By Matt Winkeljohn
When Georgia Tech practices football Wednesday afternoon, head coach Paul Johnson and his staff will continue sorting through the roster to figure out who’s going to start where when the season opens, although at the midway point of summer “camp,” several things are known.
First, players are tired. It was particularly hot Tuesday afternoon, which Johnson suggested is a good thing because it figures to be good and toasty Sept. 1 against Alcorn State and Sept. 8 at USF. Plus, these conditions reveal character.
“This might have been the worst one [weather-wise],” the head coach said after another padded practice on Tuesday. “That’s the benefit. You want to play in the conditions you’re going to play in, and our first two game are noon games; one here and one in Tampa. I imagine it will be fairly warm.
“I think there’s some mental toughness involved, obviously . . . today was a get-over-the-hump day. We struggled with it. We’ve got a lot of guys beat up, banged up. [Wednesday] is two weeks of camp, and this is kind of the doldrums; this week and next week, and then it picks up when you get into game week.”
Before a quick look at a few things going on around the roster, here’s one drop-dead certainty: when the going gets tough, players tend to look to the team’s leaders, and senior co-captains TaQuon Marshall and Brant Mitchell are stepping up.
Asked about this, Johnson practically rocketed to answer, “Brant Mitchell’s certainly a leader. He goes 100 miles-per-hour all the time. So, I think the kids respect him because that’s the way he plays . . . It’s like I tell the guys all the time: ‘Show me, don’t tell me.’ It’s easy to tell me.
“Don’t talk to me if you’re not doing it. If you lead by example, if you’re out there pushing . . . and [Marshall] does that. He tries to push through. I think our kids respect him. He’s one of the guys that probably when he talks, they listen . . . Anree [St. Amour] plays. He makes plays. I think they look up to Desmond [Branch].”
With Marshall and Mitchell leading the way on each side of the ball, here are developments:
– Jahaziel Lee continues to get most of the work at center, where Kenny Cooper — last year’s starter — may re-factor soon.
Cooper suffered a lower-body injury in spring practice and remains sidelined. Lee, who played chiefly at left tackle last season, “can do some good things when he’s into it,” Johnson said. “We’ll sort that out when Kenny comes back. That depends on how the guards play, and the tackles play.
“[Cooper] is going to practice, probably, before the first game. I said he’s going to practice the week of the first game. He won’t be able to play a whole game, not in the heat.”
– In a secondary that lost all five starters, fourth-year junior Christian Campbell and sophomore Tariq Carpenter have done good work at safety. Campbell, though, is working some at “stinger,” a spot that first-year defensive coordinator Nate Woody deploys as a jack of all trades. He might cover, or blitz, maybe track the run.
“Christian’s playing stinger some now, so he moved up,” Johnson said. “I think he’s probably had the best camp of anybody back there at safety, so it’s just a question of where he plays and who else plays.”
Carpenter is settling in at strong safety, and said players in the secondary have benefited from graduate transfer safety Malik Rivera, who played previously in a similar defensive scheme.
“He’s a big help. Coming from Wofford, they ran the same defense so he pretty much knows every position on the field. He’s telling us . . . what to do and all that, and I think we’ve all kind of caught up to him,” Carpenter said. “I love this playing style. We play fast and aggressive.”
– Fourth-year defensive lineman Brentavious Glanton, who worked inside in the past before transitioning to end late in spring practice, is splitting his time between end and back inside at nose tackle, where Kyle Cerge-Henderson, Brandon Adams and Chris Martin also work.
Johnson said, “The two starting defensive ends are Desmond and Anree,” and Branch, who played mostly inside last season, appears comfortable on the edge.
“This week I’ve been working back at nose, so, being a little more versatile . . . “ Glanton said. “[We’re] trying to get guys who can play both . . .
“We’re probably one of the smallest defensive lines in the ACC and Des went inside playing at about 275. Now he’s playing more outside, where he’s got more space and he can get more pass rush, use his speed rather than being so compact.”
– Defenders seem to enjoy Woody’s 3-4 and its aggressive nuances, yet they’re not polished in playing it.
“I think they like the scheme, and they enjoy the new system, but the bottom line is going to be when you start to play the games. For right now, it’s going well. Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Johnson said. “It’s not like they’re going to come right out and look like the Steel Curtain.”
– And when defenders tire, or feel inclined to drop their heads after making mistakes, Carpenter said, “I look to Brant, hands down. He’s started for pretty much four years. He knows how it is. He’s been through bad days, he’s been through good days, so he knows how to pick everything up.”