April 21, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
Football is in the books until mid summer, when fall practice begins, and plenty of attention has been paid by fans to the quarterback competition. There are several other spots in contention as well.
Sophomore Justin Thomas figures to open fall practice as the No. 1 quarterback, although junior Tim Byerly will be in the mix and freshmen Ty Griffin and Matthew Jordan will draw practice reps as well. That’s all been pretty well established.
What about the action in the trenches, beneath or behind the usual headlines?
The offensive and defensive lines will include several new faces next season, as two starting offensive linemen – Ray Beno and Will Jackson – have moved on, and the only returning starter up front on defense will be Adam Gotsis.
Senior Shaq Mason will start at right guard, where the already-honored senior will try to make a case for himself to be drafted into the NFL in May of 2015, and juniors Trey Braun and Brian Chamberlain, who started eight and seven games, respectively, last season, are strong candidates to start.
Freddie Burden missed last season after suffering a serious knee injury in spring practice of 2013. He worked primarily at center this spring, and is a favorite there with pressure from Thomas O’Reilly.
Burden also worked at tackle, yet redshirt freshman Chris Griffin may have a lead on the tackle spot opposite Chamberlain for now. These lads did much of the work as the White squad – with the projected No. 1 offense minus the injured Thomas — rushed for 304 yards in a 20-12 win over Gold in Friday’s spring game.
“Shaq had a pretty good night; B-Cham, too. Freddie did pretty well,” Byerly said after leading the White team — minus the injured Thomas – with 101 rushing yards and a touchdown. “Trey looked like he was carrying it over on the left side, and Chris Griffin had a good scrimmage.”
Fumbles were a big issue Friday, when White coughed it up eight times and gold five (each team lost two). Johnson saw signs up front.
“I thought in spots the first team did pretty well. They did pretty well when we held onto it,” he said. “The second group left a lot to be desired.”
Defensively, former linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days’ transition to end continued. Johnson said that no longer should be considered an experiment.
“It’s a new position for Jabari, and I think he made some improvement,” the coach said. “The proof is going to be in the pudding when we play somebody at throws it 40 times because that’s what we’re going to ask him to do, rush the passer. We didn’t get to do a whole lot of that tonight.”
Johnson noted two players competing for the end spot opposite Hunt-Days, who is penciled into the rush end position where Attaochu played last season.
“I think some guys made some plays,” the coach said. “Jimmie Kitchen was hurt a little bit in the spring, but I noticed him. The other kid who keeps making plays in KeShun Freeman. I thought he made some plays.”
Freeman enrolled in January after graduating early from Callaway High School in LaGrange. Another end candidate, Kenderius Whitehead, will transfer from Georgia Military College. He was a first team, junior college All-America player last fall.
Coaches and fans have been eager to see what defensive tackle Shawn Green can do when healthy, for the fifth-year senior was quite a player at Grayson High.
“Shawn’s had a good spring practice. He’s quick, hard guy to cut off, he rolls his hips. If Shawn can stay healthy, he can help us,” Johnson said. “He looks like the player we recruited a few years ago. I think he’s getting healthy and playing like we thought he could.”
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