Aug. 12, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
They’re both practicing with more certainty than this time a year ago, especially Lee. Not only has he been around a year longer, but he practices chiefly – or perhaps entirely – behind the starting line (or the parts of the line that are healthy).
Thomas, on the other hand, works primarily behind reserves and, in Saturday’s scrimmage at Bobby Dodd Stadium, it showed. There were times, several of them, when he was running for his life from the jump.
Head coach Paul Johnson covered for Thomas in pointing out that because of substantial injuries on the offensive line, many freshmen and blockers from down the depth chart were on the field at the same time as Thomas.
For the lad from Prattville, Ala., that was no excuse. He was not happy with his performance, and he wasn’t blaming anybody else.
“We didn’t really have any problems with the [center] exchange,” Thomas said. “On a personal note, I hold myself to a higher standard than I played. As a team, I think we got better. We had good drives, especially starting off. But at the end, the defense started playing better.”
Starting center Jay Finch may not return to action in the near term, although he’s expected to be ready to play the bulk of the season and perhaps all of it.
Ray Beno, who was working at No. 1 center before an elbow injury sidelined him recently, is the most likely candidate to work in the middle if Finch is not ready to go.
With him also sidelined Saturday, Auburn transfer Thomas O’Reilly was at center and that went fairly well. Make no mistake, though, the Jackets look forward to getting healthier up front for several reasons – including the chance to see what their quarterbacks can do with the front-liners.
“We hope when we get them all back to be better,” Johnson said. “You’d like to have all your starters back. For the first half of the practice, until he got tired, I thought O’Reilly did alright. Once he got tired, not as good.”
For his part, Lee was a bit more secure both because he’s been around longer and because the guys in front of him can say the same thing.
“I thought we did pretty good managing drives,” Lee said. “Of course we had Thomas O’Reilly at center. That’s a big difference from Jay Finch, but I thought he did a great job of stepping in and not letting the scene get too big for him.
“I’m real comfortable now. It’s kind of cool to be able to . . . I kind of feel like Tevin because some drives I was able to just sit and watch and lay low. That’s what Tevin used to do when I was a young guy going in and doing all kinds of crazy stuff.”
Lee did a few “crazy” things, too, Johnson said. But he is pretty good at correcting his way out of problems. That’s experience, and experience up front.
“We were efficient. We weren’t very tired. That’s how it should be,” Lee said. “We’re always excited about Saturday because the defense has been getting after us [in practice]. The offense, we were very excited to get a chance to go full speed.”
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