Aug. 8, 2013
Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –
Any conversation about Georgia Tech’s wide receivers might start off feeling like an odd topic because the Yellow Jackets do not pass the ball frequently.
It may grow more strange when considering the fact that the Jackets’ two most prolific wideouts from a season ago are no longer in the program and three of the top four pass catchers altogether are gone.
Junior Darren Waller is No. 1 in the wide receiver pecking order at the moment, and there are a couple ways to look at that.
The good: he averaged 20.2 yards per reception, and happens to be 6-feet-5 and about 225 pounds.
The other: Waller caught just eight passes, and the Jackets don’t have another wide receiver who’s caught an official pass since high school.
Beyond Waller, the Jackets are going to play wide receivers with little or no experience. The leading candidates are baseball player DeAndre Smelter, freshman Michael Summers, junior Corey Dennis and freshman Trayvin Henry. Sophomore Antonio Messick and freshmen Ricky Jeune are working it, too.
Even with all this information, there can be no diminishing the importance of Tech’s passing attack even if it is not standard.
The run offense – ranked in the top five nationally in each of head coach Paul Johnson’s five seasons on The Flats – needs a deep passing game in order to maximize efficiency, and the wideouts are most often the ones who go long.
As Johnson said the other day, he’s less worried about completion percentage and more concerned with passing efficiency. Translation: even if Tech’s completion percentage is at or below 50 percent, the passing game can be considered effective if the average completion is roughly 20 yards.
Johnson’s best Tech offense was in 2009, when the Jackets were No. 11 in total (442.1 yards per game), No. 11 in scoring (33.8) and No. 2 in rushing (295.4).
That was actually just the fourth-best per-game rushing average in Johnson’s five years, and the passing game ranked just 115th in ’09 in yards per game (127.7).
But Tech was No. 12 in passing efficiency while completing a modest 46.4 percent of their passes in ’09 yet averaged a whopping 22.7 yards per hookup, or nearly twice what opponents managed (11.9).
Demaryius Thomas was the only Jacket to catch more than eight passes, but with the 46 he pulled in, he averaged 25.1 yards while scoring eight times.
That helped. Tech completes just enough deep balls, and the defense backs up. That’s good for the Jackets’ run game.
Smelter spent three seasons with the Tech baseball team. He was a fine footballer at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon. He’s 6-3, 220 or so.
“He’s doing well. He’s doing good. He”s a good athlete. He’s physical, catches the ball well,” Johnson said. “He’s got a chance to play, I think.”
Dennis has played in 27 games on offense, defense and special teams. Henry, who redshirted last fall, is 6-3, 210. “He’s got the ability,” Johnson said. “He’s probably going to play, too.
“We’ll set the depth after Saturday’s scrimmage (open to season ticket holders and the families of players). In my mind, I kind of know the four or five guys that are probably going to play.”
Former running back Orwin Smith tied Greene for the team lead last season with 18 receptions, leaving A-back Robert Godhigh (15 receptions, 15.1 yard average, team-high four touchdowns) as Tech’s top returning receiver.
You may not care for the heavy air that’s been draped over Atlanta recently, but Johnson and the football staff have a special appreciation for all that humidity.
“The last few days have been really hot and humid so it’s starting to take its toll a little bit,” the coach said. “We’re trying to stay in the heat. We don’t go indoors unless we have to, especially this time of the season. I think that’s a big part of camp, getting acclimated to the humidity and the heat.”
Coaches also get a special look at players when they’re under adverse conditions.
“When they get a little bit tired, and [you can see] who can push through and who lets it whip ’em,” Johnson said. “You have to try to put them in as tough a situation in practice because it’s going to happen in the game.”
Wide receivers coach Buzz Preston, who missed the first several days of fall camp while hospitalized with an infection, was back in the office Wednesday but not on the field. Recruiting assistant Joe Hamilton filled in on the practice field for Preston.
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