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Spring Roll

April 14, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Looking forward to Saturday morning’s football scrimmage in Bobby Dodd Stadium, and wondering whether . . .

Head coach Paul Johnson’s inability to assess the competition at B-back isa B-back issue, or a derivative of the fact that the offensive linehas apparently struggled in spring practice. At least judging fromwhat I hear, and read in new AJC beat writer Ken Sugiura’swrite-up, injuries have been an issue. The secondary will be asdeep as it looks from here. I thought Tech was going to be deeperin a lot of places last season, but without as many “stars” as theyear before. I was wrong. But off the top of my head, Rod Sweeting, Isaiah Johnson, Rashaad Reid, Louis Young, Jemea Thomas, Michael Peterson, Fred Holton sure seem to be pushing up the viable inventory.Redshirt freshman-to-be QB Synjyn Days can catch up with regards to ball-handling skillsand decision making. If Stephen Hill and/or others can develop into a really, reallydependable wide receiver(s). Jeremy Moore, back from a lost season due to knee surgery, hasbeen sidelined again for more than a week. Whether Tevin Washington, Days, or anybody can throw the ball wellenough to make the development of receivers really matter. The pasttwo year’s worth of redshirting will really, really start to payoff this season. Johnson didn’t redshirt as many players his firstyear as he might have liked, and may not have been able to do thatlast season, either. But a lot of people are curious about quite afew of the players on the sidelines last year, like . . . Daniel Drummond. He’s been at Tech for about two years, butbetween red-shirting and being suspended by the NCAA, he hasn’tplayed yet. He’s already achieved, somehow, quasi-legendary statusin the Tech fan base as an athletic wunderkind. His conversion thisspring from B-back to inside linebacker started well, apparently.He was working with the first unit. But injuries have slowed himlately. Johnson’s pledge to be more involved in special teams willmanifest itself in a discernable way. Whadya think? I’m going tosay yes, but I’ll be on the lookout to figure out how. Year two inany system figures to go better than year one, but will that be thecase on defense? Coordinator Al Groh’s had plenty of time to educate the defensive coachingstaff and players to be held to a higher standard this fall. If thetalk about Tech players bonding, and working hard to get on thesame page, is hot air or hot stuff?

Speaking earlier in the week with fifth-year senior defensive end Jason Peters, I was moved toward the latter.

“The attitude is so much better . . . because guys are bonding better, and getting a better feel for each other,” he said. “Everyone is developing around a single idea, and trying to find the best way to make that idea come to fruition.”

Peters is one of the leaders on defense. Leadership was a problem in the player ranks last season, in part because of the leadership styles exhibited by some. It’s great to have some lead-by-example types, but most units also need a vocal component.

“I always looked at an athlete as if you’re going to lead, lead by example. Go as hard as you can,” Peters said. “But at the same time, it’s not just about providing an example. It’s about making sure everyone understands. It’s about communication because you have to be able to communicate with someone to let them know how they can get better.”

Johnson said after last season that beyond his team’s player leadership issue, there was a problem with some players’ ability and/or desire to follow, to be led.

Much like parenting, or coaching, leading can be difficult. While the need for a vocal component is always there, leaders need to adapt to their followers: parents and coaches have to approach children and players somewhat differently on a case-by-case basis. Some players do not respond well to being barked at. Others, it’s fine. There’s an intuitive component to leadership, and Peters strikes me right.

“It’s really not something that can be taught. It’s something where you have to gauge people’s responses,” he said. “Talking helps until it starts negatively affecting people, or dividing people. You never want to get to the point where you’re asking someone to do something that you can’t do yourself or you wouldn’t ask of yourself.

“Having gotten to know people and having a decent idea how they react, that’s what makes senior leadership so important. Seniors are going to know the players better than coaches in most situations, because they’re going through everything with them. So they should have the best idea of the perspective from other players. It’s about getting people to move in one, collective direction.”

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