Originally created 08/28/99

Tight ends could make an impact



ATHENS -- The Georgia football media guide lists 55 "Georgia Greats" of the past, from punter Chip Andrews to quarterback Eric Zeier. Nowhere in between is a tight end.

While the Bulldogs have long been known for churning out kickers and tailbacks, they don't have a history of producing top-level tight ends. But that may be changing.

It started with Larry Brown and Jermaine Wiggins, last year's senior duo who combined to catch 54 passes for 687 yards before moving on to the NFL rookie free agent ranks. Now come Jevaris Johnson and Randy McMichael, two guys very few people have heard of because they have very little game experience, but who expect to make a serious impact for the Bulldogs this fall.

Georgia isn't about to tone down the heavy emphasis it places on tight ends just because two relative rookies will be holding down the position this year, but that doesn't bother these two.

"I like that, I like the pressure on," said McMichael. "Because I think all eyes are on me and Jevaris to make everybody forget about Larry and Wiggins, and I think we will."

Johnson and McMichael are an unusual pair in that both have been around for a while, but neither has much meaningful game experience. Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 258-pound junior from Anniston, Ala., redshirted in 1996 and didn't see the field in '97, then played in seven games as a reserve and on special teams last season, catching two passes.

McMichael's road has been even more bizarre. The 6-3, 223-pound Peach County product played in the 1997 season opener against Arkansas State, but suffered a thumb injury and was granted a medical redshirt. He was expected to play a major role as a backup and on special teams last season, but tore his anterior cruciate ligament during an August scrimmage and was lost for the year. Because of the back-to-back injuries, the NCAA granted McMichael a sixth year of eligibility, so he enters this fall as a third-year freshman.

The injuries have done nothing but motivate McMichael, who was miserable throughout last season.

"Last year was real hard on me, I don't know how I got through last season," he said. "Every time the team would leave on Friday, I would cry, wishing I was with them. It hurt going to the games and seeing them playing and knowing I could be out there helping them."

Instead, the snaps that would have gone to McMichael went to Johnson. The two are close friends, and have been since the day they met, so Johnson was sympathetic to McMichael's plight.

"At first he was real down," said Johnson. "But I'm glad he came back like he did, he came back like a champ."

Now, the two are together again. And, much like their predecessors, they are increasingly being mentioned as a singular entity -- Johnson and McMichael, McMichael and Johnson. The best thing about that is, the pair has received universally positive reviews during the preseason.

"Randy and Jevaris have had stellar fall camps," said Georgia coach Jim Donnan. "I was concerned about the fact that we lost two tight ends, and having that excellent knowledge of the system and all that, but these guys have been waiting in the wings -- and that's the way it should be if you have a good program, you should have people ready to step up. I was concerned if they were going to be able to play like they looked in practice and they've done that. Right now, we're not missing a beat there at tight end."

Part of the reason for that is Johnson and McMichael's complementary styles. Johnson, who will be the starter if Georgia goes out in a one-tight end set, has a definite height advantage, while McMichael is built more like a receiver -- not that he is necessarily the better receiver of the two; Johnson says he has better hands.

"But Randy, his routes are better than mine," said Johnson. "As far as blocking, I feel like we're on an even keel as far as that goes. We're kind of in the same mold as far as the things we do at tight end."

They're the same way off the field. Johnson says McMichael can be "hot-tempered" at times, so Johnson has to settle him down, while McMichael helps Johnson get pumped up when the need arises. They aren't roommates, but they might as well be.

"We're always together," laughed McMichael. "Somebody said today, `Y'all are like Siamese twins' -- we have class together, we're always together, he's one of my best friends."

And the two are determined to leave their mark on Georgia football, to make sure fans don't spend the season pining for Brown and Wiggins. Theirs isn't a high-profile position, as they will be quick to point out and the Georgia media guide will confirm, but they don't intend to play in anonymity.

"It seems like now, people are kind of spreading the offense out, using the tight ends more, it gives you more opportunities," said Johnson. "When I was growing up, you didn't hear much about tight ends -- it's not a glamorous position -- so I'm happy to see us getting more publicity. Like the guy up at Louisville (preseason All-American Ibn Green), people like that really bring attention to the position and help us out a lot, guys like us who don't really have a name yet."