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#TGW: Back Up To Speed

July 31, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

It has been a good while since Georgia Tech practiced any football, and when the Yellow Jackets returned to action at Alexander – Rose Bowl Field Thursday for the first time since April, the intensity was, well, not like it was back in the day.

Actually, the intensity was high, but there were not many collisions of note since the NCAA a few years ago mandated that teams ease back into padded practices.

After helmets were the only padded equipment used, head coach Paul Johnson said it was hard to sift through anything that might impact the depth chart: “You’re not going to tell too much running around in helmets and shorts.”

Yet you know what? Just about everybody seems OK with PC football.

The Jackets value their four-day transition phase back to real ball.

After practicing in helmets Thursday and Friday, and then practicing Saturday and Sunday in shells (soft padding worn upon the shoulders, basically), Tech will get to cracking Monday.

In the meantime, many value the chance to get back up to speed on the game’s nuances before getting into its nitty-gritty.

“We take this time to get better mentally, and then you have physical days,” explained senior linebacker Quayshawn Nealy. “We’re trying to bring the young players along.

“Definitely [coaches] go back to the basics of the defense . . . to give those guys a chance to catch up, and give the seniors and old heads a chance to get familiar with the defense because we haven’t been in our playbooks.”

Nobody seemed to miss the notion of jumping immediately back into the fray, as everybody did back in the day.

Freddie Burden, who seems by far most likely to be the starting center, is looking forward to spending a few days snapping footballs before having to do it with the knowledge that he’s about to get whacked immediately afterward.

“I think it’s definitely a good transition to get out there and make sure our steps are good so when we do get into contact everybody has their first two steps into the ground, especially for the freshmen out here for the first time,” Burden said. “Everything is brand new to them.”

Senior fullback Zack Laskey agreed that a football-light diet helps.

“Of course we want to go out there and put the pads on, but at the same time it’s good because we have all the freshmen coming in and with the quarterback-center exchanges getting that worked out before the pads go on, that’s good,” he said. “For the young guys, getting the mental reps is great.”

The exchange between quarterbacks and running backs is important as well. Quarterbacks and B-backs coach Bryan Cook has some issues.

Tech’s three leading rushers have moved on (as have the Jackets’ three leading tacklers and five of the top six). While Laskey is primed to move into a starting role, his likely backup, Travis Custis, transferred to a junior college.

Matt Connor has played there some, but freshmen Donovan Wilson, Ryan Braswell and others have to catch up.

We are going to force those young B-backs.

“I think we have so much to get done that it doesn’t matter what we’re wearing and it would probably just complicate things the more pads we have on,” Cook said. “I don’t have any opinion on NCAA rules and process. I just know we have a lot to work on.

“As a coach, you do everything in a progression. The first thing you work on is cadence.”

Cook said that was his primary topic du jour Thursday, even with projected starting quarterback Justin Thomas.

At the same time, he said line coach Mike Sewak was working on getting his players, “lined up and splits.”

So, simply put, given that the first days back to practice are about re-hashing fundamentals anyway, the value of pads would be minimized.

“Our bodies get beat up so much during camp, we kind of just want to get back into the swing of things,” said senior A-back Synjyn Days. “You get used to the heat, and running more, and then shoulder pads and more contact. I think it’s a pretty good setup.”

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