Bright Spots On Both Sides Of The Ball

Aug. 11, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

You had to kind of read between the lines Saturday to get a feel for what happened in Georgia Tech’s first summer scrimmage.

Fans were not allowed in, and neither were the people with notepads, tape recorders and cameras. That’s to be expected, perhaps, since the first opponent of the season is not Western Carolina, nor South Carolina State or Jacksonville State. The less news that head coach Paul Johnson and his team afford Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer and his staff the better, Paul might say. Trust me, the Beamerites read the internet.

Having been to quite a few of these things at the college and pro levels, some open to outside eyes and some not, I can’t say I recall players often — if ever — saying that there was some really good work turned in by folks on both sides of the ball. Saturday, however, we heard that. Johnson said it, too. Usually, everybody either promotes their own side of the ball, or acts like they’re going over a cliff (if they’d performed poorly).

There was, however, some positive body language to be found in most precincts (apparently, there was not a lot of special teams work).

Defensive coordinator Al Groh at one point said that if the other team is never breaking a long run on you, you’re not playing a very good opponent.

Groh’s guys did not start out with the upper hand, apparently. The first offense lined up against the first defense and drove 70 yards for a score.

Tevin Washington ran the show smartly, freshman wide receiver Michael Summers made a nice long catch (pointed out by Johnson), and Zach Laskey continued to accumulate respect at B-back. He got more chances Saturday because David Sims was out with an injury, and he was far from alone in that regard. Quarterback/A-back/B-back/or something Synjyn Days was out, too, although he looked resplendent in full gear with a red (no contact) jersey, and Johnson said he’s likely to return to action this coming week.

Johnson said that “both tackles” were out, and then he proceeded to further detail who that meant (since most have assumed a three-way competition for two spots between Misters Beno, Kidney and Bailey). Turns out Beno and Morgan Bailey were the tackles sidelined.

More than once Johnson referenced Laskey, and he even confirmed that Zach is pushing himself up the depth chart.

Again, reading between the lines, the base offense apparently hummed, but when the Jackets tried running some of what Johnson called, “auxillary stuff,” they were not as proficient.

The defense, meaning the first unit in general, apparently adapted and played better as the 120-play scrimmage wore onward.

That may be something to look for this season. Groh has not only a great deal of experience returning in his charges, but players returning with experience in his 3-4 system. Plus, there’s more depth than in a few years.

So, he trusts everybody a little more.

“There’s continuity out there,” redshirt junior Emmanuel Dieke said. “Coach Groh has instilled a lot of confidence in us because this is our third year in the system. We know the system, we know what he expects of us. If we see anything, he gives us the freedom to make an adjustment as long as we make a play.”

Groh confirmed that.

“In the past we’ve had to really spell it out,” he said. “Now, a lot of them really understand the concepts of what we’re doing so it gives us the opportunity to not only incorporate new concepts within a call, but to mix and match to solve the issues that the offense presents.”

Groh cited reserve linebacker Nick Menocal for chasing a runner down some 50 yards and stripping the ball in order for the defense to recover it. The bad news is that somebody got loose. The good news is that were this a game situation, that team wouldn’t have scored on the possession because it lost the ball. “That’s three or seven points that wouldn’t,” go on the scoreboard, Groh said.

Offensive guard Will Jackson commented on how much quicker nose tackle T.J. Barnes has become. That’s a good thing. Barnes is not only quicker, but more durable. A big nose tackle is central to the effectiveness of a 3-4 defense, and Barnes is practicing well.

“He’s trained very hard, and . . . there has been no indication in training camp that his stamina is an issue,” Groh said. “It was a positive day for August 11th. It’s a process. The light at the end of the tunnel is way out there. There’s no time to look for that. The process continues to grind forward.”

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