August’s heat will welcome Georgia Tech to its fall camp Friday.
Temperatures approaching 90 degrees were predicted for Friday afternoon, when the Yellow Jackets will begin their first practice in advance of the 2012 season. Coach Paul Johnson, starting his fifth season at Tech, will not lack for objectives to meet before the Jackets kick off against Virginia Tech in the opener. Here are five of the team’s biggest preseason priorities.
1. Determine depth chart at receiver, A-back
Wide receivers coach Buzz Preston will have a busy August coaching up and sorting out possibly seven players bidding for a starting spot, none of whom has made a single career reception. With Stephen Hill, Tyler Melton and their 58 career starts gone, Tech will need to develop pass-catching threats to keep defenses honest.
Among returnees, Darren Waller might be the most talented of the group that also includes Jeff Greene, Chris Jackson and Jeremy Moore. Incoming freshmen Anthony Autry, Travin Henry and Micheal Summers will get looks, too.
“My experience has been somebody will step up and we’ll find a go-to guy,” Johnson said. “We just don’t know who it’s going to be right now.”
At A-back, Orwin Smith is secure at one spot, but the rest of the rotation is unclear. Robbie Godhigh showed good form in the spring, as did Deon Hill, giving them a leg up going into fall camp. They’ll contend with B.J. Bostic, Broderick Snoddy and Tony Zenon.
2. Get ready for Virginia Tech
For the first time since 1996, Georgia Tech will open with an ACC game, a nationally-televised, prime-time showdown with Virginia Tech on Labor Day. The Hokies have the Jackets’ full attention. Players have been breaking down post-workout huddles with a chant of “9/3!” – the game’s date.
Given that the winner of this game has gone on to win the Coastal Division every year since the ACC split into two divisions in 2005, Tech won’t have a minute to waste in preparing for the Hokies. Johnson will follow the standard practice of using the first two weeks of camp to work on fundamentals and scrimmaging. The second two weeks will be spent more on scout-team work to prepare for the first opponent, in this case Virginia Tech.
Inside linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days might benefit more than anyone from a productive camp. With starter Daniel Drummond missing the game due to a suspension, the redshirt freshman will likely be in the starting lineup for his first career game.
3. Set up special teams
New special-teams coordinator David Walkosky laid a foundation in the spring, teaching his terminology and systems. He’ll have to drill further in August and find the right bodies for the various special-teams units. The Jackets will also practice his version of situational plays, like onside kicks and last-second field goal attempts.
After substandard special-teams play led to Walkosky’s hire, the new coach has infused the team with his intensity.
“We need to get out of the bottom and get to the top and Coach Wak thinks we can do that,” Waller said.
Another priority will be to sort out his specialists – kickers Justin Moore and David Scully, punters Sean Poole and incoming freshman Ryan Rodwell and long snappers Tyler Morgan and Sean Tobin.
“We think we can with them,” Walkosky said. “They’ve got to be more consistent.”
4. Find a spot for Synjyn Days
Synjyn Days, who has packed muscle onto his 220-pound frame, will continue to practice at quarterback, but coaches want him on the field because of his speed and bullish running style. So long as quarterback Tevin Washington has that spot locked, that means getting moved about in camp to see where he fits best.
While continuing to play quarterback during seven-on-seven passing scrimmages this summer, Days snuck in reps at B-back, A-back and wide receiver.
“Actually, I’m doing good at it, catching the ball, running my routes right,” Days said.
Days worked diligently on his passing over the summer, working with a private coach to improve his form.
“He’s still going to play some quarterback,” Johnson said. “We’ll go into fall camp, see where he is there.”
5. Improve pass rush
Tech’s inability to create a pass rush played a role in the Jackets’ slide in the second half of the 2011 season. Tech’s defensive third-down efficiency rate was 42.4 percent, ninth in the ACC.
Linemen T.J. Barnes, Izaan Cross, Euclid Cummings and Emmanuel Dieke will be called on to generate more pocket-collapsing thrust and outside linebackers Jeremiah Attaochu and Brandon Watts will have to sharpen their blitzing edge.
It’ll be required in a hurry. The Hokies converted 10 of 16 third downs against the Jackets a year ago, although Virginia Tech will have to replace four starters on the offensive line.
Said Johnson, “It makes everything better if you’ve got a guy that can get back and put some pressure on the quarterback.”
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog