ATHENS — Brock Bowers is worried. Not a lot, mind you. Just a smidge. There is an ever-so-slight pang of doubt in the recesses of his football psyche.
While Bowers is back with Georgia’s offense – and this is an incredibly good thing for the Bulldogs – a lot around him has changed. There’s a new offensive coordinator in Mike Bobo scheming and calling plays. New wide receivers have been added to the rotation. There’s going to be a new starter in the backfield. And, of course, there’s going to be a new quarterback.
All that newness has left even the unflappable Bowers to wonder if he’ll be featured as prominently in Georgia’s offense as he was the past two seasons.
“Yeah, I definitely kinda thought about that,” Bowers said after the Bulldogs’ fourth practice of the spring session Tuesday. “But Bobo’s kind of been around the tight end (meeting) room a lot through the last year. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
When you think of Georgia’s offense the past two seasons, the first thing you think of is Bowers, the All-American tight end. No receiver – tight end, wideout or otherwise – has piled up more receiving yards over back-to-back seasons in the history of Georgia football. Split end Brice Hunter caught more passes (135) over the 1993-94 seasons than Bowers (119), but no UGA player in history has covered more ground than Bowers after having the ball thrown his way. He’s piled up 1,824 yards receiving the past two seasons. Including his 13 touches via the rush, Bowers has accounted for 1,989 yards and 24 touchdowns in his career.
There’s no reason to think Bobo would want to utilize Bowers any less than did previous coordinator Todd Monken. Bowers’ unique athletic traits are obvious. Then, again, there are multiple ways to matriculate the football down the field.
While Bobo no doubt has utilized two-tight end – or “12″ – personnel in the past, one-half of the equation that made the Bulldogs so effective in that formation last season is no longer in the program. Darnell Washington and all his 6-foot-7, 270-pound glory is NFL bound. That, Bowers acknowledges, will make a difference.
“We’re going to miss Darnell,” Bowers said. “I mean, he’s going to be a first-round pick. So, we took a little hit with that. But (Oscar) Delp’s come in there, and he’s put on a little weight, and he’s been blocking pretty good so far this camp. He just has to sustain and try to fill that role.”
Delp is a rising sophomore who came to Georgia with some five-star recruiting ratings. However, at 6-5, 225, he is closer to Bowers in body type than Washington.
The most physically similar tight end the Bulldogs have is freshman signee and early enrollee Pearce Spurlin of Rosemary Beach, Florida. He’s listed as 6-7, 240 pounds on Georgia’s roster. For an unknown reason, Spurlin did not participate in Tuesday’s practice.
It was the combination of Bowers and Washington that made the Bulldogs such a matchup nightmare for opponents the past two seasons. Washington generally was considered the blocker of the duo, but he also got loose for 454 yards and two touchdowns on 28 receptions last season. Bowers had 63 catches for 942 yards and seven scores.
Often lining them up on the same side of the field, Monken could use the duo as devastating edge sealers in the run game, or block one and throw to the other, or send Bowers in motion either to get him open, or send Washington alone into single coverage. The possibilities out of that set kept defenses in constant conflict.
The good news for Georgia is Bobo saw all that up close last season. Joining the Bulldogs as an offensive analyst after he was fired by Auburn as offensive coordinator in 2021, Bobo actually spent much of his time in the meeting room of tight ends coach Todd Hartley, in addition to the overall offensive staff meetings.
“I mean, I hope he utilizes us the same ways,” Bowers said. “… I love coach Bobo. Last year, he was always around and bringing a good vibe. He’s a really smart dude on the offensive side of the ball, so I’m happy with him.
“It’s not like we’re bringing in a brand-new face from outside not knowing anything about us.”
As for his coaching past, Bobo never has utilized tight ends to the extent that Monken did these past two seasons. But there have been pockets in Bobo’s career in which he has relied heavily on tight ends.
In Bobo’s last season as head coach at Colorado State in 2019, tight end Trey McBride caught 45 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns. Two years later, McBride would win the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end after he caught 90 passes for 1,121 yards. Oddly enough, McBride scored only one touchdown that season. He was drafted in the second round by the Arizona Cardinals last year.
“(Bobo) really taught me the game of football,” McBride told DawgNation. “Going into college, I didn’t know a lick about football. I didn’t know coverages or how to run a route. So, him and his staff really helped develop me as a player and made me develop my fundamentals to put me into the position I’m in today.”
Before returning to Georgia, Bobo’s starting tight ends at Auburn and South Carolina caught 33 and 30 passes in 2021 and ‘20, respectively. But those offenses were incomparable to what Bobo is inheriting with the Bulldogs from a talent standpoint, both at tight end and overall.
However, those numbers mesh with Bobo’s worksheet of general use of tight ends in seven seasons as Georgia’s offensive coordinator under coach Mark Richt. The most prolific individual season for a tight end with the Bulldogs during Bobo’s tenure was Arthur Lynch’s 30 catches for 459 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. As a group, that position averaged 28 receptions per season under Bobo.
All of which could mean something, or nothing, as far as what the Bulldogs do next season. Bobo sat in on every one of those offensive meetings last year, and he’s wearing a national championship ring today because of his involvement with Georgia last season. It’s unlikely Bobo has forgotten everything he just saw.
“I mean, it’s still too early to tell,” Bowers said, fresh off the practice field Tuesday evening. “There’s still a lot of development to go. I mean, even (new wideouts Dominic Lovett) and Rara (Thomas) are still trying to get the playbook figured out. … We’ll see when it gets later in camp.”
As for the quarterback part of the equation, Bowers said that’s going to take some time as well. For now, junior Carson Beck and sophomore Brock Vandagriff are splitting snaps with the No. 1 offense. The hope is that the Bulldogs’ coaches will settle on one or the other before the summer so that the starter can get in extensive work with all the receivers in voluntary and supervised workouts. Former quarterback Stetson Bennett said that helped him immensely last summer.
“It just goes back to building trust with the dudes,” Bowers said. “I mean, they’re all going to get plenty of reps because we take so many reps in practice. Spring camp, fall camp, 7-on-7s, we’re all going to get reps together. The more reps we can get, the more trust in the relationship we can build on the field.”
Of one thing the Bulldogs can be sure – in Bowers, they can trust.
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