Nick McRae and Omoregie Uzzi are doing their best to make Georgia Tech’s fans forget that the starting guards from last year’s ACC championship squad are gone.
And that’s not easy to do. All-ACC performer Cord Howard and Joseph Gilbert started every game as a tandem last season and helped pave the way for the Yellow Jackets to average an ACC-best 295.4 rushing yards per game. Howard exhausted his eligibility and Gilbert is transferring to further his education.
Uzzi, a Lithonia native, got a lot of playing time last season after redshirting as a freshman. McRae, a Dublin native, also redshirted as a freshman but wasn’t able to crack the lineup as much as Uzzi last year.
But McRae is seizing his spot with the first unit this spring, consistently holding off challenges from redshirt freshmen Will Jackson and Ray Beno.
“Coach Sewak and I, with both guys [Uzzi and McRae] we see incremental development,” co-line coach Todd Spencer said. “They are making progress, grinding through the fundamentals. With that you’re getting better work habits. It’s been small victories, one on top of the other this spring.”
The hardest part is learning the plays, which Uzzi said he and McRae both know. Now it’s just a matter of improving their technique, staying low at the snap and trying to play as fast as they can.
“There’s a lot less thinking, a lot more playing,” Uzzi said.
Neither player said they’ve leaned much on Howard’s experience this year, though McRae said he is doing his best to follow the most important piece of advice Howard gave him last year.
“He would tell me to keep my head up and keep working,” McRae said. ” My time would come and when it comes to take advantage of it.”
For the first time since the previous spring, linebacker Kyle Jackson was able to participate in some of the non-contact periods of Friday’s practice. Jackson broke a bone in his foot during a practice last spring and missed the ACC championship season.
Linebacker Brad Jefferson (hamstring), who has been out since Monday, should be back for Saturday’s practice at Bobby Dodd Stadium, which starts at 9:15 a.m. Linebacker Julian Burnett (ankle) will be a practice-time decision made by the trainers, Johnson said.
Johnson downplayed the significance of Saturday’s scrimmage, the last one before T-day on April 24.
Wide receiver Stephen Hill missed Friday’s practice to compete in the long jump in the ACC track and field championships at Clemson. Hill fouled on each of his attempts.
It’s the hit of the spring. During a third-and-4, down-and-distance drill, B-back Anthony Allen burst through the middle and flattened safety Jemea Thomas. Allen tried to fake him out at first, but then lowered his head and knocked Thomas backward. It was reminiscent of some of Jonathan Dwyer’s big hits last year and sparked one fan to say: “I don’t think we’re going to be giving up much at B-back.”
Johnson didn’t seem to impressed afterward. “It happens sometime,” he said.
Other highlights and lowlights during various drills in Friday’s practice:
• Cornerback Dominique Reese had three interceptions, including one when he snatched a ball right before it hit the ground.
• A-back Roddy Jones went up high to make a nice catch on a slightly underthrown pass down the right sideline.
• Nose tackle Logan Walls had a sack and defensive end Emmanuel Dieke had a tackle for loss.
• Middle linebacker Brandon Watts, pushing to make the first team, had a tackle for loss.
• Defensive end Jason Peters showed good lateral quickness to his right by pursuing down the line and bringing down B-back Richard Watson.
• Jordan Luallen made a hard throw to A-back Robby Godhigh on a skinny post that he caught in stride. Otherwise, it was an uneven day for Tech’s quarterbacks.
• Safety Mario Edwards and B-back Lucas Cox had a big collision in a run up the middle. Cox continues to impress, bowling through the line for positive yards on most of his carries.
• Wide receiver Tyler Melton busted a long run on a screen play.
• Albert Rocker tagged Allen in the backfield on the third-and-4 drill.
• As middle linebacker Steven Sylvester sacked him, Tevin Washington was able to get away a nice pass to Melton that he wasn’t able to hold onto.
• A-back B.J. Bostic wasn’t looking for a pass by Luallen on a seam route. The ball zipped right by him. Had he caught it only the wall at the other end of the practice field would have stopped him.