March 27, 2018
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Getting players on the same page is a goal to which every team aspires, yet some can go all year and never reach.
After the first day of spring practice, Georgia Tech football believes it’s already there.
Sure, it’s very, very early in the process. But it’s still a positive sign.
“The bond, it’s there. Everybody’s clicking,” said senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who enters 2018 as the Yellow Jackets’ incumbent starting quarterback. “The energy today — just going out there today, how excited everybody was to get back together, finally. It’s awesome.”
“I definitely think so,” agreed senior offensive lineman Will Bryan. “We’re (the offensive line) clicking really good at practice today, already, just the first day back.”
Monday may have been just the first day back but it was almost as if football had never left. There certainly was a football feel in the air, with cool, crisp temperatures in 40s. Practice was conducted in helmets and shorts (or, in most cases, sweats), consisting of two hours of drills, including some seven-on-seven work.
Despite not hitting or doing any 11-on-11 work, the Jackets were charged up.
“I love getting out there with the guys and competing. It’s one-on-one, seven-on-seven — that’s what I like doing.” said senior wide receiver Brad Stewart, whose 50-yard, over-the-shoulder catch on a pass from redshirt sophomore Lucas Johnson was a highlight of the first-day seven-on-seven drills. “Competing and getting after it with the DBs, talking back and forth a little bit.”
There was a lot of talking and a lot of teaching done on Day One.
“We got some stuff done,” said Johnson. “We’ve got some new coaches, so they’re teaching methods and the speed that they want things done, I think the guys adjusted fairly well. We’ve got a pretty good group back offensively so at least the first group’s played a lot. So trying to get a whole lot in really fast.”
That was especially true of the defense, which began the Nate Woody era.
“He has a system that he believes in,” said Johnson. “He’s had a lot of success with it and he wants to make sure that it’s done the right way and taught the right way and the guys play hard.”
Playing hard should not be a problem on either side of the ball, as this spring is something of an audition.
“It’s a great time to evaluate,” said Johnson. “I told the players, `Everybody gets to play. Everybody gets reps.’ You’re not worried about a scout team so much. So everybody gets an opportunity. The other thing is you try to build your depth and your depth charts so that you know where to start in fall camp. You have a better idea so you’re not starting over.
“They’re all going to get reps,” he continued. “In the spring, everybody gets an opportunity. Everybody gets to play.”
Marshall will be lead dog. Heading into the spring after an eye-opening season at the helm and a just-as-important offseason watching film, he’s excited to show how he’s grown and will lead — especially by example.
He’s treating spring 2018 the same as he treated spring 2017, when he took a big step towards winning the starting job.
“It’s nice [being the starter] but you still have stuff to do. You still want to grind it out like you’re not,” he said. “But it’s always fun just getting back out on the field, having fun with all the guys you’ve been working hard with in the offseason.”
“He knows what he needs to get better at and certainly I feel like I have a couple of things that we need to work on and get better at,” Johnson said. “He’s gonna work. He’s always been a worker. I’m sure he’s set his goals really high, too.”
High goals aren’t exclusive to Marshall. Stewart, Tech’s most-experienced returning pass-catcher, has high goals heading into his final spring and final season. He’s taking incentive from last season.
“I feel like I could have done more,” he said. “I expect a lot out of myself. I’m a perfectionist. So there were times where I felt like I should have done more. I got the [first-career] touchdown off my back, so this year I’m smooth-cruising and I’m just going to do my thing and be consistent. That’s what Coach Johnson is asking of us. We need to be consistent as a receiving corps.”
Marshall likes his selection of receivers.
“I think all the receivers bring something different to the table,” he said. “Jalen Camp has great hands, Adonicas [Sanders], he’s very athletic, Jair (Hawkins-Anderson)’s fast, Steve (Dolphus)’s a big guy. He’s like 6-4. All the receivers — plus whoever I left out — all the guys really bring something different to the table. So they all have their pieces that they bring, so every guy’s pretty special and I can put the ball in any one of their hands.”
The offensive line appears to have fewer positions that need filling, but Bryan, who’s played every position up front but center over the first three seasons of his career, liked what he saw from the unit on the first day of spring and its potential for the fall.
“We all had really good energy going so it was a really good practice,” said Bryan, who was so giddy after the opening practice that he invited the entire press circle to his family’s lake house for a steak, cooked by his dad (“Anybody that wants to show up, he’ll make you one,” he said, with a laugh). “We’ve got a great offensive line going into next season.”
Bryan sees the spring as an excellent opportunity for the O-line’s underclassmen, who may not be as experienced as him or the other starters.
“I feel like this spring is going to be really good for them, getting reps,” he said. “As freshmen, when you’re not getting playing time during the season, you don’t get to work that much. So we’ll definitely see it over the next couple of weeks. But they’ve been coming along really well.”
Monday was a good start for the Jackets, who will ramp things up as they head towards their annual spring game on Friday, April 20 at Bobby Dodd Stadium (7 p.m. kickoff).
“There’s not going to be a lot done this first week. They’re in shorts and helmets twice [Monday and Wednesday] and then shells [on Friday],” Johnson said. “We’ll go a couple of days in shorts and helmets then shells and then pads on Saturday.”