Georgia’s Brock Bowers could be X factor vs. Michigan

Todd Monken likes to tell a story about Brock Bowers from this spring, when the tight end had enrolled early at Georgia.

The Bulldogs were doing conditioning drills in Sanford Stadium, long runs followed by short walks. Normally, players stay with the pack, in their position group.

“Not Brock Bowers,” Monken, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, said Tuesday morning. “Tight ends were running, he’d be 10 yards in front of every other guy.”

During these drills, Georgia puts GPS trackers on its players to learn how fast they’re going. With some guys, Monken said, there’s a good deal of variance in their speed. Bowers, though, has just one.

“Right away, you could see this guy is different,” Monken said. “He only knows this way to work.”

In a College Football Playoff semifinal where the focus has been on the historic defense of Georgia and the star-laden defense of Michigan, Bowers stands as a potential X factor at tight end. The Napa Valley freshman has a rare attribute for a California native: the respect of his Southern peers.

Brock Bowers
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Bowers finished the regular season with 791 receiving yards, leading the Bulldogs by an order of magnitude. And, notably, the tight end position might just be a way of targeting a vulnerable area on Michigan’s defense, where linebackers like Josh Ross could struggle to keep up in man coverage and the zone coverage the Wolverines usually play could have some soft spots. Notably, in an otherwise dominant Big Ten title game, Michigan allowed 62 yards to Iowa TE Sam LaPorta.

“Brock is a heck of a player, man,” Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said. “He’s really dynamic. The thing that they can do with him is he can play — he really plays every position. He’ll play the Z, the Y, the X, the move guy, the down guy. They’ll give it to him on reverses, screens.”

That further complicates one of the factors that make tight ends a tough cover in the first place. Against a good receiver, Macdonald said, a defense can “build some things” based on where he lines up to cover him with multiple players. That’s harder to do with a tight end. It’s harder still with a tight end who’s used in so many ways.

“The run after the catch he’s good and he has good speed on him and good catch radius,” Michigan cornerback D.J. Turner said.

Monken, when prompted, delivered a nearly four-minute soliloquy about the use of tight ends in the college game, the NFL game and how it’s changed in recent years. Which is to say, he’s thought hard about this.

Georgia's Brock Bowers catches a pass over Alabama's Christian Harris during the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Dec. 4, 2021 in Atlanta.
Georgia’s Brock Bowers catches a pass over Alabama’s Christian Harris.
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“The game has changed in terms of athletic, big guys at the tight end position that have developed as route runners,” he said. “It used to be, they were blockers that developed their wide receiver skill sets, where now they’re receivers developing their blocking skill, if that makes sense. The game has changed from a size standpoint, a range, their route running has developed and grown. You see those guys running routes and they look like receivers because they started that way.”

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bowers, though, serves as proof of concept that the pro football style of tight end can work just fine in the college game — a reality evident to his teammates from early on.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bowers’ talent was evident to his teammates early on.

“Seeing how fast he was, going up and getting the ball, he’s very shifty with the ball in his hands,” Georgia receiver Kearis Jackson said. “I pretty much knew he was going to be dangerous.”

Now, he may just hold the key to a national title in his hands.

That is reality in the NFL. In college, tight ends are more involved in the blocking structure of RPOs, making it harder for them to get involved in the passing game.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bowers, though, serves as proof of concept that the pro football style of tight end can work just fine in the college game — a reality evident to his teammates from early on.

“Seeing how fast he was, going up and getting the ball, he’s very shifty with the ball in his hands,” Georgia receiver Kearis Jackson said. “I pretty much knew he was going to be dangerous.”

Now, he may just hold the key to a national title in his hands.