23 For 2023 - The 23 People Who Will Have the Biggest Impact on UGA Football’s Success as it Pursues a Three-Peat
#8 Brock Bowers + #7 Todd Hartley
“Who would you rank as the coaches most important to UGA’s success?”
That question was recently posed to me by a DawgsCentral subscriber in response to a piece of intel that I posted on our forum. I started to type out a response, but a couple sentences in I realized that the answer to the question is quite complex. To make such a list, one must make broad value judgments on what assets are most important to a modern college football program.
When thinking about the answer I also found myself thinking about an old football cliche… "It's not the X's and the O's but the Jimmys and the Joes." That got me considering the players who will suit up on gamedays for Georgia next fall. Good gameplans and great play calls are key to any team’s success, but they are usually only as good as the personnel executing them.
With that in mind, I decided to broaden the scope of these rankings beyond just members of the coaching staff. As I go through this list I will touch on every position room and virtually every facet of the Georgia Football program. In that way, it will serve as both my version of a spring practice preview and a look at the state of the program.
So without further adieu, here are the 23 people most crucial to UGA’s success in the year 2023. Whether or not Georgia is able to win a third straight championship, and how they go about trying to do it, will be largely influenced by the roles these individuals play…
#23 - Jamaal Jarrett
#22 - Fran Brown
#21 - Daylen Everette
#20 - David Hill
#19 - Tykee Smith
#18 - Mykel Williams
#17 - Dominic Lovett
#16 - Jalon Walker
#15 - Chidera Uzo-Diribe
#14 - Stacy Searels
#13 - Smael Mondon
#12 - Earnest Greene
#11 - Will Muschamp
#8 Brock Bowers + #7 Todd Hartley
“I was interviewing him and I sat there looking across the table at that nice, totally normal looking dude, and thought about how awesome it is that when he puts his pads on he turns into this gladiator who might be the best player in all of college football.”
That’s what a fellow media member told me about Brock Bowers after Georgia made their appearance at this year’s SEC Media Days. I was sitting in the hotel bar chatting with a veteran radio host about UGA’s appearance in Nashville when he brought up the fact that Bowers in uniform and Bowers out of uniform are two very different people.
During his appearances in Nashville, Bowers looked very different from the imposing figure who suits up for the Bulldogs on fall Saturdays.
At 6’4” and 230 pounds, Bowers plays even bigger than that. His ball skills are otherworldly. Over the last two years he has pulled down numerous passes that appeared as if they were going to sail over his head.
The ball looks like it’s floating over him… At the last second, boom… He explodes off the turf and soars through the air while turning his body to snag the football at its highest point… Touchdown Georgia.
The raw contested catch ability he possesses is paired with legitimate blocking prowess. At 230 pounds, it would be natural to assume that Brock isn’t a great blocker. That assumption is proven wrong by his tape. He’s held his own when asked to help out against some of the SEC’s best pass rushers, but his value as a receiver means he’s often asked to run routes when Georgia drops back to pass.
Where his blocking has really stood out is in the run game. His speed allows him to pull around the end of the line in gap scheme situations and he is trusted in UGA’s zone attack as well. If you want proof that Georgia trusts Bowers as a blocker, you only have to look at where Todd Monken has asked him to line up the last two years. 654 of his 1,508 career snaps have come as an Inline TE and 721 of those snaps have been as a run blocker.
That is what makes Brock so unique on a football field. He is the best receiving TE in the game, but he has held his own in the trenches the last two seasons while playing in college football’s toughest line of scrimmage league.
Entering his junior year, he might be the sport’s biggest matchup problem. On the field he is the ultimate Alpha Dawg, but meet him in person and you might not guess that you’re talking to the star of the two-time national champions…
It’s a little after 10:30 in Los Angeles. It is the morning of January 7th, and Georgia’s entire roster and coaching staff has just strolled into the room for their appearance at CFP Media Days. They look a bit sleepy. Head coach Kirby Smart and UGA’s coordinators are set up at different podiums to take questions from the assembled media. The rest of UGA’s players and coaches are scattered around the room. I stroll through the scrum, speaking to different players and coaches on my list of people to see. Most of the interactions are subdued if not reluctant.
