January 30, 2008

Storyline No. 9

The tight end position has long been a favorite staple of the Georgia offense. But for a while during the early portion of 2007, one wondered if that trend was about to end.

Much to the chagrin of Tripp Chandler.

Chandler, who earned the starting role in the fall after Martrez Milner graduated to the Atlanta Falcons, suffered a myriad of drops during the first-quarter of the season leaving some to speculate whether or not the position would soon become an afterthought.

This wasn't good news.

With the exception of the rarely-used Coleman Watson, the only other candidates for playing time at tight were true freshman Bruce Figgins and NeDerris Ward, who was battling a series of different injuries that left him unable to contribute in a way the coaches desired.

It got so bad for Chandler that the junior was booed by his own fans, until - against Ole Miss - he rediscovered the hands that made him one of Matthew Stafford's favorite targets.

The stats bear out that fact.

Chandler finished third on the team with 21 catches for 283 yards and two touchdowns as he became a valued target for Stafford the rest of the year.

"Fan expect that their favorite team and their favorite players on that team to be able to execute," Chandler said. "I guess I don't expect anything less."

In the game against the Rebels, Chandler could be given a mulligan for the first drop as it appeared that the Ole Miss defender began pulling the junior down before the pass from Stafford arrived.

That wasn't the case with second, as the ball was placed perfectly in Chandler's hands before it fell to the turf.

"The first one, I was getting pulled down to the ground before the ball every go there. The second one, Coach (former tight end coach David) Johnson was right there and said "You keep pulling your head down right before the ball got there.
"I was looking away and trying to turn up-field before it got to me."

However, Stafford didn't give up on his target.

A 15-yard completion to Chandler gave Georgia a first down at the Ole Miss 37, setting up a 20-yard field goal by Brandon Coutu, before a 25-yard catch late in the third put the Bulldogs in position for one of Thomas Brown's three touchdowns.

"Tripp's a great player and made a couple of good catches for us after he dropped that couple there in the first," Stafford said. "He kept his head in there. I just told coming back "I'm coming back your way, because you're part of the offense. We've used the tight end here forever and I made some great plays."

Chandler was just relieved that he was able to help out.

"I guess one of the reasons they kept coming back to me, is that I've proven in the past that I can get the job done," said Chandler. "But you don't want to abuse that trust or that reputation. The last four quarters of the last game, and the first quarter of this game, I was abusing it. But once I started catching the ball, I became a little more relaxed, a little more comfortable and started trying to build that (confidence) back."

Nobody was prouder of Chandler than head coach Mark Richt, who saw wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi endure the same pains with the Bulldogs last year.

"It's a very emotional time. Everyone wants us to win, but he'd been struggling and I'm sure a lot of people were already bent out of shape after the drops he had in the first quarter," Richt said. "I'm sure there were some people in the stands wondering should we boo this guy or not. I don't particularly like it, but it is part of the game."

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