Tight ends are what sets apart Georgia’s offense

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

ATHENS – For the record, Brock Bowers doesn’t plan on hurdling anyone.

His 6-foot-7 position mate, Darnell Washington, has done that in games twice now. Washington’s latest leap was against Oregon in Georgia’s 49-3 season-opening victory. You may have caught it on “SportsCenter.”

But Bowers plans to stay grounded.

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“I’m not much of a hurdler,” said Bowers, who at 6-4 is a much more normal-looking human. “I think I’m going to let Darnell stick with that. People aren’t really trying to ankle-bite me like they are him anyway.”

Welcome to Georgia’s tight end group, where they come in all shapes and sizes and each seems to have his own unique super power. It’s like the Marvel lineup of superheroes. While Washington leaps up and over opposing defenders -- or sometimes chooses to simply run through them -- the fleet-footed Bowers tends to go around and past them like “The Flash.”

Along with fellow tight ends Arik Gilbert, Oscar Delp, Ryland Goede and Brett Seither, the position has accounted for nine catches for 161 yards for the Bulldogs. Remarkably, it has not resulted in pay dirt. Georgia’s tight ends have yet to get into the end zone.

That’s OK to the Bulldogs, however. The tight ends have had plenty to do with others scoring touchdowns. For reference, see the Bulldogs’ first score of the year. Ladd McConkey’s TD on a flanker reverse against Oregon featured Bowers clearing the way by blocking a defender not just all the way to the end zone, but out of the field play.

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Versatility is what Georgia loves about its tight ends. They can be utilized many different ways. Last year, Bowers established a school records for receptions (56) and receiving yards (882) by a tight end and for scoring by any receiver (13 TDs, 14 including a rush).

Washington, meanwhile, was out of the loop for much of last season’s national championship campaign. He missed five games with a preseason foot injury and never really reached full speed until the December playoff run. He finished with nine catches for 145 yards and touchdown.

But Washington already has four catches, and he’s averaging 16.5 yards per reception. When he’s not hauling in Stetson Bennett passes, he is moving defenders out of the way for Georgia’s other offensive playmakers. Washington is a devastating blocker. At 270 pounds, he gives the Bulldogs a third tackle on the field whenever he’s in the game.

“You’re not going to find another tight end that is that size in the SEC that is that physical,” said Broderick Jones, Georgia’s starting left tackle. “Darnell’s a great guy, an amazing football player, just huge. He loves contact, and he’s going to go after it every time. Every time he gets a chance, he’s going to take your head off.”

The Bulldogs plan to unleash their tight ends Saturday against South Carolina. Coincidentally, they’ll be facing one of their former tight end coaches in Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer. He has a full appreciation for what Georgia is doing with them in its offense.

“Offensively, you see them using the tight ends with Washington and Bowers and Gilbert,” Beamer said this week. “The way they roll those three guys in there makes them very multiple.”

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ESPN’s Alex Scarborough did a deep dive this week into the way Georgia is utilizing its tight ends. In that article, coach Kirby Smart explains the Bulldogs infatuation with the position.

“In basketball, the center is gone; everybody’s a guard,” Smart said. “Well, in football the evolution is everybody’s a pass-catcher. So, what does everybody draft in the NBA? The 6-10 guy that can play guard. So, we’re looking for the 6-6 guy that can play receiver and tight end.”

It’s working well so far. Though two games represent only a tiny sample size, Georgia’s offense an SEC-best 7.66 yards per play.

While tight ends have played a big part in that, it’s not just them. In total, 16 different players have caught passes from Bennett so far. That includes a team-high 14 for 178 yards for running back Kenny McIntosh, who is second in the SEC in receptions.

For Bowers, that has meant fewer touches, so far at least. Not only has he not yet scored a touchdown, he hasn’t led the Bulldogs in receiving yet. That’s something he did in 10 of 15 games last season, including the first two.

Alas, Bowers is not sweating it.

“I feel good about it,” Bowers said. “I’m just trying to make plays when my number is called and just do my job out there. I like where we are as an offense, just being able to distribute the ball to all the different dudes on our offense. There are so many good dudes, so many playmakers, on our team.”

Some of them hurdle defenders, others don’t even try.

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