Georgia’s staff almost never talks to the media. Smart makes some of them available once a year during fall camp. Other than that, we only see these men speak publicly when bowl season comes around and Georgia is asked to make them available by the organizers. I spoted Georgia tight-ends coach Todd Hartley and started to approach him. I arrived in time to catch his answer to a question about Bowers’ personality and the attention that his play has gotten from the press.
“Okay, he DOES NOT enjoy this, alright? Now he thought he was going to get saved because at the Peach Bowl he had one of these booths and he was all by himself (Bowers was put on his own podium with a microphone at media days for the CFP Semifinal game against Ohio State). So he was like, ‘alright I get to sit with you guys’ so he thought he was going to be able to hide… I told him, ‘You better start learning how to do interviews because you’re going to have a lot over the next 12 months.’ He’s very laid back, he keeps to himself, very reserved, but that’s just how he is. He’s just (got) a workmanship mentality and he gets all A’s. He’s an Academic All-American.”
Other reporters walk away and I’m left one-on-one with Hartley. I start to ask him a question but he quickly stops me.
“What’s your name?”
The mustachioed Hartley is not jet lagged or sleepy or anything else. Enthusiasm is radiating off of him, and it is easy to see why he is an excellent in the living rooms of recruits.
I ask Hartley about Georgia’s tight-end usage. The Bulldogs ran the 2nd most multiple TE sets of any Power 5 team in 2022. How fun is that for him?
“Well, I’m biased, but I think tight-ends are a special breed of kid. They’re a special breed of player. They’re so versatile in what they can bring to an offense. The first thing I want to say, you know it’s our job, and Monk (UGA OC Todd Monken) does this, it’s our job to get the best players on the field. Whether that’s two tight-ends, three tight-ends, one tight-end, you know it’s our job at Georgia to score points and win games, and if that involves two tight-ends then so be it. If that involves no tight-ends then so be it.”
Hartley might not be selfish about wanting to see his position room in the rotation, but he also admits that it makes him happy. “You know it makes you feel good when your guys are utilized, and that’s been the case the last couple years because we got kids that love football. They love Georgia. They’re extremely talented but they play at an exceptionally high level and that’s a credit to them and that’s a credit to Monk for putting them in a system that showcases their skill set.”
Hartley knows that Georgia is going to put the best players on the field, but what he doesn’t say is that his recruiting has made it so that many of the program’s best players are tight-ends. A native of Gray, GA, Hartley started his coaching journey as a graduate assistant at UGA from 2005-2007 under Mark Richt. He followed Richt to Miami where he coached special teams and TE’s from 2016-2018. In January of 2019, Smart brought him back to UGA.
Under Hartley, the Georgia tight-end room has flourished. He’s recruited some elite players at the position he coaches, but his Florida ties and infectious personality have helped Georgia land excellent players at other positions as well. Here is a list of players who Hartley has been the primary recruiter on in recent years.
- 5* TE Darnell Washington - Class of 2020
- 5* TE Elyiss Williams - Class of 2025
- 4* TE Jaden Reddell - Class of 2024
- 4* TE Pearce Spurlin - Class of 2023
- 4* TE Oscar Delp - Class of 2022
- 4* TE Brock Bowers - Class of 2021
- 4* TE Lawson Luckie - Class of 2023
- 4* QB Carson Beck - Class of 2020
- 3* TE Colton Heinrich - Class of 2024
- 3* WR Ladd McConkey - Class of 2020
Hartley went and recruited the talent, and then Georgia deployed it. By pairing Bowers with 6’7” 280 pound Darnell Washington, UGA created a whole lot of problems for opposing defenses. Washington pitched in 151 receiving yards and contributed greatly as a blocker in 2021 despite being limited by injury for much of the season. That same year, Bowers broke out. The Napa, CA native pulled down 56 catches for 882 yards on 71 targets as a true freshman. His presence in Georgia’s offense created explosive plays and gave Todd Monken a chess piece that could create mismatches all over the field.
