Notebook: Tight end numbers much lower than expected

Anthony Dasher, Editor
GA Varsity
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Radi Nabulsi

Entering the year, the consensus was that Georgia’s tight ends would play an integral role in the Bulldogs’ passing plans.

Three games into the season, the wait continues.

Heading into Saturday’s contest against Mississippi State (7 p.m., ESPN), Bulldog tight ends have combined for just six catches between them, with sophomore Isaac Nauta having only three after grabbing 29 receptions his freshman year.

So, what’s up?

“We are just trying to win games and we are winning games; however we need to do that, that’s where our head is at,” senior Jeb Blazevich said. “Obviously, when we called those passing routes, it is up to us to get open and, if not, get other guys open. As long as our passing game as a whole is doing well and we are able to contribute to that, then that’s all we care about.”

Nevertheless, the lack of catches is somewhat puzzling considering the talent on hand, specifically Nauta, a preseason member of the All-SEC first team.

Kirby Smart was asked specifically about the lack of catches by his tight ends during Monday’s press conference.

"I always redirect all that to what is the performance of those guys. Are they blocking well? Are they doing the things they have to do?” Smart said. “Are they able to open up play-action? At the end of the day, you kind of get how you practice.”

Although he didn’t offer specifics, Smart hinted the lack of opportunities does indeed correlate with how players practice during the week.

“Guys practice the right way, they play physical, they block, then they usually get rewarded because our run game is better, the play-action game is better,” Smart said. “If they don't do those things, we usually don't have a lot of success. We have some improvement in that area, and we have to play better in that area."

Offensive line update

Although no changes are projected for Georgia’s starting offensive line for Saturday’s game against Mississippi State, Smart admitted there will continue to be weekly tweaking to ensure the best five are getting the opportunity to play.

"I think you're always tweaking. I think you're always looking for the best players. We have who we have. We try to get what we have better. I think that's an area that obviously we can improve on. Each guy that's played has done some good things. Kendall Baker has shown some good things, has some mishaps. Same with Pat Allen. Solomon (Kindley) is getting more steady in there. He has to continue to improve. He gives us something that we don't have, but we only have kind of so many options. You got to use the options you got best. We'll continue looking at guys across the board. Some guys may get some looks at guard."

Whether freshmen Isaiah Wilson and Netori Johnson are included in Smart’s thought process is not yet known.

Wilson, who continues to practice at left tackle and Johnson, who has been at right guard, have yet to see action in three games.

Stanley gets special teams props

Smart singled out wide receiver Jayson Stanley for the work he’s done on the Bulldogs’ kickoff and punt coverage teams.

"I don't think people give Jayson Stanley enough credit. If you go back and watch the tape, the guy has been dominant in coverage, like kickoff and punt. Now, fortunately with the ability of our specialists to kick it higher, deeper, longer, hang time, he's getting to show those skill sets.”

The numbers are fairly amazing.

Opponents are averaging minus-1 yards on four returns off punts by Cameron Nizialek, who is averaging 44.3 yards on 15 attempts. Meanwhile, kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is 3-for-4 on field goal attempts and last week put all seven of his kickoffs either into or through the end zone for touchbacks.

“They're also making it where we don't know what the coverage unit does because they haven't had to cover. They're covering, but the balls aren't coming out. I like that just as much,” Smart said. “Rod (Blankenship) has done a tremendous job. I can't say kickoff coverage we're a lot better than last year because Rod has kicked the ball out of the end zone. That's a great problem to have. You get to find out more when one comes out. Then punt coverage, done a good job of bombing it. Jayson has been all over it. We've had several fair catches. Those coverage units, we've worked hard on them. I think they're improved, but they don't get tested as much as they used to.”

This and that

Dawg Walk is set for 4:45 … This weekend’s broadcast team for ESPN will be Joe Tessitore (play by play), Todd Blackledge (color) and Holly Rowe (sideline).

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