After one week off, I was once again back at Bobby Dodd Stadium for another open practice during Georgia Tech's spring session. Only a week remains before the spring game (6pm on April 23rd, TV: ACCN) and thus the end of spring ball, so I went into this session looking for signs of growth from last time. First — some sights and sounds:
And now, some notes:
- The arsenal expands...: I maintain that Kyric McGowan adds a dimension of “shiftiness” to this offense that it hasn’t had in its two previous iterations under Geoff Collins and Dave Patenaude. There were a couple of packages showcased on Saturday that had McGowan taking a jet sweep handoff and going in motion to offset defenders, which I see as absolute wins. The NFL has realized the value of play-action and motion in recent years, so integrating these concepts more deeply into Tech’s offense serves two purposes:
- Promoting Tech’s offense as a stepping stone to the NFL
- Making Tech’s offense more effective against college defenses, especially NFL-level defenses in Clemson and Athens
In short, shiftiness == good.
- ...but some parts remain: A lot of the live action drills were things we’ve seen from this team before: zone and speed option reads, three or four wide receivers on the field, lots of shotgun, etc. The base system seems not to have changed, but they’re building on these foundational concepts, adding wrinkles (like the aforementioned motion), and refining execution.
However, I must regretfully mention a few dour things that also remain. Part of Saturday’s session featured live red zone action, during which Tech’s offensive line was penalized for a few times for false starts and the quarterbacks that rotated in tossed a couple of picks. Now, obviously, it’s April 19th (April 17th at the time of this practice) — far from a point at which to panic about this; it’s one drill in one practice in the spring. But we’ve been hammering away all offseason at the idea that, like special teams (which we’ll talk about next), penalties and red zone execution must be points of emphasis for this program heading into 2021. Viewed from that lens, it’s a little disheartening to see some individual failures to that end, but again: a handful of plays in one practice during spring ball. It’ll be fine in the fall (hopefully).
- Special Teams Emphasis™️: I got to watch more special teams drills this time around. Let’s set aside the punting drills for now (not much has changed since last time — and I really think that unit will end up being fine), and talk about field goal kicking, which I am concerned about for 2021. Tech is a combined 6-for-16 on field goals under Geoff Collins (for a variety of reasons), and for my money, improvement in this department symbolizes a resurgent importance on football fundamentals and minutiae — things that were problems at times in 2020.
First, an oddity: I didn’t grow up playing the sport (so I’ve only really attended a grand total of three football practices in my lifetime), but I find it curious that the MO is to only give your specialists 25 yards of field to practice kicks. I’m sure (and I’ve been informed as much) that specialists usually trot out early to grab field time near the uprights, but it just seems odd to give that unit such little space.
As for what they did in that space, it seems like two players are in the mix at long snapper: Cade Long, who handled the duties last year, and true freshman Henry Freer. From the snaps they put out, it seems like things were clean, but these snaps were in isolated, non-scrimmage drills, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they hit the mark when called upon in a game. Austin Kent looks like he’ll be the holder (if he’s not kicking himself), while Steven Verdisco and Jude Kelley seem to be in the mix to placekick. I would imagine Gavin Stewart would also be part of that group, but he was walking around with his arm in a sling on Saturday. Let's hope everyone gets healthy and one of these guys sets themselves apart during the rest of spring and early fall practice so there’s not a kicking carousel to begin the season.
That’s all I have for Tech’s final open practice. Stay tuned for further dispatches as spring ball finishes up with the spring game on Friday (4/23) at 6pm on ACC Network.