In 2022, the TE position became the beating heart of the Georgia offense. The Bulldogs got nearly 1400 yards receiving out of the position. Bowers racked up 942 yards while pulling down 62 catches on 82 targets. Washington grabbed 28 balls on 43 targets for 454 yards receiving in the first fully healthy season of his college career. Those numbers alone would be enough to turn Georgia into TEU, but the receiving production was just part of what made the duo special.
One of Kirby Smart’s biggest rules is that UGA’s skill players must be exceptional blockers if they want to be on the field. 2022 Georgia was a nightmare because their perimeter blocking was as good as any team in college football. The Bulldogs could flip the ball out to the edge and let Bowers, Washington and the WR corps go to work paving the way. That allowed RB Kenny McIntosh to become the team’s third-leading receiver with 509 yards.
The blocking prowess bled over to the run game. Bowers and Washington were on the field together a lot. Their ability to pull around the edge or block at the second level meant that defenses were faced with a lose-lose proposition.
Opposing coordinators could either…
A) Bring in heavier personnel to deal with the threat of Bowers and Washington partnering with UGA’s OL to be a 7-man wrecking crew in the run game. Doing so meant the UGA TE’s could blow past slower defenders when going out for passes.
B) Bring in lighter/faster defenders who could keep up with Bowers and Washington downfield but risk being smashed in the run game.
The matchup problems the tight-ends created was the key to unlocking a lot of other things for Georgia’s offense. Flashback to the first quarter of Georgia’s game against Tennessee in Athens last year. The Bulldogs were up 7-0 and had a 1st & 10 on the opponent’s 37 yard-line after the UGA defense forced the Vols to punt from their own end zone.
Georgia came out in 12 Personnel with Washington lined up as an inline blocker next to the right tackle and Bowers lined up directly behind the left tackle like an old-school H-Back. Daijun Edwards was behind Stetson Bennett as a single RB. Ladd McConkey was alone out wide to the right with Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint lined up on the left side.
With only 2 wideouts in the game and 9 offensive players lined up inside the box, the Vols were expecting a run. They lined up with 8 men inside the box and a single high safety. At the snap, Bennett faked a handoff to Edwards and Bowers pulled across the formation like he was trying to seal the right edge for a run play. McConkey ran an out-and-up, twisting the defender into the grass.
He was 5 yards clear of the corner by the time Bennett released the ball. Touchdown Georgia. This play doesn’t happen if McConkey isn’t able to get free from the corner covering him, but he had the opportunity to beat man coverage with no safety help because of the fear that Tennessee had for Georgia’s tight-ends.
That play doesn’t happen if either Bowers or Washington lacked multifaceted skill sets. There have been some great receiving tight-ends in college football in recent years, but there have been very few who scared defensive coordinators with their blocking and receiving in the way that Bowers does right now.
Hartley seems to demand that from his position room. Perhaps the best example of Hartley’s high standard was when Washington went out of the CFP Semifinal against Ohio State with an ankle injury.
Down 21-7 early in the 2nd quarter, Georgia stuck with its two tight-end sets and brought in true freshman Oscar Delp with the season on the line. The Bulldogs raced down the field on a four-play 75-yard drive that was capped off by an 11-yard Kendall Milton TD run. It was Delp who blocked star Buckeye defensive end JT Tuimoloau to spring the run, finishing the play by pushing Milton into the paint of the end-zone.
The ESPN broadcast of the game praised Delp for stepping up in the moment and delivering a big block. I asked Hartley about that play in Los Angeles. His answer was telling.
“It was great man. I didn’t give him an A all the way because he let him slide off at the end… He didn’t back down… The moment wasn’t too big for him. He showed a lot of maturity in that situation to be able to go in, and that’s a credit to his preparation, because as a young kid sitting behind Brock Bowers and Darnell Washington you may think you may never see the field. But you had to prepare like it could be you at any second and if you don’t, when your number is called you won’t be ready. The fact that he was ready showed he prepared the right way.”
It’s a credit to Hartley that he hasn’t just stacked talent, but that he has also focused and developed those players. Embracing the minutiae of preparation is at the heart of Kirby Smart’s program philosophy. Hartley has excelled at getting his position room to buy-in. For that he has been rewarded. He was named UGA’s Assistant Head Coach this past offseason. He has received multiple raises since coming to Athens. He is currently the nation’s highest paid TE’s coach with a salary of $850,000/year.
