April 17, 2017
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Spring practice presents all kinds of challenges for coaches. One of the biggest is getting both sides of the ball to continually bring their A-game to the field.
Head coach Paul Johnson knows the difficulty and probability of that. He has coached enough spring to realize how performance can fluctuate.
Saturday’s second of Georgia Tech’s three spring scrimmages was a perfect example.
Jaytlin Askew, who poked the ball out of the arms of a receiver at the one yard line, denying what would have been a 70-yard TD.
Declaring a winner for the day was tricky and depended upon which unit match-up was being watched.
“The first-team offense was pretty good and the second-team defense was pretty good … ,” said Johnson. “So I was disappointed in the second-team offense and disappointed in the first-team defense. It was more of hit-`em-in-the-mouth toughness, between-the-tackles grind it out — that kind of thing. [A] gut-check-type deal.”
The assessment could just as easily turn the other way come Friday’s Spring Game (kickoff is at 7 p.m.). It actually could turn as soon as the next practice. That’s simply the kind of pendulum swings you see during spring ball.
“In the spring, it goes back and forth,” Johnson said. “[Last] Wednesday, the defense was better. It goes back and forth. What you want to do is have some consistency and get ready to play.”
One player who showed he’s on top of his game is sophomore B-back Dedrick Mills. The Jackets’ leading rusher from last season played in only two series Saturday, but made the most of both. He carried nine of the 12 plays in the first-team offense’s initial drive, which resulted in a 27-yard field goal by redshirt sophomore Shawn Davis and, three series later, his 10-yard burst to the left landed him in the end zone and capped a second scoring drive.
“I thought the day went pretty good for the first offense,” said Mills. “There were some things that we could have done better but, at the end of the day, we still did pretty good for the scrimmage.”
Playing only two series was fine, especially with the number of reps he got.
“Oh yeah, I got my work in,” he said. “Hey, I enjoy the time I’m out there. I know other people have to get reps, too.”
With quarterback Matthew Jordan sitting for the rest of the spring to rest his foot, redshirt freshman Jay Jones took advantage of extra reps, leading a pair of scoring drives. He capped one with a 26-yard scoring pass to B-back Quaide Weimerskirch and took the ball the final 31 yards on a keeper to finish another drive.
Johnson seemed pleased overall with the quarterback play.
“TaQuon (Marshall) did okay. Jay Jones continues to do well when he plays. He makes big plays,” he said. “Lucas (Johnson) was mostly with that second bunch and they struggled. I’m not sure he had a lot of help.”
Redshirt sophomore A-back Nathan Cottrell helped his cause on Saturday, continuing his strong spring by capping the scoring with a five-yard touchdown run. Cottrell, who was limited to one carry and nine kickoff returns in 11 games last season after missing all of 2015 and the subsequent spring with a serious knee injury, is healthy and believes he can be a candidate in the race for playing time at A-back. Believing in himself is a good starting point.
“I’m not second-guessing myself. Whenever we’re out there, if it is a mistake, do it on 100 percent. Just flying around and having fun,” he said. “Physically, I’m working on my speed and agility, just cutting back and forth and working on my vision more and trying to find holes better. Just getting back in there and getting back into the swing of things, trying to get used to all of that.
“I feel like I’m back to where I need to be and just need to keep working on the plays and get better every day,” he added. “I guess I’m right there at fourth or fifth [on the A-back depth chart behind mainstays J.J. Green, Clinton Lynch and Qua Searcy]. Me and Omahri Jarrett are kind of battling for that position. He’s a great player, too. I’ll just continue to work on myself and make myself better for the team.”
Mills feels Cottrell could be a contributor.
“He’s got great speed for this offense,” said Mills. “The way he bursts out, that’s pretty good, with [Ta]Quon being quick and speedy, too.”
Saturday wasn’t all about offense, as the defense made some plays. Safety Corey Griffin, linebackers Brant Mitchell and Tre Jackson and end Anree Saint-Amour thwarted drives with tackles in the backfield while tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson recovered a fumble.
The unit knows it can improve and senior linebacker Terrell Lewis is counting on being a leader to that end. That means helping fill the shoes of graduated P.J. Davis.
“P.J. was one of the best leaders we’ve had on this team. I’m just going to try to do my own thing,” he said. “P.J. was definitely a vocal leader. I’m kind of see myself trying to become something between that and I’ll just fill my role, whatever it is the team needs me to be.”
He’s worked on being a leader by example and realizes the importance of that role, especially during this final week of spring practice, which has become something of a bounce-back week for the defense.
“It’s my turn to have an effect on the defense,” he said. “A lot of guys look up to me in terms of keeping the morale up. Those hot days when nobody wants to be out there, I kind of fill that role because I love being out there and playing every day. I want to have that effect on my teammates, too.”
Lewis likes some of the young up-and-comers upon whom he hopes to have affect.
“Defensive line-wise, `Big B,’ Brandon [Adams] is doing a great job this spring,” he said. “Another person is Tyler Vernon. He has a motor. He’s someone who’s going to get after it. I like the way he plays.”
Lewis also sees similar enthusiasm about some of his under-the-radar fellow linebackers.
“Victor Alexander has gotten a lot more comfortable in knowing what he needs to do,” he said. “He’s always been a helluva player but now he’s starting to get a lot more comfortable in knowing what his job is. Jakob Brashear, he’s not the biggest dude but he’ll definitely try to get after it and he’ll make plays.”
Both the offense and defense have one week of practice remaining before Friday night, when we’ll see which way the pendulum swings the final time before heading into the summer.