ATHENS — “Feed the fire.”
According to Charlie Woerner, that’s the new catch phrase in Georgia’s tight end meeting room. It came from the new boss of that room, first-year assistant Todd Hartley. It’s a mentality that Hartley’s charges seem to have truly embraced.
Woerner, a senior tight end and the appointed leader in that room, did his best to explain the concept following the Bulldogs’ two-hour practice Monday at Woodruff Practice Fields.
“It’s about always fighting the disease within and the sinful nature we humans have anyway,” Woerner said. “It’s about being selfless in that room, being one for the team and all that. He’s brings a ‘feed-the-fire attitude’ and we give it our all every day, for him and for each other.”
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If Woerner sounds bought in, he is. And he should be. As the only tight end on the roster with anything approaching real game-day experience, he’s going to be counted on to lead the position group in every way possible.
Whether Georgia passes or runs the ball, the tight ends are heavily involved. Coach Kirby Smart long ago moved away from fullbacks to tight ends and/or H-backs as the point-of-attack, primary blockers in the zone-read game. Meanwhile, as the Bulldogs have long proven, they also like to utilize tight ends in the passing game at the most opportune moments. About the time linebackers and defensive backs go to sleep on them as receiving targets — boom! — they slip out into the flat or down the seam for big plays.
The last three seasons, Isaac Nauta was the primary recipient of such plays. But Smart and offensive coordinator James Coley maintain that Woerner can be every bit as effective in that role.
“We have Charlie in a lot of different situations, wearing multiple hats and just seeing how much he can do,” Coley said. “I think Charlie has a really good skill set. I think who he is as a person makes him a better competitor because he wants to be that good.”
Coley knows a thing or two about utilizing tight ends. They were heavily involved in offenses he coordinated at Miami, with Chris Herndon, David Njoku and Clive Walford all putting up good numbers, and Florida State, where Nick O’Leary earned national acclaim.
“Those guys are all different and Charlie is probably a bigger guy than most of those guys,” Coley said. “I think Charlie has the right mindset. ... We are going to see where he’s at towards the end of camp. We know who he is as a person and we know how he competes.”
Woerner, for one, is eager to prove it.
Heading into his final season, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound former decathlete has only 23 career catches for 271 yards and zero touchdowns. Getting that first score is a big priority for him this season.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Woerner, who led the Bulldogs with a 90-percent catch rate last season. “I don’t feel any pressure or anything. I’ve always been working and grinding to be in that position. There are a lot guys in the tight end room who can fill that spot, so we’re all looking forward to it.”
When Woerner says “all,” there really aren’t that many to choose from. Losing the junior Nauta and the senior Jackson Harris to the NFL and freshman Luke Ford to transfer left the Bulldogs a little light in numbers. Redshirt freshman John FitzPatrick was the only other returnee and Georgia signed Ryland Goede out of Kennesaw only to see him suffer a major knee injury before arriving.
The Bulldogs landed Tennessee’s Eli Wolf as a graduate transfer over the summer, and that has helped remedy the situation.
“At Tennessee, I think he went through three coordinators or something like that, he told me,” Woerner said of Wolf. “So, he’s used to new playbooks and he’s done really well. He’s adjusted really well to Georgia.”
As the Bulldogs edge closer to the end of camp, everybody’s interested in seeing what this offense looks like. Whether it’s more of the same under Coley or something entirely different is a matter of great debate.
Woerner believes that talk is overrated. With quarterback Jake Fromm at the controls, a bevy of backs in the backfield and a veteran offensive line up front, it’s a matter of choosing one’s poison.
“I think we’re a really balanced offense,” Woerner said. “If we want to pass, we can do it well; and if we want to run, we can do it well. It’s not about being 50-50. We’ve just got to be good at both and I think that’s what we’re going to be.”
Just feed the fire whatever will burn, if you will.