“We’ve got a guy who has proven he can go for 150 yards against elite defenses and a couple of receivers who have proven they can get open whey they need to,” said Preston Dial, an Alabama tight end from 2007 to 2011, Saban’s first four seasons there. “Coach Saban’s always got a few plays in there to highlight the tight end if we need him, but it’s playing with the pieces you have, and we have guys who can get open.”
But Smart, a Saban protégé who had already emerged as a vocal champion of tight ends — “We want as many as we can get and we want to get them the ball,” he said in 2020 — and the offensive coordinator Todd Monken saw their offensive options narrow as Georgia’s injuries mounted.
Bowers became an illustrious, if inexperienced, fix.
Georgia had aggressively pursued Bowers when he was a prospect in Napa, Calif., where he was a tight end, tailback, wide receiver, linebacker and kick returner. As a high school sophomore, when he was just an inch shy of the 6-foot-4 he is now, his 40-inch vertical leap and a 40-yard dash time of 4.55 seconds turned heads. In addition to Georgia, he said, he had fielded offers from Louisiana State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oregon and Texas A&M, among others.
He announced his commitment in August 2020. In 2021, Georgia said in its preseason media guide that he “should contend for playing time as a freshman.” Then injuries made him a star of the entire offense.
“We knew he had the run-after-catch ability — we saw that on tape, they used him in the backfield out of high school — but he’s got a little more range than we thought and he’s continued to develop as a route runner,” Monken said before the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla., where Georgia pounded Michigan, 34-11, to advance to the title game.
Bowers left the semifinal game in the first half with shoulder trouble. Smart said it would not be a limitation on Monday night. Before his exit, though, Bowers scored a touchdown.
“He’ll play the Z, the Y, the X, the move guy, the down guy,” said Mike Macdonald, Michigan’s defensive coordinator. “They’ll give it to him on reverses, screens.”