Tech wrapped up its first week of practice with an open session at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday morning; fans were invited to attend, provided they remained socially distant and wear masks. For a chilly early-April Atlanta morning (with temperatures warming up from 30 degrees), turnout at Grant Field ended up being pretty good — no number was released, but anecdotally, it seemed that pods of fans made up around 60% of the lower west stand. Interestingly, despite not having concessions stands open and the low temperatures around the city, stadium officials prohibited the entry of any warm beverages, including the coffee I was looking forward to enjoying while jotting down notes for this piece. Undercaffeinated, cold, and sleep-deprived Saturday-morning-me was not pleased by this restriction, but nevertheless, I pressed on in the search for content.
Fans were asked not to take video, so I don’t have anything particularly juicy for you, but here’s what I did see in the hour I was able to attend:
- Don’t worry too much about the punting...: I couldn’t see the number of the player practicing punts (based on the roster, it should have been Austin Kent or Stephen Verdisco, since David Shanahan isn’t on campus yet), but they were consistently hitting 40ish yards on their attempts. Now, I’m not naive as to think that whoever the starter is in the fall will be as good as Pressley Harvin III at flipping the field, but I think we’ll be fine on the punting front. Not great, not terrible — just fine.
- ...or the punt returning: On the other end of that same punt drill, it seemed that Kyric McGowan and Jahmyr Gibbs were practicing fielding punts. Given both of their profiles as shifty, finesse runners and Gibbs’ experiences last season returning kicks (including one kickoff return touchdown that was called back), I think this bodes well.
- Spring is all about timing: This is a point we at FTRS have been hammering away at for a while: it’s entirely possible that COVID’s effect on spring/summer practice time last year limited how much Tech’s offense could gel before the 2020 season. It takes time to build trust, confidence, and muscle memory. It’s just one practice after one week of practices, but you can see that the offense is starting to get that timing down. One of the drills the quarterbacks worked on involved hitting a receiver properly on a sideline hitch route that ended in the seam between two defenders’ coverage zones. Jeff Sims, Chayden Peery, Demetrius Knight, and Jordan Yates had to not only thread the needle on their throws, but also make sure to release the ball right as their targets hit the tops of their routes so they’d be hit in stride when they turned. From what I saw (important to note: I’m no quarterback evaluator), all of them did pretty well.
Speaking of the quarterbacks...: We got to see Demetrius Knight back at quarterback after a few seasons at linebacker. It’s not clear yet what the
depthATL chart is going to look like, but if I had to guess, Peery may make a push to be up there on it. Some of the more complex drills gave him opportunities to showcase his arm, and I have to say, he puts some good zip on the ball. However, again, this is one practice after one week of practices; it remains to be seen whether the decision-making ability is there too (not that this was showcased in this practice, but in that we just need some more data on his reads and progressions).
- Speed kills: A staffer proclaimed tracked top speeds of players throughout the morning. Notably, WR Nate McCollum and the aforementioned McGowan both got shout-outs for clocking in at over 20 (maybe even around 25) miles per hour.
- Intensity, intensity, intensity: Brent Key is a very vocal educator when it comes to offensive line play, and some of that energy seems to have rubbed off on his players, especially in early drills. I’m interested in seeing how that unit develops over the course of spring practice and into the beginning of next season; fans got a brief glimpse of how it performs in some light scrimmaging, but we’ll need more data to determine how well the incoming transfers have gelled with more seasoned players.
That’s all I have for open practice #1. All in all, reason for cautious optimism, but remember: it’s just one practice after one week of practices. Stay tuned for further dispatches as spring practice continues.