May 2, 2017
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –
Heading into spring football practice, Georgia Tech carried a shorter-than-usual list of unknowns as the Yellow Jackets return eight starters on each side of the ball. One of the few key questions centered on the backup B-back position.
KirVonte Benson and Quaide Weimerskirch offered some early answers in April, perhaps easing concerns that head coach Paul Johnson and quarterbacks/B-backs coach Craig Candeto might have when it comes to spelling starter Dedrick Mills.
The third-year sophomores, each slowed in the past while rebounding from injuries, took turns standing out in four weeks of practices and scrimmages.
“We both’re really good players,” Benson said after rushing for 57 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in the April 21 Spring Game. “We got better. [In the spring game], we showed people what we can do.”
Mills practiced and played somewhat sparingly all spring, as coaches have a solid feel for what he brings. Starting from the first game as a true freshman, he led the Jackets in rushing and touchdowns with 771 and 12 despite missing four games in 2016. At 5-feet-10, 217 pounds, he’s a piston who doesn’t stop.
However, when Marcus Marshall decided after the season to transfer, Tech was left without its second-leading rusher from a year ago (624 yards and four TDs).
Now, the Jackets are expected to have something of an amalgamation tag-teaming behind Mills.
Weimerskirch (6-feet, 217 pounds) is a bit more of a bull, and Benson (5-9, 206) is more a burner.
“I thought KirVonte made some good runs. He finished strong and did some good things,” Johnson said after the Spring Game. “If I had to pick a No. 2 right now, he would probably be 2A and Quaide would be 2B.
“They bring different things to the equation. But KirVonte had a good spring. Quaide did some nice things, he had a couple of good runs. Sometimes there was not a lot of room for him.”
In an earlier scrimmage, Weimerskirch flashed some of the skill that he used to set Pace (Fla.) High School records of 451 rushing yards in a game and 2,308 in a season as a junior. He also rushed for 1,792 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior.
Two weeks before the Spring Game, he carried eight times for 114 yards and scored touchdowns from 38, 35 and six yards in a Saturday scrimmage. In the Spring Game, he rushed seven times for 26 yards, and caught two passes for 18.
The spring served as a coming-out party for the third-year sophomore, who redshirted in `15 after sustaining a pre-season foot injury and saw limited action last season.
“Being here . . . I’m getting more familiar with the plays and things are starting to feel like second nature,” he said this spring.
Benson, who won a state title in the 100 meters as a sophomore in high school with a time of 10.6 seconds, accumulated 3,587 rushing yards and 682 receiving yards in two seasons of prep football, the second abbreviated by a knee injury. He also returned a punt and a kickoff for scores.
In the scrimmage where Weimerskirch went so big, Benson also rushed seven times for 97 yards.
“I believe my timing has gotten better, [as has] my awareness going play-to-play,” Benson explained. “I think, overall, my performance has improved from where I started this spring.”
Spring is for fundamentals and, as the unquestioned leader of the unit, Mills said that he’s always coaching his less-experienced teammates, telling Weimerskirch, for example, to keep his pad level down. Both Benson and Weimershkirch also receive coaching in pass protection and on the nuances of their unique position.
“They’re pretty close,” Candeto explained. “One of them does some things better than the other and vice-versa. We’ve got to continue to work on the areas that are weaknesses for them and whoever shakes out to be that backup . . . I think is going to be very serviceable.”
Fittingly, a B-back was responsible for the signature play of the Spring Game — but it wasn’t Mills, Benson or Weimerskirch.
Fifth-year senior Brady Swilling, a converted quarterback, caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Chase Martenson with 1:32 left in the game to propel the Gold team to a 21-16 victory.
“When it was coming to me, the only thing I was thinking was, `If I drop this, there is no living it down,’ ” Swilling recalled. “I was going in there trying to fill whatever hole I needed to within the offense and fit in wherever I can and I finally got a little lucky.”
Benson sounded a similar tone when asked about his five-yard scoring run, which gave the White squad a 16-7 lead with 1:00 left in the third quarter.
“It felt really good being able to showcase what I can do,” he said. “First touchdown of my entire career. It’s a blessing.”