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Practice Notes 8/25: Praise for AJ Gray, Goals for the Defense

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Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Today was defensive player/coach availability, and I was able to get some good insight from Coach Johnson, DBs coach Joe Speed, DE KeShun Freeman, and SS Demond Smith.

Coach Johnson

  • Coach Johnson stated that everyone on the team is ready to play a game, coaches included. He described the last few weeks of camp as a tough time mentally, and was looking forward to the first game week.
  • Coach Johnson stated that the team is pushing through this last week, and thinks things will improve once they get a few days off this weekend.
  • Michael Summers was able to run some today, an encouraging sign for his availability week 1.
  • Coach Johnson described ball security so far as "ok," an encouraging sign with the number of young guys on offense.
  • Coach Johnson (half jokingly) said that about 20 guys were still on the bubble in terms of earning playing time this season, saying most of those decisions would be made game week.
  • The competition for the Nickel position between Lynn Griffin and Lawrence Austin is still ongoing, and the 2 are about even right now. He said the final decision would rest with Coach Roof and Coach Speed
  • Francis Kallon has made progress, but Johnson said "We'll see in the games."
  • When asked about Christian Philpott, Johnson said that he thinks he was really set back by his injury early this summer. Philpott has had to work his way back into playing shape, and CPJ described his prospects to play this season as "iffy."
  • Johnson expects SS Demond Smith to be one of the team's better players this year.

DB Coach  Joe Speed

  • Coach Speed had praise for AJ Gray, saying he has good vision, good instincts, good tackling, and is a smart player. He also said Gray was working with the 2nd and the 3rd team defenses
  • Coach Speed emphasized the importance of getting young guys special teams reps so they can get their first college reps early.
  • Said he wanted Step Durham to be able to play both corner spots this year so that he can be more versatile

DE KeShun Freeman

  • Freeman feels that the DL has matured as a unit this year.
  • When describing the benefits of added depth on the DL this year, Freeman said that not only does it help keep the players fresh, but also helps the younger guys learn, since there are several veterans to help the coaches teach concepts.
  • Freeman said that he has taken Freshman DE Anree Saint-Amour under his wing this year. Freeman described Saint-Amour as a hard working guy with a non-stop motor.
  • Freeman said he is around 240 lbs after camp, saying that he was able to do a better job of keeping on weight during camp this year. He also said that his strength has improved a good bit this off season as well.
  • Freeman compared these last couple of weeks of practice to riding a roller coaster, saying "The closer you get to the top of the hill, the more excited you get," echoing Coach Johnson's remarks about wanting to get to that first game.
  • I asked if there was anything the DL was looking to improve as a unit, and Freeman said that the pass rush was one area that is getting specific focus.(This was the answer I was hoping for)

SS Demond Smith

  • Smith said that playing Nickel helped him understand the defense as a whole, but is glad to be focusing of Safety this season.
  • Smith actually came to Tech as a QB, but said he decided to switch "immediately." Despite the switch, he was still the Scout Team QB while redshirting. Smith said that the time as the Scout Team QB helped him understand concepts and common passing routes. Smith joked that he got to play as former Clemson QB Tajh Boyd on the Scout team, and that year the Jackets upset a then-undefeated Clemson in Atlanta. He went on to say that he learned to train his eyes by running the Clemson offense, saying that they use "eye candy routes" to distract the defense.
  • Smith described Freshman S AJ Gray as a fast learner, and said that Gray isn't shy about asking the older guys questions when he doesn't know what to do. "He'll be a good player," he said of Gray. This echoes what I've been hearing about AJ Gray, players and coaches alike are praising how quickly he has adjusted in camp.
  • Smith said his favorite place to play in the ACC is Clemson, and that he likes their crowd, but that he "wants them to be so quiet this year."
  • When asked about goals for the season, he said that the secondary didn't have any unique goals, but said that the defense as a whole is putting a major emphasis on improving their performance on 3rd down