Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said when he first arrived he would ask the players who did well after scrimmages.
Some would say “offense;” some would say “defense.”
“No,” he would reply, “Georgia Tech won.”
That the team is doing well and on track to defend its ACC title seemed to be the feeling among the players after the spring practice culminated with last Saturday’s T-Day game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
The re-engineered defense seems to be coming along. Players are getting used to the four new assistant coaches. Anthony Allen’s transition from A-back to B-back continued without a hitch. Most importantly, the team found out that there is life after the big four of Derrick Morgan, Demaryius Thomas, Morgan Burnett and Jonathan Dwyer left early for the NFL.
But that wasn’t the only question entering the spring practices whose answer started to be found:
1. Installing defense’s front seven. The defensive linemen and linebackers raved all spring about how much fun they were having learning new defensive coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 system. Of course, one wouldn’t expect to hear anything but hosannas when playing time is up for grabs. Several players stood out, including defensive end Jason Peters, middle linebackers Brad Jefferson and Brandon Watts, and outside linebacker Anthony Egbuniwe. Competition at the key nose tackle position may increase when Ben Anderson (knee) returns from injury in August.
One player won’t be asked to make up for Morgan’s 12 ½ sacks. The defense hopes as a unit it can step up and improve on last year’s averages of 360.3 yards and 24.8 points allowed per game.
2. Rebuilding the offensive line. Replacing three starters from last year’s line was paramount this spring. The search may not be over yet. Sean Bedford at center and Omoregie Uzzi at guard may be the only two locks heading into August. Phil Smith will return from injury and will compete for the starter job at one tackle. Returning starter Austin Barrick missed some spring practices because of classes. He will look to secure his spot at the other tackle. Nick McRae will continue to try and hold off Will Jackson and Ray Beno at guard. The good news is that many players who redshirted last season got a lot of time with the first- or second-team units in April. The second-unit in the T-day game was composed entirely of freshmen. They led the Gold team to one touchdown against the second-team defense.
3. The backup quarterback derby. Tevin Washington seemed to lock down the No. 2 job behind Joshua Nesbitt. Washington, a redshirt freshman, had a solid spring that culminated with him leading the White team to four touchdowns in the T-Day game. His passing, while not consistent, has improved from the fall. Johnson said challengers David Sims and Jordan Luallen also impressed in the spring. Sims looks to be the better runner and Luallen the better passer.
4. The wide receiver race. While it’s doubtful that just one player can make up for the loss of Thomas’ 1,154 yards, there are enough solid receivers that they may be able to equal his production as a group. If you’re looking for a standout, freshman Stephen Hill turned some heads at the T-Day game with a 70-yard touchdown catch that was “Bay-Bay” like, and he also took a sure interception away from cornerback Dominique Reese when he wrestled an underthrown ball away from him at the 5-yard line. Tyler Melton, a tough blocker, seemed to secure his starting spot on the other side of the formation.
5. Spotting the secondary. Johnson said the secondary may be the deepest part of the team. The cornerbacks and safeties are not only somewhat interchangeable – Jerrard Tarrant, Mario Edwards, Rashaad Reid and Reese can move back and forth,which is important as more teams try to spread the field with three- and four-wide receiver sets. Once the freshmen enroll, the unit could have as many as 10 players who could see time. Though the first- and second-units were somewhat established, Johnson said don’t be surprised if there changes in August as the competition heats up.
Looking at freshmen
The three early enrollees — B.J. Bostic, Charles Perkins and Isaiah Johnson — looked sharp throughout the spring. Perkins’ momentum slowed down after he was switched from B-back to A-back, but it’s obvious he has talent.
Johnson and Bostic caught Johnson’s eye. He said after the T-day game that Bostic can do some things once he gets in the open field, and that Johnson plays so fast.
I’ll be curious to see what Ryan Ayers and Louis Young can do in August. Both came in highly touted.
As noted above the position is so deep that I would be they are going to have to really impress to avoid being redshirted.
Because the spring practices are mostly focused on certain aspects and there are few open scrimmage periods, it was hard to discern if Tech’s pass rush will be improved from last year’s, when it was Morgan or mostly nothing.
Egbuinwe would seem to have the size to be a physical rusher. I’m curious to see if he has the speed to get around the edge. Playing defensive end last year, he didn’t get the opportunity to come around the corner too often.
Groh is a smart, efficient blitz play-caller. One of the players said he estimates they put in six of the base plays in the spring. He has no idea how many Groh has in his hip pocket, but I would guess there’s more than can be taught in any one season.
I could be wrong, and as y’all know that happens fairly frequently, but I would bet Steven Sylvester ends up at outside linebacker. He played there last year, and then was moved to inside for the spring. I’m not basing my opinion on anything other than the plays he made in the Orange Bowl.
Of course,there are a few freshmen coming in who could provide a pass rush, including outside linebackers Jeremiah Attaochu and Quayshawn Nealy.
Upcoming events and a query
How many of you are going to tonight’s baseball game at the Ted? As noted in the paper and online, Tech is going for its first sweep of the Bulldogs since 1994.
How many of you are going to the Spring Caravan at the Galleria on Thursday?
Lastly, would you be interested in a post-spring mailblog, similar to the one we did pre-spring?