The Fall Camp Focus
After an agonizingly slow eight months of waiting, the day has arrived.
Fall camp is here. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will take the field today as fall prep begins and, with that, an opportunity to leave 2015 completely in the past.
I think we all look at today with a renewed vigor. Today presents new beginnings. Today gives the most optimistic of fans a reason to stake claim to a return to 2014 form. It gives those with pessimistic views a chance to explain each and every day why 2015 is actually the norm.
No matter which group you fall into, I think everyone can agree that today starts the best time of the year for all fans. It is truly football season. We finally have a chance to stop arguing about things that do not matter on various message boards because we are longing for the actual season. We now get to talk real, live football. We get to talk football that happens daily in front of us.
Today, I start the best time of year off with a look at what I am specifically looking into as fall camp begins and where my attention will be over these next few weeks.
The benefit of last year is that Georgia Tech had a lot of players get playing time. With so many players gaining experience, there are competitions at almost every position. Georgia Tech has A LOT of starting positions up for grabs, and that is not coach-speak. There are genuinely positions available across the field, and it is going to be exciting to watch these players battle for a starting role.
There is no doubt who the leader of this team is with Justin Thomas back for the senior season. The offensive line positions outside of Freddie Burden at center are all still being decided. The starters at BB and AB have yet to be decided. It is safe to assume that Ricky Jeune has one receiver spot locked down, but I am not so sure Brad Stewart has a firm grip on the other. All four DB positions are still being decided, though I think AJ Gray and Step Durham are penciled in as starters at safety and corner. Two linebacker spots are locked down by PJ Davis and Brant Mitchell, but the third one will be an interesting battle to see. KeShun Freeman will be the starter at rush end, but Anree Saint-Amour could take a decent portion of work away from Freeman with a great camp. The strong-side end will be manned again by Rod Rook-Chungong, but he will be pushed. Pat Gamble returns for his senior season to man one DT position.
Which positions am I watching more than others? Defensive tackle, B-Back, and the backup QB spot intrigue me the most as we enter fall. Is this the year Sir Francis Kallon finally reaches his massive athletic potential? Or do we see Kyle Cerge-Henderson, Brentavious Glanton, or a newcomer like Brandon Adams make an impact? I think we see Kallon become a solid contributor, but keep an eye on Glanton here. Coach Pelton has never shied away from praising Glanton, and he delivered with a solid spring. Glanton could be a major factor here.
At B-Back, things clear up a little bit with CJ Leggett’s dismissal, but there are still a lot of mouths that want to be fed. Marcus Marshall delivered a very solid freshman season, but he has to improve in pass protection, ball security, and true north-south running. He is the favorite here, but I am keeping a close eye on Dedrick Mills. I think this guy is the real deal, and Leggett’s dismissal did more for Mills than anyone. Mills impressed me the most during the spring game, and he could easily win this position. I think we will be seeing a 1A, 1B situation with him and Marshall to open up the year.
It’s never too early to start looking at 2017, and that is why I am watching this QB position closely. I expect Jay Jones to move to a new position, probably AB, during camp, so this turns into a Matthew Jordan, TaQuon Marshall, and Lucas Johnson battle. It’s still too early for me to declare a favorite, but Jordan will have the most opportunities. Marshall has the athleticism to force himself into the lead, and Johnson has the arm talent and QB pedigree to take this position in a different direction under CPJ. I loved Lucas Johnson’s film and background at QB. Plus, he embraces what this offense is and his QB coach, Akili Smith, does as well. Jordan will hold the backup spot this season, but the development of all three is important to monitor.
Others I am watching? Will Bryan and Shamire Devine on the OL could build one of the best guard tandems we have had at Tech. Christian Campbell, Qua Searcy, Nathan Cottrell, and the freshman wideouts will all get extra attention from me these next few weeks.
Leadership and Chemistry
These are two things that are difficult to monitor because it is often hard to distinguish who is real and all talk amongst players. This team is not quite as active on Twitter motivation as others, so it clears up some of the fake “leadership” that can easily occur in the social media landscape.
Justin Thomas and Freddie Burden should take over to lead and guide this offense. Pat Gamble, KeShun Freeman, and PJ Davis should be the leaders for the defensive side of the ball.
It sounds as if JT recognizes his faults from 2015 and how he can be a better leader for this 2016 squad. Paul Johnson really worked with him on the little things like body language, the towel over the head, and beating himself up so much to where it overflows to the rest of the team. A quick fix of these surface level flaws could make a tremendous turnaround in leadership for the senior QB.
Offseason reports also suggest that Pat Gamble has become the quiet leader of the defensive group, and I think he is perfect to continue this role. KeShun Freeman has reportedly learned to be more of a vocal leader, and that is important. Joining up with PJ Davis to provide an intense voice to hold others accountable and inspire an aggressive defense will be a major key to the 2016 defense. I would like to see someone step up in the back end of the defense, and I have high hopes that AJ Gray can fill this void.
An intense voice is what the offense is missing. I will be watching to see who can become that emotional oral leader to motivate and push the offense to higher levels. The 2014 group was full of these voices; who will be willing to step up to fill this void in 2016? I do not know who has this yet, but guys like Will Bryan, Trey Klock, Ike Willis, or JJ Green are the types of guys I look to in order to fill that spot.
Whether we as Tech fans like to admit it or not, often times the truest representation of the team to expect is to actually listen to what CPJ is saying. His, what I deem, CPJ-isms can often times be taken in multiple ways depending on the question and what it is referencing.
I did not realize it, but looking back to his comments last year, Coach tried to warn all Tech fans of what was to come. The expectations were too high, and the team was not prepared to meet the lofty goals. He tried time and again to tell the media and fans that the team was not coming together the way everyone expected. What happened? We saw Tech miss a bowl game for the first time since the 90s.
At the ACC Kickoff, Coach Johnson was singing a different tune. He seemed optimistic and positive. He carried himself with the bravado that we all love to see and had a light, easy confidence that inspires fans to get excited about the possibilities. He remarked multiple times that this team is being underestimated and will be significantly better than people think. He also discussed the chemistry of this team and how much better they are together. After the ACC Kickoff, my optimism shot up simply based on his words.
Watching, or parsing, his words over these next few weeks will be how I gauge my expectations going into the season. Will his tone and confidence continue to be evident in future interviews, or will we see a return to the pessimism that earmarked last preseason? As the season draws near, watching how CPJ carries himself and evaluating the CPJ-isms will be the perfect indicator to tell Tech fans what to expect this season.
It goes without saying, but I hope all the teams, Tech especially, across the country see a healthy fall camp and all the players have a chance to play in 2016.
What are you paying attention to as fall camp starts and the season gets closer? Ireland will be here before we know it. The season is here. Let’s get ready for a great year!