UAB. That’s when the defender ends up flat on his back, usually with the blocker on top of him.
“Yeah, that was pretty fun,” Bowers said. “(Offensive lineman) Tate (Ratledge) said something about it.”
Amazingly, Bowers has been putting together such a highlight reel while playing with a pulled groin and with Georgia trying to rest him as much as possible. But preseason camp injuries to freshman Lawson Luckie and Pearce Spurlin have cut into the Bulldogs’ tight end depth and forced Bowers and Delp to take almost all the meaningful snaps at the position. Senior walk-on Drew Sheehan has played in two games, and fellow walk-on Cooper Johnson has been dressing as well.
Luckie, who underwent tight-rope ankle surgery in August, dressed for Saturday’s game but did not play. Spurlin suffered a broken collarbone in spring ball and, after making his way back for the first two games of the season, hasn’t played in the past two for unknown reasons.
Bowers was glad to see Luckie is back and is hoping more help is on the way.
“It’ll help out to get him back and disperse some reps,” Bowers said. “You get tired out there. But coach (Todd Hartley) does a good job of managing our reps.”
Despite the low number of tight ends, Georgia still has been running a lot of “12″ personnel on offense, which means a single back and two tight ends. In recent weeks, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has introduced some two-back, one-tight-end formations, with receiver Dillon Bell shifting to join a traditional running back in the backfield. It’s kept the Bulldogs’ almost exactly on last season’s offensive pace. They head to Auburn this week averaging 41.5 points and 496.5 yards per game.
Meanwhile, Georgia continues to move Bowers all over the place on offense. He, too, has gotten some running back reps in practice, while also working in the slot and even split wide on occasion. With a player of Bowers’ caliber, the temptation is to keep him on the field and feed him the ball every play.
Bowers said he’s OK with that and works hard to remain in top condition. Staying fit and healthy are a full-time focus off the field.
Though it’s sometimes hard to identify, Bowers said there are many other ways in which he’s trying to improve.
“I can always improve as a leader in the tight end (meeting) room and stay with the right mindset each and every practice,” Bowers said. “I can always improve my craft, whether it’s run-blocking, catching the football and running routes, too.”
Hard to imagine Bowers getting much better at that stiff-arm, though. If he does, he may have to register it as a weapon.