April 2, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
It came as no surprise Saturday after Georgia Tech wrapped up its first full-gear spring practice when head coach Paul Johnson said the offensive line is, “a work in progress,” but Chris Griffin is happy to be part of that sketchy assessment.
The fourth-year junior has been in forced limbo for so long that being back in pads was a bit like a dream come true even while at a new position.
Playing right guard is different, but a whole lot better than playing nowhere.
You start seven games at tackle in 2014, tear your right anterior cruciate knee ligament in an offseason basketball accident and miss all of last season, and there’s new joy to be found when you get back to smacking teammates.
There sure wasn’t any last season on the sidelines.
“It felt good to be back, practicing with my team,” Griffin said with a smile after the Yellow Jackets went at it for a couple hours Saturday morning in Bobby Dodd Stadium. “I like it. It’s a little bit more physical than tackle.
“Anytime you’re on the sidelines watching your teammates play, it’s tough. Watching them struggle and not be part of it…even watching highlights like Florida State, it kind of sucked to not be out there with them.”
Griffin’s back out there, helping the Jackets re-shape themselves up front. That’s part of why he’s working inside rather than on a flank. At 6-feet-6, he weighs about 290 pounds, which is about the same. He’s stronger, though.
“He’s gotten bigger,” Johnson said. “He’s got to play back into it, but Chris has good feet. I think he’s a tough kid. Hopefully, he can help us in there. He’s going to have to; that’s where he needs to play.”
While his dimensions haven’t really changed, Griffin’s measurable have.
“Weight-wise, I’m not too much different…but in the weight room I’ve gone up in a lot of maxes,” he said. “Coach [John] Sisk and [the staff] have done a great job with me since I got hurt.
“Bench [press], I’m up to around 400 pounds. It’s a big improvement since my redshirt freshman year when I was playing. It was only like 325.”
The offensive line is practicing without its CPU, as center Freddie Burden is sidelined following hand surgery, yet with 26 consecutive starts the All-ACC honorable mention fifth-year senior is the last concern for offensive line coaches Mike Sewak and Ron West.
Burden’s chief backup, Andrew Marshall, is working primarily in the left guard spot where Trey Braun started the past 34 games before his eligibility expired. Fifth-year senior Michael Muns is working at center, and sophomores Will Bryan and Trey Klock are back at the tackle spots for now.
Junior Shamire Devine started nine games at right guard last season, but is struggling with conditioning.
“It’s a work in progress,” