Kirby Smart thought at least for a moment that he was getting off easy with questions from the Georgia fans in attendance of this year’s Macon Touchdown Club jamboree.
“Man, y’all are soft this year,” Smart quipped after taking a couple of questions about Georgia’s running backs and its 2017 schedule.
Then, almost on cue, came a question about the Bulldogs’ usage of their tight ends during the 2016 season.
The exchange, with Smart playing along in a joking manner, went like this:
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Fan: “Your offensive coordinator (Jim Chaney), he came with the ability to use his tight ends a lot. Will you use the tight ends more this year?”
Smart: “You didn’t think we used them enough last year? OK, let me write that down.”
Smart’s response drew laughter from the crowd.
Smart: “What’s your name again?”
More laughter ensued. Smart obviously was being facetious. By the end of his answer he acknowledged agreement with it.
Smart said he would like Georgia’s tight ends to become more involved on offense. But two things kept the Bulldogs’ tight ends from flourishing on the stat sheet. Georgia’s emphasis was making the running-game the staple of its attack. And the tight ends, themselves, needed to improve to the point where they could be relied upon as major players on offense.
“I want to use the tight ends. We all want to use the tight ends,” Smart said. “But you have to use your best players. So that should tell you something. We’re going to try and put the best 11 out there. When there are two tight ends out there, there is usually one back. We’ve got two pretty good backs (Nick Chubb, Sony Michel). Sometimes, we might think three (Brian Herrien). And we have another good one (D’Andre Swift), we think, coming.”
Smart also inferred that the advent of the spread offense’s usage of what those teams consider tight ends may not mean the same thing at Georgia. While spread teams use split out slender tight ends to mostly act as receivers, Smart said Georgia is looking for its tight ends to be able to block and catch.
“When it comes to tight ends, they got to be able to block, and they’ve got to be able to block physically,” Smart said. “They have to be able to run after the catch. And all of them are working hard to get better. Now, the multiple tight end sets you see a lot of teams run more and more, a lot of those guys aren’t tight ends — they’re receivers. They’re receivers who get to 220, 230 (pounds), and you call them tight ends. They should be wideouts. Our guys are 245, 250.”
Smart said he’s hopeful to see growth in his tight ends now that they’ll be in the second year of Chaney’s system.
He also singled out a particular tight end at the jamboree for the second consecutive year, with hopes he will make a substantial leap in 2017.
“I said last year at this time I was excited to see Charlie Woerner. He’s a young guy who I think will be an exciting player for us when he figures it out,” Smart said. “And of course (Isaac) Nauta had a good year. We’ll use them, Jeb (Blazevich), Jackson (Harris) and Jordan (Davis), all those guys, any way we can.”
Nauta was Georgia’s leading receiving target at the tight end position, catching 29 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. He had a long touchdown of 50 yards in Georgia’s loss to Tennessee. But otherwise, targets were few to Georgia’s tight ends. Blazevich caught only six passes for 69 yards, and Woerner only had five grabs for 50 yards. Harris only had one reception for five yards.
This is certainly area Georgia would like more production out of.
And therefore, when coming full circle to the fan’s premise of the question, Smart concluded his answer with an affirmation.
“I’m in total agreement with you,” Smart said.