Hope you were able to make the spring game Friday night. It was a strong turnout and it wouldn’t surprise me if the GTAA stays with Friday, or at least re-visits it, in years to come. Some thoughts from spring practice.
1. No change at quarterback spot
It was a much anticipated competition between Synjyn Days and Vad Lee, but it doesn’t appear that much changed in the pecking order. Both improved over the course of the spring and shrunk their flaws, but neither made an unimpeachable case to be the No. 2 behind Tevin Washington, let alone a challenger to the top spot.
“The other guys are both very talented and good at certain things,” coach Paul Johnson said. “As I said, they’ve got to get better at what their weak spots are.”
In this offense, and probably any other, limiting mistakes and turnovers is crucial, no matter what a quarterback’s big-play potential is. That is where Washington’s advantage is, developed over four years in the system, a season and a half of starts and tireless work to hone his game.
After the spring game, Johnson said that if the season started today, Washington would be the starter and saw Lee and Days as situational-type quarterbacks.
“The goal is to make them not situational players and to be able to do the whole thing,” he said.
2. Defense should be better
As with all projections, it’s hard to know for certain until the fall, but tweaks to the scheme and the development of the defensive line should make this unit better. Ends Izaan Cross, Euclid Cummings and Emmanuel Dieke look capable and nose tackle T.J. Barnes may be ready to realize his potential in his final season. Perhaps the biggest question of the summer, literally and figurative, will be how much conditioning work Barnes and backup Shawn Green put in in order to be ready for the season.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” defensive line coach Andy McCollum said. “We’ve got to have a great offseason. We’ve got to have a great summer. T.J. has done some things that we hadn’t done in the past that I’m excited about.”
(Note: You’ve probably heard all of that before. For whatever it’s worth, and I’ve written this before, Al Groh’s defense made a much bigger statistical jump Year 2 to Year 3 at Virginia than Year 1 to Year 2.)
3. The secondary is a strength
This looks like the best unit on the team. Four of the top five players back, with Fred Holton returning from injury. Further, cornerback Jamal Golden made more than his share of plays in the spring. There is the matter that the secondary spent the spring lined up against one of the least experienced units on the team, so it was easier to stand out, but the talent in this group is hard to deny.
“I think those guys are a lot hungrier this year, more physical with our receivers,” Washington said. “They come out and just compete every day, try to make plays on the ball, put the defense in a position where they feel like nobody can come out and thrown on them.”
4. Special teams still wobbly
I would guess that new special-teams coordinator Dave Walkosky will make a difference on the return teams most quickly. Where he’ll earn his money is his development of punter Sean Poole and kicker Justin Moore into consistent performers. As I think I’ve written before (and will probably write again), both have the capability but the juniors have yet to prove themselves as routinely dependable.
Poole has said the team’s goal is to lead the nation in net punting, which would be quite a leap from 54th last season. That said, he’s got the leg to do it. Doing it each punt is the trick. Walk-on Michael McDonald and signee Ryan Rodwell will give him competition.
5. Wide receivers a waiting game
It didn’t appear that any of the four returners – Jeff Greene, Chris Jackson and Jeremy Moore and Darren Waller – made heads turn this spring. Moore probably made the biggest gain, and I think Johnson likes the group, but wants a little more. I’d say that in the same way that it was tough on Stephen Hill in 2010 to feel a burden to replace Demaryius Thomas, and probably unfair, so the same holds for these four.
That said, the signees – Micheal Summers and Travin Henry and possibly Anthony Autry – will get an opportunity to play this fall.
“You’d like to see some guys make plays on some deep balls,” Johnson said, “but you’ve also got to throw ’em inbounds and give ’em a chance to make a play.”
6. A-backs bear watching
This might be the most intriguing bunch on the team. Orwin Smith is a proven commodity and it appears Robert Godhigh will be dependable and there’s a crop of younger players with playmaking ability but not much experience after that. The A-back rotation usually goes three or four deep, so one or two out of B.J. Bostic, Deon Hill and Tony Zenon will have to prove themselves consistent enough to warrant heavy snaps.
Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog