#TGW: B-Backs Working on A-Game

Aug. 25, 2016

Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –

It won’t be long before the world gets to see Georgia Tech play football again and judge whether the B-backs have elevated themselves from C-level, or if glowing reports about the group have been smoke.

Appraisals by head coach Paul Johnson and assistant Bryan Cook suggest fire.

Sophomore Marcus Marshall and freshman Dedrick Mills are top candidates to do the most battering. Marcus Allen, Quaide Weimerskirch and KirVonte Benson have left marks, too.

“We’ve got several guys that I feel good about playing,” Johnson said. “[Mills is] a good player. He’s got good balance. He’s hard to tackle. He’s got a good understanding, and hopefully Marcus is going to be a little better. He’s a year older.

“We kind of know what he can do. He’s got to hold onto the ball, but both those guys are going to help us. They’re better than what we played with a year ago.”

Few would consider Johnson one to gush praise and he often attaches an asterisk when he says something good. Yet he clearly feels better about the critical fullback position.

Fall practices and scrimmages have been closed to public and media, so the comments of Johnson and others serve as scouting reports until Tech meets Boston College Sept. 3 in Dublin, Ireland.

Mills appears to be capitalizing on his early enrollment, Marshall is maturing and Weimerskirch and Benson are ramping up after redshirting through injuries.

Marshall led the Jackets in rushing last year with 654 yards and broke out of the gate with a dazzling 184-yard, two-touchdown collegiate debut off the bench against Alcorn State. Most notably, the 5-foot-10, 212-pounder showed off open-field speed that reminded of former B-back deluxe Jonathan Dwyer.

The 5-10, 217-pound Mills, who starred equally as a running back and linebacker at Ware County High on his way to first team all-state honors before enrolling at Tech in January, and Marshall are not exactly alike.

The newcomer may not be as patient as Marshall in reading blocks and more likely to approach his work with a hammer rather than a scalpel.

“Dedrick is the type of guy who will look to run through something as hard as he can and just go, go fast,” said Cook, who coaches B-backs and quarterbacks. “He might be wrong sometimes when he does that but he plays very aggressive.

“Marcus, he sees things. He looks to see things and he’s got a good burst when he gets in the open field.”

Allen (6-2, 222) added 166 yards and two touchdowns last season. The fifth-year senior was converted from linebacker because of injuries.

The B-backs were de-emphasized for multiple reasons in 2015 with inexperience and more long down-and-distance situations watering down their utility between the tackles.

Primary fullbacks Marshall, Patrick Skov – who transferred from Stanford last year – and Allen combined for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns on 214 carries. They were responsible for 36.7 percent of the Jackets’ rushing plays.

A year earlier, B-backs Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Matt Connor went for 1,888 yards and 20 scores with 349 totes, or 44.2 percent of the Jackets’ rushing attempts.

Marshall wants to ramp up his role.

“I know we’ve got some depth at the position and we all want to be the guy,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got a lot more confidence just knowing the offense, kind of knowing my role out there, just playing faster.”

Weimerskirch (6-0, 217) enrolled early in ‘15 but suffered a foot injury in spring practice and redshirted. Benson (5-9, 206) redshirted after a knee injury in his senior season of high school.

“Quaide . . . he’s playing faster, aggressive,” Cook said. “There’s that second effort that you didn’t see in the spring and I think that’s probably from being comfortable. He’s got his legs under him.”

Benson is a tough tackle, too.

Tech’s B-backs have four college starts between them (Marshall – 3, Allen – 1), yet Johnson and Cook sound like they have a good feeling.

“You would like to think that Marcus has [11] games at this level under his belt . . . You would like to think that [there won’t be] any game-day jitters or anything like that,” Cook said. “Dedrick is the kind of kid . . . he could goof something up on one play and take 30 seconds and he’ll be beyond it.

“He’s a real competitive kid and I think his teammates have grown to appreciate that. I don’t worry about him being on the big stage for the first time.”

There will be others waiting back stage.

“Last year, we were struggling trying to find guys [at B-back],” Johnson said. “This year, there’s guys in there. So if you don’t produce when you play, somebody else will get their turn.”

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