By MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM
There are three tenets that coach Lamar Owens repeats to his Georgia Tech A-backs.
“Be fundamentally sound, play with great effort and take care of the ball,” Owens said.
Sounds simple enough, but those are just the general requirements. The specifics are much more demanding, adding urgency to Tech’s task of finding a successor to Roddy Jones to start opposite senior Orwin Smith at one of two A-back positions.
In coach Paul Johnson’s run-oriented option offense, the A-backs have to do it all.
“He will run routes,” Owens said. “He will run with the ball. He will also block on the perimeter. He’s pretty versatile. He’s pretty involved in the offense.
“The main thing with the A-backs is you have to have the right attitude. You have to be tough, physical and also be willing to play extremely fast.”
The Jackets know what to expect from Smith, who is probably the team’s most dynamic offensive player. It’s less certain what Tech can get from the other A-backs, who don’t have much experience.
Johnson said junior Robbie Godhigh and sophomore Deon Hill entered camp ahead of the rest of the pack. But a lot can change during preseason camp and Smith said he’s curious to see which of the younger backs emerges from the pack.
“They are looking good,” he said. “I got to watch them during the spring and all of them have improved. I’m really looking forward to what they are going to do and seeing who is going to step up this year.”
Owens said it was tough to tell who has made strides early in camp because so much of the position comes down to blocking. The full-contact sessions between now and the opener Sept. 3 at Virginia Tech will be important in determining the pecking order.
Godhigh, a former walk-on from Harrison High School, said he was eager to start practicing in pads for that reason.
“I love it,” Godhigh said. “If it was up to me, I would want to scrimmage every day. I like going against the defense and competing. I like hitting.”
There’s no shortage of speed among the A-backs. That includes redshirt freshman Broderick Snoddy, who was the Class AAA state track sprint champion at Carrollton High, though Snoddy may end up at B-back.
Hill also has play-making potential. After a redshirt year, he was a standout on special teams in 2011 and scored a touchdown on his only carry of the season.
“Obviously we know he’s a great athlete,” said Smith, Hill’s roommate and high school teammate in Phenix City, Ala. “We just need him to prove himself.”
The other A-back candidates include B.J. Bostic and Synjyn Days. Bostic had 127 yards rushing on 13 carries as a freshman but suffered a season-ending thumb injury during 2011 preseason camp. Days is making the transition from quarterback.
Smith returns after rushing for 615 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 61 carries in 2011. He proved his big-play ability against Kansas when he became the first Tech player to ever have 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.
No matter which A-back starts opposite Smith, the others will see playing time. Johnson typically shuttles his A-backs through the game.
Owens said he’s looking forward to finding out which of the other A-backs will emerge as a key player.
“It’s a process but it’s fun,” Owens said. “It’s fun being on a journey with these guys starting out and seeing what we want to be this year.”
B.J. Bostic, 5-11, 170
Skinny: Injury redshirt last year after averaging 9.8 yards per carry as a true freshman, can improve blocking
Robbie Godhigh, 5-7, 188
Skinny: Probably the best blocker in the group and can catch, not as fast as others
Deon Hill, 6-0, 205
Skinny: Has size, speed and produced on special teams last year, could be better catching the ball.
Broderick Snoddy, 5-9, 190
Skinny: One of fastest on team, may end up at B-back
Tony Zenon, 5-8, 182
Skinny: Has great speed and shiftiness, needs to use it more effectively.