#STINGDAILY: Good Name, Better Game

Aug 13, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

In the interest of sprinkling good news into what has seemed like a mine field, there is evidence that Georgia Tech’s offensive line is gaining ground.

Head coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday that starting center Jay Finch may be cleared to practice Wednesday and Ray Beno’s return likely is right around the corner. For a unit battered by injuries and defection, reinforcements are on the way.

Just as positive, right guard Shaquille Mason is ascending so as to prompt a grand assessment from line coach Mike Sewak. The question: Is Mason progressing to where a year from now we might hear him mentioned among the nation’s elite linemen?

Sewak’s answer: “Yes, he should be.”

Wow. How does it feel to read that?

The O-line lost center Freddie Burden in the spring to a season-ending injury, Catlin Alford quit the day before fall camp began, Morgan Bailey hasn’t practiced yet and won’t for a while, Errin Joe will be out another week or so, and Beno’s been on the shelf for several days. Ouch!

Thanks be to the bearer of good news. Up to now, Mason’s claim to fame has been his name: Shaquille Olajuwon Mason. His mother, Alicia McGuire, loves basketball big men.

A year ago, her son was a bit too big. Now, the 6-foot-1 Mason is a more trim 305 pounds or so. Even though he started 12 games last season, the junior from Columbia, Tenn., is playing bigger now that he’s smaller.

“He’s got a better stance than he did a year ago. Also, he’s really worked on his feet,” Sewak said. “He’s matured, he’s starting to get his technique down. He’s getting his two steps in the ground, and driving off the ball with a square base.

“His pass protection has gotten to the point where he’s bending his knees and playing lower. I think the loss of weight helped him a little bit to keep his pad level low all the time.”

So technically speaking, bigger is not always better.

Mason likes his new body.

“I’m a lot stronger, actually. Getting my feet in the ground, digging in and driving people out . . . I’ve gotten a lot better at that,” he said. “It’s a little bit of both [strength and technique]. As you get more familiar, you’re not thinking and just playing. I’m coming in here knowing everything I need to do; I know everything like the back of my hand.”

There can be plenty of difference between being stronger and using the added strength to maximum benefit.

Mason appears to be doing that.

“All these guys at this level have good strength, good strength and leverage or they couldn’t play this game,” Sewak said. “But to transfer from the ground into the [defender] to drive you’ve got to have to have good, quick feet.

“You’ve got to have a nice square base so when you hit that guy you’ve got a little bit of a stagger so you’re powering into the guy. What he’s doing is he’s powering into the guys pretty good right now.”

With all the injuries and absences, there’s a temptation to worry that the Jackets are not getting enough time together up front to form the chemistry so critical to line play.

Mr. Mason would like to calm your fears.

“It affects you a little bit, but the second team guys are doing a good job of stepping in and not missing a beat,” he said. “I can’t say it’s much of a dropoff.”

So, we know two things: Shaq Mason is improving fast, and simultaneously laying the foundation for a career in politics.

A politician has to be quick-witted and spry on his feet. Shaq is down with that; his improvements have moved beyond the physical.

“He understands concepts. He has more than tunnel vision on the man in front of him or the linebacker,” Sewak said. “He can see the outside guy, he can see schemes starting to happen on defense.

“It puts him in a position to make a play after the post-snap look so when the defense has already started to move, he’s got his body in position to move that guy out whether it be the ‘A seam,’ or the ‘B seam’ or the linebacker.”

If you wondered what makes a quality lineman beyond size, strength and the ability to block, now you know: Shaq Mason’s tool set.

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