The tight ends’ modest numbers in the passing game last season for Georgia didn’t discourage John FitzPatrick from following through with his commitment and signing with the Bulldogs.
“There’s no complaints about how the tight ends are used,” FitzPatrick said. “They have three tight end sets, two tight end sets. They’re on the field so you’re a block-first tight end and if you’re doing well blocking, then they’re going to use you in the passing game.”
Georgia’s tight ends combined for 22 catches for 245 yards and two touchdowns last season.
That’s less catches than 51 tight ends individually had this past season nationally, according to statistics listed at CBSSports.com.
Georgia’s Isaac Nauta had 29 for 361 yards and three touchdowns in 2016 when he was named a freshman All-American but had just nine for 114 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore last season even with the Bulldogs playing two more games. Sophomore Charlier Woerner also had nine catches for 100 yards.
“That’s one ball out there,” offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. “I tell those kids that at the beginning of the season. One person is going to like me and the rest ain’t going to like me. That’s just kind of the way it is. I think it’s just …how we unfolded and the identity we took on and we went with it.”
Chaney will enter his third season as Georgia’s offensive coordinator but the Bulldogs lost tight ends coach Shane Beamer, who left for Oklahoma. Coach Kirby Smart has not said who will coach the tight ends but FitzPatrick said Chaney will be more “hands-on” at the position.
“Next year, who knows, might be back to being a multiple tight end,” Chaney said before the Rose Bowl. “We still use multiple tight ends, just not throwing the ball as much as we have. When we do, it’s productive. We just haven’t felt the need to do that.”
Jeb Blazevich saw his catches decrease each year at Georgia from 18 to 15 to six to two.
Georgia went from 8-5 in 2016 to 13-2 last season when it lost in overtime in the national championship with an offense that thrived with a rushing attack led by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and an efficient passing game with freshman quarterback Jake Fromm.
“We’ve been used more heavily in the run game,” Blazevich said. “I think that’s a big staple in our offense, so we take great pride in that. But obviously we’d love to catch some passes here and there.”
While Blazevich’s college career is over, Georgia also returns senior Jackson Harris and signed , 252-pound four-star tight end Luke Ford from Cartervile, Ill.
FitzPatrick is listed at 6-6 and 230 pounds but said he’s up 245 pounds.
“I think I’m done growing, hopefully, I’m growing out more,” he said. “Growing wider, just thicker, faster.”
He said coaches haven’t given him a designated weight but just want him to get bigger as fast as possible.
FitzPatrick, a three-star rated prospect, played in a triple-option offense at Marist where he had 26 catches for 388 yards and three touchdowns as a senior.
He said he can “go up and catch the ball,” but also has shown he can block in the run-oriented offense.
“I had about five targets a game so we definitely expanded our offense this year,” he said.
Even without many catches, Georgia’s tight ends presented their problems for opponents.
“You know, we don’t play anyone like this,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said before the Rose Bowl. “You know, that comes at you with two tight ends, you know, downhill. Some of their 11 personnel stuff is what we see week-in, week-out. Different groupings they are in present different challenges. I think that’s probably their greatest improvement.”