Will Jackson’s bond with Ray Beno dates back several hundred snaps, a sweaty collage of cut blocks, scoop blocks and double teams on the left side of the Georgia Tech offensive line.
That partnership has lent both players invaluable knowledge as they prepare for the upcoming season.
“If I’m doing a combo block with Ray, I know how he’s going to handle it, how long he’s going to stay on the block, just little things like that,” Jackson said. “You know how he’s going to be playing, so it helps out a lot.”
Tech’s line has amassed a pool of such bits of data. Guards Omoregie Uzzi and Jackson head into their third year as starters. Center Jay Finch and Beno, an offensive tackle, both started 11 games last season. Offensive tackle Tyler Kidney made six starts. That collected experience, awareness of both self and the neighboring lineman, should prove an invaluable asset for the Yellow Jackets and their ACC title aspirations.
“I want us to dominate every single play,” said Uzzi, a two-time All-ACC pick who Thursday was named to the Outland Trophy watch list as one of the country’s outstanding interior linemen.
The offense and team’s performance could well hinge on the level of dominance that Uzzi’s unit achieves. Quarterback Tevin Washington will need as much time and pocket space as possible to connect with an inexperienced wide receiver group. Consistent running alleys will grant B-back David Sims, A-back Orwin Smith and a cast of aspiring backups more confidence to run through them. Sustained drives will relieve pressure from a defense that has potential but has questions to answer.
Uzzi said he wants the line, and the team generally, to adopt an attitude to “not depend on this guy or depend on that guy. It’s up to me. Those are the kind of guys that I want playing with me.”
The wisdom gained from a season, or two seasons, of play should help release the line to play with such fervor.
“I remember my first year, I was just hesitant in everything,” Jackson said. “Now, I know where I’m supposed to go. It’s second nature.”
As is often the case with offensive linemen, the group is characterized by its intelligence, cohesion and willingness to work. Offensive line coach Mike Sewak sees a couple next steps for his linemen. One, playing with the same accountability that Uzzi envisions. Two, freeing themselves to think less about technique and play with a brawler’s abandon. Sewak, a letterman at Virginia, remembers a roommate asking him if he thought about his footwork at the snap of the ball.
“I said, ‘[Heck] no. I just take a good first step and then just go after it,’” he said. “Finish the guy, knock him out. Whatever it takes to get him out of the way, get him out of the way.”
It should not surprise that Uzzi and his coach share similar viewpoints. On top of team-wide strength and conditioning workouts, Uzzi has led workouts for the group this summer, twice-weekly get-togethers to rehearse footwork and technique.
“He’s awesome,” said Jackson, smiling, as Uzzi stood within earshot. “If Coach Sewak leaves, I’m nominating him for o-line coach.”
Fall camp, which begins Aug. 3, will sort out the depth chart. Shaquille Mason and Trey Braun, the latter recovered from a broken leg suffered in the spring, will push Jackson and Uzzi at guard. A rotation is a possibility. At tackle, Morgan Bailey, Bryan Chamberlain and Errin Joe will challenge Beno and Kidney. This is the deepest offensive line group that coach Paul Johnson has fielded in his tenure, going into its fifth autumn.
“Bryan’s been working his butt off, so it’s going to make for an interesting camp,” said Beno, who himself appeared lean and muscle-bound in an interview Thursday.
Should the line perform as it intends, the season to follow will carry an intrigue all its own.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog