Georgia’s tight ends provide an edge vs. Alabama

Georgia's tight end Brock Bowers (19) makes a touchdown pass over Georgia Tech's defensive back Tobias Oliver (8) during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, November 27, 2021. Georgia won 45-0 over Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
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Georgia's tight end Brock Bowers (19) makes a touchdown pass over Georgia Tech's defensive back Tobias Oliver (8) during the second half of an NCAA college football game at Georgia Tech's Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, November 27, 2021. Georgia won 45-0 over Georgia Tech. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Freshman Brock Bowers is snatching records as the Bulldogs’ leading receiver

ATHENS – “It’s a pretty special group we have.”

That was offensive coordinator Todd Monken’s comment one week into preseason camp in August. He was talking about Georgia’s tight ends.

Oh, how prescient that remark proved to be.

We knew about Darnell Washington and John FitzPatrick at the point. But that Aug. 12 interview represented the first time we heard extensively about a freshman named Brock Bowers.

Monken called the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bowers “the consummate F.” In football jargon, that means an offset fullback. But in Bowers’ case, think “F” for “flex.” Or maybe “freak.”

Georgia's tight ends have caught 53 passes for 895 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.

Put another way, you basically can line up Bowers anywhere on the field, and he’s a weapon. That definitely has been the case in Georgia’s first 12 games. Entering the SEC Championship game Saturday, Bowers is the Bulldogs’ leading receiver, with 37 catches for 652 yards, and leading scorer, with 11 touchdowns.

Monken hinted at Bowers’ potential four months ago.

“You could hand the ball to him if you wanted to,” said Monken, who has done that three times for 55 yards and a 24-yard touchdown. “In high school, he played some fullback in terms of route running. He’s a diligent worker. He’ll work himself into the ground how hard he works and runs and competes.”

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Tight end Brock Bowers breaks away from Georgia Tech defenders as he heads to the end zone on a long touchdown reception to take a 24-0 lead over Georgia Tech during the second quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Tight end Brock Bowers breaks away from Georgia Tech defenders as he heads to the end zone on a long touchdown reception to take a 24-0 lead over Georgia Tech during the second quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta.   Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
caption arrowCaption
Tight end Brock Bowers breaks away from Georgia Tech defenders as he heads to the end zone on a long touchdown reception to take a 24-0 lead over Georgia Tech during the second quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Bowers and his cohorts make that position the most decided advantage for Georgia against No. 3 Alabama on Saturday. Along with the 6-7, 250-pound FitzPatrick and the 6-7, 265-pound Washington, they give the Bulldogs an edge not only in the passing game, but also in run blocking and pass protection.

You might have heard of Alabama’s Will Anderson. A junior outside linebacker, Anderson leads the nation in quarterback sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (30.5). But he’s going to be the primary focus of Monken’s special group all day Saturday. Expect him to be blocked, chipped and targeted in coverage by Georgia’s tight ends on virtually every down.

“Yeah, those three guys have kind of been the unsung heroes,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Monday. “I guess you’d say they’re not unsung, but they’re the unsung heroes in terms of everything they’ve been able to do (for the offense). … They’ve been dependable, healthy, talented pass catchers, but I think (tight ends) coach (Todd) Hartley has done a tremendous job with them in run blocking. It’s hard to find tight ends that can block defensive ends in the NFL or in the SEC. Our guys hold up when they have to block in the run game and get movement and read things. They do a tremendous job.”

But the primary difference this season has been Georgia’s tight ends as receivers. They’ve caught 53 passes for 895 yards and 11 touchdowns.

It has taken a while to get here. Georgia lost Washington, the projected starter coming in, for the first four games of the season because of a broken foot suffered in camp. FitzPatrick sprained a foot at almost the exact same time and played hurt for the first third of the season.

Now, they’re all reasonably healthy. Washington, a sophomore who came to Georgia out of Las Vegas as a 5-star signee, remains just shy of 100 percent heading into the postseason.

And now Bowers is in some deep water. He’s the first tight end to lead the Bulldogs in receiving since Leonard Pope (39-541-4) and Martrez Milner (30-425-3) did it in 2005 and ‘06, respectively. He’s already eclipsed Pope’s tight end touchdown record (7). And with at least two and possibly three games remaining, he’s quickly running down Shannon Mitchell’s tight end receptions record of 49 (for 539 yards and 2 TDs) in 1993.

Tight ends weren’t as big a part of Monken’s offensive plan last season when FitzPatrick (10), Washington (6), Trè McKitty (6) and Brett Seither (1) combined for 24 catches and two touchdowns. But Monken had displayed an affinity for the position before. When he was offensive coordinator at Tampa Bay, the Bucs’ tight ends caught 195 passes for 2,526 yards over three seasons, or an average of 847 yards per season.

This year, Georgia’s tight ends simply have showed themselves to be a force Monken couldn’t ignore.

“The huge difference in our offense is the production we’ve been able to have in terms of explosive plays and use of tight ends who are talented,” Smart said. “Let’s be honest, insert Brock Bowers and insert Darnell Washington, you’ve increased the talent level at that position.”

Said quarterback Stetson Bennett: “Those three guys, they make you a better player. It makes it easy to throw to them. They just make the offense better.”

Monken said it of the tight ends in August. “We’re really, really fortunate to have those three guys in the mix.”

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