Actions speak louder than words, and Smart’s actions say that he knows Hartley is a rising star in the coaching profession. In addition to being given the assistant head coach title, Hartley has also been a big part of UGA’s special teams planning over the last year. Will Muschamp filled the role of special teams coordinator after Scott Cochran took an absence from the program in the summer of 2021. Co-defensive coordinator Dan Lanning departed following the season and Muschamp was promoted to co-DC while also working with UGA’s safeties.
Smart never bestowed the title of special teams coordinator on anyone else, but sources have consistently said that Hartley has been a large part of UGA’s special teams planning. That is significant because special teams involve every position group on the team. Because it deals with the entire roster, it is the job most similar to being a head coach. Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher, John Harbuagh, Steve Mariucci, Dick Vermeil and Mike Ditka are just some successful coaches who came up through the ranks coaching special teams.
By giving Hartley responsibilities with special teams in addition to the role of assistant head coach, Smart is giving the 37 year-old plenty of room to grow into a future head coach.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. The Georgia program under Kirby Smart is all about growth opportunities at every level. Many of those come in the form of developing a player’s weaknesses into their strengths, but it also involves off the field challenges as well.
By bringing Brock Bowers to media days, Smart was giving his star player a chance to grow. At the podium, he doesn’t present like a guy who led all FBS tight-ends with 942 yards. Bowers lets his shoulders shrink in and hunches forward, looking smaller than he actually is. He is naturally quiet, and he also has a stutter that he works through when answering questions.
Earlier in the day, Smart issued a challenge to the media. “I thank you for what you do, but your challenge today is to get more than three sentences out of Brock Bowers, which we have not been able to do in three years. If you can get him to talk, it’ll be a great challenge for you and see if you can get it done.”
Brock has already been through hours of separate interviews by the time he faces the big scrum of reporters in the main room. A reporter asks him if he considers himself quiet. “I don’t have a lot to say usually… Yeah.”
Bowers openly admits that talking to the media isn’t exactly comfortable for him. Asked how he thinks it’s going, he gives an honest answer. “I think I’m doing much better. There was an interview earlier where they asked me one question and I stuttered out of my mind for like 10-15 seconds. So yeah, I’m feeling alright.”
Put simply, Brock’s candor is endearing. Over multiple days in Nashville I watched players come and go. Most of them were excited to have the chance to showcase themselves on a big stage. It was clear that Bowers prefers to talk on the field. He joked that UGA’s staff was going to make him appear at media days no matter how he felt about it. “There was no pep talk. It was basically ‘you’re going.’”
It makes sense that Bowers would jump off the deep end and appear in Nashville when his coaches requested it. He didn’t become the best tight-end in college football by mistake. His work ethic has become the stuff of legend around the Georgia program. He can be found conditioning early in the morning and late at night and he watches film more than anyone. Something different seems to burn within him. Nobody works harder than #19. This offseason, he’s channeling more of his energy into mentoring the young TE’s that Hartley has recruited behind him.
In Nashville I asked Kirby Smart if Georgia’s frequent use of multiple tight-end sets has become part of the program’s philosophy. “We're going to play the 11 best players that give us the opportunity to be successful. If that's seven wide outs, if that's two running backs, if that's four running backs or two tight ends or 13 personnel, we can go through all the numbers.Every offensive coach will tell you and every head coach will tell you we're going to get the best 11 players on the field. Last year Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers were two of our best football players. That is probably yet to be determined this season.”
In other words, Georgia’s TE usage in 2023 is largely dependent on how well Oscar Delp, Lawson Luckie and Pearce Spurlin can follow the example that Bowers has set.
Brock was asked about replacing Darnell Washington in Nashville. “I mean we’re not gonna have another Darnell because we’re not gonna have another guy that’s 6’8” and 280 and can move like that… Those dudes are gonna be themselves, and they’re gonna be legit players because that’s how Coach Hartley recruited them… They’ve been doing a lot better at working hard everyday, so I’m proud of them.”
