Which player on offense could Georgia least afford to lose this season?
Yes, the discussion pretty much starts and stops with Nick Chubb. I’d put Malcolm Mitchell up there too.
But in terms of Georgia’s offensive identity, the running back position is still fairly deep. Productivity would reasonably fall without Chubb (knock wood), but I could see the approach remaining the same. I’m thinking more in terms of which players the coaches need in order to run what they want to run.
We’ve read more this offseason about the possible role of the tight end in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. The Dawgs targeted big, tall targets in the 2016 recruiting class including Garrett Walston and Charlie Woerner, and they might be back in the picture for the nation’s top HS tight end, Isaac Nauta. Georgia is placing an emphasis on the position in recruiting, and Schottenheimer won’t waste much time involving the current tight ends in his offense. With that in mind, I tend to focus in on Jay Rome.
Rome, now a senior, was as much a part of that heralded 2011 class as Malcolm Mitchell or Ray Drew. Rome made an impact right away as a freshman with 11 catches, 152 yards, and touchdowns against both Tech and Alabama. But that promising freshman campaign remains his most productive. Much like Mitchell, another key veteran in 2015, injuries have derailed Rome’s attempts to top that freshman season. And again like Mitchell, Rome is as healthy as he’s been. More important, Rome’s had time to regain the conditioning and strength that were missing last year in the wake of his injury.
With a healthy and conditioned Rome, Georgia is deep at tight end. He and Blazevich have starting experience. Jordan Davis has paid his dues and showed at G-Day that he won’t be lost in the new offense. Jackson Harris might be a true freshman, but he was an early enrollee who went through spring and was among the top 10 high school tight ends a year ago. Quayvon Hicks(*) is now in his second season at the position. It’s not hard to imagine some effective multiple TE combinations from that group.
Without Rome, the picture changes. The position becomes much younger. Though Hicks and Davis are upperclassmen, they’re very much unproven. Harris is a true freshman. Blazevich had a fantastic freshman season but is still only entering his second season. Can he carry a position from which much more is expected this season? There is still depth, but you start to wonder if the group behind Blazevich is ready for a multiple tight end look to be a regular and dependable part of Georgia’s offensive approach. With Rome, you’re much more comfortable with a younger or less-experienced player being used situationally.
For their own sakes, I really hope Rome, Mitchell, and also Keith Marshall can put their injuries and frustrations behind them and enjoy some personal success as seniors. If Georgia plans on using the tight end position to compensate for a thin group of receivers and a newcomer at quarterback, it would be much more difficult, if not impossible, without a healthy Jay Rome.
(*) – Hicks. Barrels of ink and enough bytes to fill a server farm were spilled last August with the news that Hicks was moving to H-back. Oh, the possibilities. I don’t think many of us expected he’d have fewer receptions as an H-back than he did in 2013 as a fullback. Maybe I’m still numb from his adventures on the kick return team, but Hicks is another player who can really change his legacy at Georgia with a productive senior year.