The Spring game is almost here, which means we have football tomorrow!!!! In preparation for that, we as the FTRS staff wanted to share some of our collective thoughts on position groups and players to be keeping an eye on.
Josh Brundage: Not that it will be the most exciting, but I think I'll be watcing the O-line... only because it sounds like they're gonna get blown up. CPJ said that Gotsis and Hunt-Days were "near unblockable" right now. That's not a good sign for the O. This is compounded with an injury-plagued O-line that has had to shuffle everyone around and will be nowhere near full strength.
Because of that, there will probably be a lot of perimeter plays such as rocket tosses and double options to try and get some space on the perimeter... in which case we'll see how our new wide receptors and A-backs do with blocking.
Atlanta's Original Team: I actually have five different position groups that I am interested in but I will narrow this to two. These are not necessarily more important than the others but they intrigue me for reasons I will try to explain.
First, I want to see what is going on at defensive end. We are not only returning an All-American in KeShun Freeman, we also will have two other players that give us added flexibility at this position in Kenderius Whitehead and Antonio Simmons. Whitehead was also an All-American at the junior college level with Georgia Military College, and his last coach said he was the best defensive lineman he had ever coached. His film shows great footwork, great hands and lightning speed.
Simmons has essentially the same build as Whitehead, the same speed (4.6/40) and the same knack for sacking QBs. Simmons had 29 sacks in his senior year in high school. The fact that Mississippi State had to hold him on virtually ever play tells me he is a handful.
Assuming these guys have developed physically and mentally since last year, all of this becomes even more intriguing if certain key players develop this year on the interior of the line. That could mean the defensive end mix includes Roderick Rook-Chungong, Adam Gotsis and Tyler Stargel, giving us three deep at each end.
Second, I want to see what is going on with the A-backs. Will the new guys learn to block? I know we will have plenty of guys who can run but blocking is going to be the key to opening up the outside running game. Other than a few worries I have about the health of the offensive line, I most keen on seeing that we have nailed down with our slot backs.
acedarney: Every offensive skill position aside from quarterback will be introducing new starters this year, which introduces some degree of anxiousness but also some intrigue. Will Micheal Summers succeed as the starter after being a rotational guy for so long? Is Ricky Jeune really going to be the other guy or will a freshman jump in there? Who's going to rotate in with Broderick Snoddy and Dennis Andrews? What the hell is going to happen at B-back? There are so many questions and so many guys who could be the answer that we just haven't seen on the field yet; the spring game will give us a nice little preview.
Kevin Pate (a writer y'all have not yet met): I'm really looking at B-back. Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days were so big for this team down the stretch and the position will, no doubt, have big shoes to fill. The B-back will get a ton of carries in this offense and, up until last year, it was pretty much one guy that shouldered the load. Who will be the guy that steps up? Is Johnson going to split time with two guys again like he did late, last year with Days and Laskey?
Chris Stanley: I'll give y'all some hints as to which position group I'm talking about:
1) Opponents had a 43 percent opportunity rate against this group last year (meaning when the opposing offense has a chance to run for five yards, they do so successfully), which was ranked 110th in the country last season.
2) This group gave up an average of 3.2 yards per carry on standard downs (1st and 10, 2nd and 7 or fewer, 3rd and 4 or fewer), which was ranked 106th in the country last season.
3) This group had a sack rate of 4.8 percent on passing downs (1st and 11 or greater, 2nd and 8 or greater, 3rd and 5 or greater) which was ranked 112th in the country last season.
The last one probably gives it away, but the defensive line was the weakest point on a defense from last season that was far from stellar. I think it's well known football is won at the line of scrimmage and from the stats at Football Outsiders, Tech wasn't doing that much at all last season. Despite those short comings, Tech was 13 points from running the table last season. 13 points!
Imagine what could have been if the defensive line had been just bad instead of woefully awful. Thankfully, Tech returns three of the four starters on the line and can only hope for improvement. Between all of the returners, there are just 10 sacks, which account for half of Tech's 2014 total. Simply put, the pass rushing production must improve from this group.
Roderick Rook-Chungong and KeShun Freeman are set to start at defensive end. Freeman will need to lead this group fresh off being a Freshman All-American and will need to increase production from his 9.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks in 2014. Adam Gotsis and Patrick Gamble are set to start in the interior, the latter of which is the only returning non-starter. This group is under the most pressure in my opinion to perform at a high level in a world of college football that is so offense heavy.
Edmund Coley: I am most interested in the B-back competition because Marcus Allen brings an interesting dynamic to the competition. Most of the players vying for playing time hover around the same size, between 5-10 and 6 feet and weigh somewhere around 200 lbs. But Allen gives Tech a thunder and lightning possibility we haven't seen before. Unlike our last three B-backs, running back is the natural position for everyone in the competition. I want to see what kind of difference it makes, if any.
Cade Lawson: The B-back competition is by far what I'm most interested in seeing during the spring game. At this time last season, we were wondering if Georgia Tech would get a 1000-yard rusher from the B-back position. As it turned out, we nearly got two -- Zach Laskey (who would've easily eclipsed the mark had he remained healthy) finished with 851 yards and Synjyn Days finished with 924. That's 1,775 yards from two players, more rushing yards than 32 FBS teams had all season. The B-backs are what make the offense click, and someone will have to step up this season to ensure that it continues to do so.
