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Post A 2015 solution to a 2019 problem

Sunday February 3, 2019

Few positions took a bigger hit from attrition than tight end. Jackson Harris will graduate, Isaac Nauta declared for the NFL Draft, and Luke Ford transferred. That leaves Georgia with three scholarship tight ends: rising senior Charlie Woerner, redshirt freshman John FitzPatrick who saw action as a reserve in two games in 2018, and incoming freshman Ryland Goede who is recovering from a major knee injury. “12” personnel (two tight ends with one tailback) was a popular set under Jim Chaney, and it figures to remain that way going forward. Without a fullback in the scheme, tight ends had arguably a larger role as blockers than as receivers in Georgia’s system.

Georgia continues to recruit the position, and there’s a strong possibility that another tight end could be added during the late signing period. We should know by now that Kirby Smart will beat the bushes right up through the start of the season to improve the roster with transfers and unsigned players, so the tight end position is likely to remain fluid through the summer if scholarship numbers allow.

Are there other ways to add to tight end depth? In 2015 Aulden Bynum was a redshirt sophomore more or less buried on the offensive line depth chart. The 2015 Florida game might be remembered for a certain infamous change to the starting lineup, but Bynum also became another first-time starter in that game when he lined up at tight end. He saw action at TE in a couple of games as Georgia looked more to power running and wildcat plays late in the 2015 season when the TE depth situation wasn’t much better than it is now. The move wasn’t permanent: with the arrival of Nauta in 2016, Bynum returned to the mix along the offensive line.

Is using an offensive lineman as a tight end an option in 2019? Relative to most positions on the team, the offensive line is fairly flush. The 2018 season tested that depth, but there was still enough wiggle room to move Netori Johnson to the defensive line. Even if we ignore the tight end’s receiving role and focus on specific formations and situations, it’s not so simple as six offensive linemen versus five lineman plus a tight end. Tight end motion is a staple of Georgia’s offense – even the most famous play of the Kirby Smart era started with TE motion. The placement of the tight end usually matches them up against quicker defensive ends or linebackers. There’s a certain agility required of the TE even in power sets that might be asking too much of many skilled linemen.

There might already be a candidate on the roster. Tackles are often asked to deal with the same edge defenders as tight ends. Cade Mays stood out for his versatility and readiness even as a true freshman. Most of us remember him stepping in for Andrew Thomas at South Carolina, filling the right guard spot after Ben Cleveland’s injury, and even dealing with his own ailments as the season took its toll. But before that injury to Thomas sent the line into scramble mode, Mays split time in the first two games wearing the #42 jersey working as, you guessed it, a blocking H-back or tight end.

Georgia’s starting line, save the center position, seems set. Thomas and Wilson should hold down the tackle spots. Cleveland will be back. With so much talent on the line, it’s always possible that someone shakes up the depth chart. Assuming the starters hold their jobs, how does Mays get on the field apart from injuries or rotating in as a reserve? Mays’s importance as a lineman means that a return of the #42 jersey would have to be extremely limited, but that’s all the team would need.

There are a ton of variables: how many tight ends will be added between now and August? Is there even scholarship room to add more than one more? Are there any viable walk-on candidates? Will Goede be in a position to contribute early? That’s a lot still to sort out, and I don’t see using Mays or any other lineman as anything but a last-ditch stopgap solution. I fully expect Georgia to add a true tight end to the roster either as a signee or transfer. Because Kirby Smart is much more aggressive with his roster management, I don’t expect the team to turn to a solution that made sense in 2015. Still, we know how important blocking is to the downhill rushing attack favored by Smart, and multiple tight ends are often a big part of that blocking scheme. I don’t expect to see Mays or other linemen running TE seam routes, but I also won’t be surprised to see some creativity in personnel up front if better solutions don’t present themselves in the offseason.

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