Quarterbacks matter. So do tailbacks and wideouts. But for Georgia this season, a tight end has really mattered.
Brock Bowers, a freshman from California’s wine country, has been Georgia’s most productive receiver, tallying 846 yards entering Monday’s game. His star power reflects Georgia’s spate of injuries this year, as well as the evolution of the tight end position in the college game.
No longer largely relegated to the anonymity of blocking, today’s college tight ends can be among the most fearsome receivers on the field, with their towering heights and surprising speeds creating defensive heartburn. They are often receivers who later master blocking, not mere extensions of the offensive line who are abruptly tutored in the art of catching passes.
“Your tight ends 10 years ago, they put their hand in the ground and ran a few routes here and there,” said the University of South Carolina’s head coach, Shane Beamer, who formerly presided over Georgia’s tight ends. “Now all the tight ends nowadays, they basically do what receivers do — and then they block a little bit.”
When Georgia Coach Kirby Smart was a senior defensive back in Athens in 1998, the Bulldogs had two of the SEC’s five most productive tight ends. Those five averaged 300 receiving yards each that season.
This season’s quintet of elite SEC tight ends averaged 537 receiving yards each.
Bowers, of course, leads them.
“He’ll play the Z, the Y, the X, the move guy, the down guy,” said Mike Macdonald, Michigan’s defensive coordinator. “They’ll give it to him on reverses, screens.”
Pete Golding, Alabama’s defensive coordinator, said the Crimson Tide needed to take care to avoid predictability in its approach to Bowers, who wears No. 19.
“You’ve got to be able to mix it up and double them sometimes and bang him, play some zone, get some bigger guys on him sometimes if the push-off is an issue,” said Golding, who suggested that no team playing Georgia could afford to “design everything to take 19 away because they’re going to hurt you somewhere else.”