I'm extremely excited to see what C.J. Leggett can do because I'm 100% bought in on him being the future at the position for Georgia Tech. He will have a huge role this season regardless of how the rest of the field shakes out, especially in the absence of Quaide Weimerskirch. If Marcus Allen emerges and becomes the Synjyn Days of 2015, I'd be absolutely thrilled -- he certainly has the physical tools to be a great B-back. There have even been suggestions that an upcoming transfer -- perhaps Stanford's Patrick Skov, who is visiting Tech this week -- could come in and help the depth. The spring game should give us a much better idea of what to expect this season from perhaps the most important offensive position on the team.
Joey Weaver: I'm watching two groups here, mainly. First, and most importantly, I'm watching the B-backs. I think that we've seen in Coach Johnson's time that B-back has proven to be the single toughest position to reload at on offense. An A-back always tends to pop up as a major player (Dennis Andrews and Broderick Snoddy both look great) and wide receiver hasn't been a problem either (and there is plenty of depth there too).
B-back, on the other hand, is a tough spot to effectively replace on Day 1, and that's now being combined with a total lack of experience. Only one player on the roster has a carry at B-back in their entire career (Snoddy), and he's since moved to A-back with little reason to be moved back. Instead, we'll see a bunch of guys playing live snaps for the first time at arguably the second most important position on offense. I'm concerned about this position group this fall, and will pay heavy attention to it in the spring game.
The other group I'm watching, for totally different reasons, is the defensive line. A group that already featured an All-ACC candidate and freshman All-American is being boosted by a guy said to be better than anyone we saw last year at defensive tackle, in white and gold or otherwise. I've never seen Jabari Hunt-Days play defensive tackle with my own eyes, and I'm extremely intrigued to see what he can do.
Additionally, there's some fluidity at the strongside defensive end spot, where there are a few guys who aren't exactly perfect candidates -- some have skills but lack the proper body type, some it's the other way around. I'm interested to see different guys and how they react there.
There's a ton to watch out there on Friday night, but for me, it's B-back and the defensive line to concentrate on.
MagnaCarterLive: Backs for me. A- and B-backs accounted for 551 carries and 35 receptions for 3386 and 543 yards, respectively. From all of that we're returning just 46 carries for 406 yards and Snoddy's 3 receptions for 100 yards. There's a lot of production to replace, and while I'm fully confident the ball will get spread around as much this year as it was last year, it'll be interesting to see if the consistency is still there: last year's running back corps averaged 6.15 yards per carry and no one averaged fewer than five.
Also, fumbles. Tech fumbled 20 times last year and lost 12 of them. That's not great, but it's not terrible either, and it's a far cry from 2010, where Tech fumbled 37 times and lost 20 of them. Will we see signs of better ball control on Friday?
(No, of course not. This the spring game. Tech is averaging something like eight fumbles per spring game since Paul Johnson came to Tech.)
Benjamin Tankersley: I'm more focused on certain players than I am on position groups. The players I'm watching out for are Marcus Allen, Qua Searcy, Jabari Hunt-Days and Lynn Griffin.
All these guys will be at different positions thna they ave normally been at, with Allen at B-back, Searcy at A-back, Hunt-Days at DT and Griffin at nickel.
Griffin is a guy that I've always been impressed with, but he's always been seemingly left without a position. Now with Demond Smith supposedy moving to strong safety and Domonique Noble moving to linebacker, the nickel spot comes open for everybody.
With Griffin's skillset, I believe he could win that position and thrive in it. He brings enough physicality and coverage abilities to do far more than what Demond Smith could ever do there.
If you've read any report about Tech's spring practice this year, you've read that Hunt-Days has been the talk of the town, even being called "unblockable" by Paul Johnson.
If those reports are true (which I see no reason to believe they aren't) and he can get everything figured out academically, then Hunt-Days could have a breakout season and propel himself towards the top of a list of draft prospects.
Qua Searcy is electric and with his move to A-back, I see great things for him there. The biggest thing with him is blocking. I haven't seen him play in this offense, so I'm not sure how he is a blocker. But if he proves that he is a willing and able blocker, he'll definitely push Dennis Andrews and Broderick Snoddy for those starting spots.
When Marcus Allen first got to Tech, people saw him as Tech's next great B-back (a title that has been a career-killer for some players). After he failed to earn playing time there, Allen moved to linebacker in hopes of bringing that physicality to a group who, at the time, severely lacked it.
Well, that didn't work out either, so Paul Johnson made the executive decision to try him out at wide receiver this spring. Following Quaide Weimerskirch's injury, Johnson moved him to B-back and has described him as one of the most physical guys out there.
If he truly has everything figured out, he, along with likely transfer Patrick Skov, could become a dynamite combination at B-back, which would allow our three freshmen to redshirt this season.
What position groups and players are y'all watching out for in the Spring game?