On the wall of Georgia’s tight ends meeting room, Aron White had already listed a set of goals for the upcoming season. The notes may be expanded as the offseason moves ahead, Figgins said, but they won’t be erased. After a year in which the position virtually disappeared from Georgia’s offense, this year’s tight ends are focused on redemption.
“We look at them every day,” Figgins said of White’s list of goals. “Me and Aron, we constantly talk about how we plan on contributing to the offense this year. We aren’t going to be overlooked this year.”
The notion that the tight end could disappear from the playbook seemed like an absurd notion a year ago. During the previous decade, Georgia had established itself as a factory for top talent at the position, with players like Daniel Graham, Ben Watson and Leonard Pope dominating SEC defenses before moving on to become major contributors in the NFL.
The trend came to a screeching halt last season, however, for myriad reasons. Injuries on the offensive line increased the reliance on the tight end as a blocker. Meanwhile, njuries to the tight ends left the depth chart particularly thin, while Georgia’s offense featured numerous playmakers at other positions.
Regardless of the excuses for the diminished production, however, Figgins knows a large share of the blame falls to himself and his fellow tight ends, who failed to prove they deserved their share of passes on game day.
“That’s our biggest thing – we want to get the ball in our hands,” said Figgins, who caught two passes for 32 yards in 2008. “We’re doing everything to prepare ourselves and not giving them an excuse to not want to come to the tight ends or not see us as dependable.”
Figgins was among the walking wounded last season, suffering a severe shoulder injury midway through the season that eventually required surgery. White dealt with some nagging injuries last year, too, but managed to lead the team in receiving yards with 88. White didn’t play more than a handful of snaps until Georgia’s sixth game of the season and caught just three passes, but two went for touchdowns.
Senior Tripp Chandler was supposed to be the anchor at the position, but he battled numerous injuries and managed just five receptions all season. Chandler struggled with dropped passes early in the season, too, and after the Bulldogs’ Week 3 win at South Carolina, he was rarely targeted.
The 10 total catches by tight ends in 2008 was less than half what Chandler totaled by himself the previous year when he was third on the team in receiving, and White said he is determined to turn the tight ends back into a weapon in the passing game.
“All the goals can be brought back in to being dependable and being a guy the team can look to,” White said. “We want to prove to (offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo that he can build us into the passing game.”
White has a number of catches he wants the position to make during the year. He wants to eliminate drops. He wants to prove the tight ends can be relied upon to make key blocks against the opposition’s pass rushers. White said his list of goals is fairly simple, but he hopes his fellow tight ends can build on it as the offseason progresses.
While the aspirations are simple, achieving them won’t be. Figgins won’t participate in spring practice while he recovers from his shoulder surgery, leaving White as the only experienced tight end left on the roster.
The lack of depth has given White the motivation to set bigger goals for himself off the field as well. Entering his third year with the team, he said he hopes to be more of a leader for freshman Bryce Ros, who redshirted a year ago, and Arthur Lynch, a four-star recruit who will report to Athens this summer.
“I really feel like I’m a guy who’s been in the system now for a while and the coaches can look to me to know what’s going on, to lead as an example,” White said. “I’m just trying to take more of a leadership role in the tight ends.”
For now, however, both White and Figgins know that talk is cheap. This offseason is about proving themselves to tight ends coach John Lilly and Georgia’s playcallers.
The tradition of exceptional tight-end play sets a lofty standard, Figgins said, but it’s one he and his fellow Bulldogs must re-establish every year.
“Coach Lilly is setting the bar high,” Figgins said. “I’m setting the bar high for myself, and we’re all just motivating each other.”