We begin our position-by-position preview of the 2023 Georgia Bulldogs with a group that has contributed as much as any other to Red and Black dominance over the past two seasons, Coach Todd Hartley’s tight ends.
A Battleship Sails Slowly Into The Distance….
Georgia experienced something of a mini-exodus from the tight end room following the 2022 season with the loss of Ryland Goede (transfer to Mississippi State), Brett Seither (transfer to Georgia Tech), and Arik Gilbert (transfer to Nebraska).
And while losing half the position room in one offseason sounds bad, the damage from those losses was minimal. Less than minimal, really. More like minuscule. In 2022 Gilbert was the only one of the trio who caught a pass (he caught two of them, in fact). While it would have been nice to have those veterans back, and there’s every reason to think they might have been bigger contributors in 2023, these are not concerns that likely keep Kirby Smart up at night.
However the sailing of the USS Darnell Washington up the coast to Pittsburgh is another matter. Washington’s 28 receptions for 454 yards and 2 touchdowns last season will be missed. But as anyone who watched the Athenians try to run the ball when he wasn’t on the field will attest, his blocking will be missed even more. Not to mention the attention he drew down on the goal line that often allowed Stetson Bennett to make easy throws to less towering targets.
Replacing Washington’s unique size and skill set isn’t possible. There’s just not a guy on the roster who runs like a deer and blocks like an elephant. But patching over the Darnell Washington shaped hole will be Todd Hartley’s biggest challenge in 2023.
Champagne Problems, Straight From Napa Valley
That being said, it’s not like Coach Hartley is going to be dragging players in off the street. He does still have arguably the best player in college football returning. I say “arguably” mainly because a truly committed imbecile can argue about anything. And someone who argues with you that Brock Bowers is not the best returning player in college football is a definite candidate for derision.
The numbers are just shocking. In 30 games as a Bulldog Bowers has caught 119 passes for a staggering 1824 yards and an even more astonishing 20 touchdowns. He’s also scored 4 times on the ground. The numbers are all the more amazing because in 2022 Bowers wasn’t a secret. Everyone in America, including SEC defensive coordinators knew he was coming. They just couldn’t do anything about it.
It’s safe to say this is the last year we’ll have Brock Bowers to moon over in Athens. But thank goodness we have this year. How could Bowers improve on his sophomore campaign? The word out of Athens is that he’s put considerable effort into getting stronger and adding good weight without losing speed. That sounds….unfair.
Delp! I need somebody! Not just anybody!
Behind Bowers the Bulldogs likely have another star at the position. I can say that confidently even if I can’t tell you exactly who it is. Because while the Bulldog tight end room lost some veteran presence this offseason it has a lot of youthful potential. Oscar Delp returns for his sophomore season after appearing in 13 games in 2022. While he only notched 5 catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, it was enough to confirm that the 6’5, 245 pound Cumming native could be the next big thing among the Bulldogs’ big pass catchers.
There’s also a talented pair of freshmen, both Bulldog legacies, who should see the field early and often. Lawson Luckie came in as the #2 rated tight end in the class of 2023, and had a himself a nice spring, snagging 3 passes for 48 yards on G Day, and earned praise from the staff for his aggression in the blocking game. At 6’3, 235 pounds Luckie is certainly more in the Orson Charles style of Bulldog tight end, a combo player who can split out or play H-back. With his versatility and ball skills I have a hard time imagining he’s not on the field early and often.
Fellow freshman Pearce Spurlin also enrolled early but had a less pleasant spring in the Classic City. The #5 rated tight end in the 247Sports rankings suffered a broken collarbone early in spring practice and required surgery to repair it. He was back however for most of the summer, and has bulked up to a hearty 6’7, 245 pounds. As he continues to develop I see him moving into something of a John FitzPatrick mold, a versatile player who can block in line and also be a big target down the seam and on the goal line.
The Bottom Line
Georgia is going to be better than fine at tight end this season so long as Brock Bowers stays healthy. Given that he’s not missed a game in two seasons despite playing a lot of snaps, I have a real fear of regression to the mean with that. If our California Dream is hampered, this unit goes from the best in the country to merely very good.
The other curious question will be how the group is utilized by new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Anyone who has followed Bobo’s career arc knows that the guy loves him some innovative use of the tight end. To the extent that Georgia is reputed to be “Tight End U”, Bobo has as much to do with the title as anyone.
In fact, everyone’s favorite Michael Stipe impersonating Thomasvillian is reported to have been one of the architects of Georgia’s short yardage offense in 2022, which made phenomenal use of this unit in short yardage situation. It will be interesting to see whether and to what extent he tries to get Bowers free using different looks, and how the rotation of the younger tight ends shakes out.
One Reckless Prediction
My one reckless prediction for this group is that Brock Bowers’ production will decrease slightly this season. That’s not because he’s any worse a player. It’s that the Bulldogs have a ton of talent at wide receiver and an offensive line that appears built to run the dang ball. Not to mention a schedule that may have him on the bench by halftime in a full third of games. He’ll still be #19 on the field, #1 in our hearts, and among the top 15 selections in the 2024 NFL Draft. Until later…