Charlie Woerner caught a pass down the seam during Georgia’s G-Day spring game, broke a tackle, dodged a defender and sprinted toward the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown.
Woerner’s play out of the slot was just a glimpse of what could be an increase in usage at the position in 2017. And that’s something Georgia fans would like to see. In February, head coach Kirby Smart made an appearance at the Macon Touchdown Club and took questions from the crowd. One attendee asked if there would be an effort to use the tight ends more in 2017.
Smart, after some playful joking, said itis a legitimate concern and that he hopes to get more out of the group this coming season.
Given who is on the roster, Georgia should be in good shape at the position. But it remains to be seen if the Georgia coaches, and the surrounding cast of players, are able to get the tight ends the ball more often.
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Coming out of the spring, here is a look at where the tight ends stand.
Post-spring depth chart
Tight end: Isaac Nauta, Jeb Blazevich, Woerner, Jackson Harris, Jordan Davis
Those on the way
Georgia did not sign a tight end in its recruiting class of 2017. One wasn't necessarily needed since Nauta, Woerner and Harris are expected to be back in 2018.
That stated, with Blazevich and Davis graduating after this season, recruiting the position will be important for the class of 2018.
Georgia is targeting Marist tight end John FitzPatrick in its 2018 class and has also extended an offer to 2019 prospect Ryland Goede.
With what Georgia has on the roster now, however, the Bulldogs will be fine without having an incoming recruit at the position. But securing one in each of the next classes will be vital.
Although it has been said over the past three years without much of an increase, Georgia could see a big jump in its tight end usage in 2017.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has done a fine job at previous stops using the tight end in the passing game. Last year, however, the tight end wasn't a major part Chaney's plan. A lot of that can be attributed to the reliance on the run game and Isaiah McKenzie being Georgia's go-to target at receiver.
With both Nauta and Woerner in the fold, that could change. Both of the sophomore tight ends spent time working out of the slot receiver position during spring practice. Nauta proved himself as a receiving threat in 2016 with 29 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns. This was highlighted by a 50-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against Tennessee.
Woerner dealt with a learning curve at the position in 2016, considering he played almost every other skill position in high school. But at 6-foot-5 and 251 pounds, Woerner provides a mismatch against smaller cornerbacks and slower linebackers. Of anyone in the position group, Woerner could be in for the biggest production increase.
While Nauta and Woerner are the top two passing-game threats at tight end, Blazevich and Harris should provide some solid in-line blocking. But both of them have shown in the past they can go out and be productive pass-catchers when given the opportunity.
The tight ends only combined for 485 yards a year ago. That number should increase quite a bit in 2017.
Georgia figures to rely on its running game quite a bit this season. But the passing game should see an uptick as quarterback Jacob Eason continues his progression in his second year as a starter.
Eason threw for 2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions as a freshman. Those numbers figure to rise and the tight ends should play an important role in doing so. With McKenzie gone to the NFL, Georgia’s top two returning receivers are Terry Godwin (397 yards) and Nauta. With Nauta and Woerner expected to see playing time in the slot, an important part of Chaney’s offense, the targets, receptions and yardage totals should naturally rise.
More importantly, however, will be the tight ends’ development in the run game. In most games, Georgia will look to pound the ball with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield. In doing so, the tight ends will play an important role in edge blocking.
If the tight ends can aid an improving offensive line in this department, the Bulldogs should be able to showcase a much more balanced offense in 2017.