Bowers might not be used to talking to big groups of reporters yet, but he was made available to the media after UGA’s spring game. In both instances it seemed like talking about his teammates is one of his favorite topics.
Back in April, I asked him about his impressions of freshman TE Lawson Luckie. Before I could finish my question his face lit up and he started to smile. “He’s a dawg. He’s been balling out everyday and working hard. I’m just proud of him. Yeah, he’s just responded to every challenge so far.”
That Bowers is trying to take on more of a leadership role this season is a good thing for Georgia. The best teams are often the ones where the best players are also the hardest workers. Brock checks both of those boxes for the Bulldogs.
One of the ways he has chosen to lead has been by foregoing the NIL support that UGA players usually receive from Classic City Collective. His on-field performance has created fame that has led to Bowers receiving traditional endorsements, so he told the collective to put that money back into the pot for other players. “I feel like I had kind of my own stuff going on that I didn’t really need that kind of support. I felt like they could just focus on some of the other guys or other sports.”
Bowers is somewhat old-school in how he prepares. He doesn’t need a fancy gym or new equipment to get a workout in. During his senior year of high-school the country was on lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Bowers would send Georgia’s coaching staff videos of himself running sprints up hills in the Northern California wine country where he grew up.
That work has paid off, and now Brock has a chance to do something that no player has ever done- Win three consecutive national titles while being named to three consecutive All-American teams.
There is everything that Bowers has brought to the Georgia program in terms of intangibles. Then there is everything that the “gladiator” brings to the field on gameday. Georgia uses Bowers frequently, but the Bulldogs have not force fed him the ball to this point in his career. Last season he and Ladd McConkey were tied for the team lead in targets with 82 each (just 5.5 a game). In 2021 he was thrown to 71 times, which was 19 more than the second highest receiver on the team (AD Mitchell had 52 targets).
You probably already know about Brock’s breakaway speed or the way he slips tackles in the open field, but there is a part of his game that Georgia can still utilize more if it needs to.
Bowers had the highest Contested Catch Rate of any SEC receivers or tight-end with at least 20 targets in 2022, pulling down 13 of 17 contested targets for a gaudy 76.5% completion rate. That number is especially high when one considers that 50/50 balls are more often reserved for boundary receivers. The 17 contested catch targets that Brock saw in 2022 were the 6th most in the SEC and 11 more than the next most by a TE. Those numbers happened despite the fact that Bowers only took 37 snaps lined up out wide last season.
UGA added wideouts Dominic Lovett and Rara Thomas from the transfer portal this offseason, and rising sophomore Dillon Bell is starting to look like a future star. Those 3 will join McConkey and Rosemy-Jacksaint as players who could see significant reps as boundary wideouts, but Bowers has the skills to line up out wide and pull down a fade in the back of the end zone whenever OC Mike Bobo needs six points.
Perhaps that is the best compliment one can give to Bowers the football player. After two years of superb production, it still feels like there are new ways that Georgia could use him. I say that despite openly acknowledging that the tight-end who led the SEC in Contested Catch Rate last year also has 4 career rushing TD’s. To this point he has averaged 12.7 yards a carry as a runner while accumulating 7 yards after contact per a rush attempt. There is likely nothing that he can’t do well on a football field.
His position coach deserves loads of credit for not just bringing him from The Golden State to The Peach State, but also for getting the most out of his prodigious talent. Todd Hartley has challenged Brock Bowers and the rest of Georgia’s tight-ends everyday on the practice field. He and the rest of UGA’s staff have also challenged the shy gladiator to face his fears of public speaking and have confidence in the power of his voice.
Georgia is challenging Bowers to be a bigger leader, but his work habits are such that he probably should have been in that type of role all along. Leadership usually only works when one is willing to do the same things that they demand of their teammates. Give Hartley credit for challenging Bowers to embrace a position that might not necessarily feel natural, but is certainly deserved.
Brock’s presence in the Georgia program coincided with the ending of a 41-year dry spell. Now Bulldog cups runneth over with the joys of back-to-back titles. His legacy in program history is more than secure, but this time around his voice could be just as big of a help to UGA’s three-peat bid as his play.
There is an old saying about the quiet ones. “When they speak, everyone listens.”