Countdown to Kickoff: 99 days
Our 100 Days to Kickoff series is beginning with "Opinion Week", which will run through next Friday. This week, writers will take turns writing opinionated columns concerning the 2016 football season!
As much as we'd all like to forget about the 2015 season, it would be impossible to preview the 2016 season without analyzing the positives and negatives that might carry over from last year. One of the groups on the field that saw an awful lot of both positive and negative was the B-Back group -- perhaps the most central, crucial part of Paul Johnson's option attack.
It was always going to be a tough situation for the B-Backs in 2015 following the departures of Synjyn Days and Zach Laskey, but a tough situation was made far tougher in spring practice when presumed starter C.J. Leggett was lost for the season to an ACL injury. To make things worse, early-enrolled B-Back Quaide Weimerskirch suffered a foot injury later in spring practice that effectively ended his season as well. Thus, going into the season Georgia Tech's B-Backs were set to be the trio of converted LB Marcus Allen, Stanford transfer Patrick Skov, and true freshman Marcus Marshall -- none of which had ever recorded a carry as a B-Back at Georgia Tech.
As could be expected, there were growing pains as each gained experience at the position for the first time, but there were also bright spots -- specifically from Allen and Marshall. Allen turned in a strong performance when starting against Virginia Tech (75 yards on 16 carries), while Mashall established himself early as an electric athlete with a pair of 100-yard games, eventually finishing as the team's leading rusher with 654 yards and 4 touchdowns on 7.6 yards per carry.
Allen and Marshall return this year, and should both take considerable steps forward from where they were last year, especially on things like pass protection and ball security. At the same time, they'll be joined by a returning C.J. Leggett (once the heir apparent to Days and Laskey) and Quaide Weimerskirch (a powerful runner) who should provide depth and a change-of-pace with different skill sets. The four veterans are also joined by newcomer Dedrick Mills, who enrolled early and performed very well in the spring game.
Between the sheer speed and athleticism of Marshall and Mills, the versatility of Leggett and Allen, and the power of Weimerskirch, Georgia Tech has a ton of talent and different skill sets to use at B-Back in 2016. That's good news!
Here's the bad news: those five talented, dangerous B-Backs wearing white and gold this fall? They still have a combined 121 career carries between them, and all of those were between Marshall and Allen last year. That's not very much. At all. (For reference, Georgia Tech has had at least one B-Back with more carries than that in every other year under Johnson, while Laskey and Days combined for more than 2.7 times that in 2014 alone.)
For 2016 to be a success, the B-Backs have to improve over 2015. They need to eliminate mistakes by running the right direction, hitting the right holes, holding on to the ball when hit, being more physical between the tackles, and supporting in pass protection better than a year ago. Some of these are mental mistakes that can be taught and require more focus and discipline, while others are things that aren't corrected or improved overnight and simply take time. The problem is that they won't always have the time that would typically be required for proper development if Georgia Tech is to reach its team goals in 2016.
At the B-Back position, Georgia Tech's group in 2016 might be one of the deepest and most talented in Paul Johnson's nine seasons on the Flats, with the ability to beat opposing defenses in a variety of ways. It's a group that is highly promising for the foreseeable future with its slew of physical gifts. It's also a very youthful group that's prone to mistakes, and if they're going beat those defenses, it's going to take a lot of growing up in a short time frame.
One or more of Georgia Tech's B-Backs taking a major step forward will be one of the biggest keys to the 2016 season being an improvement over 2015.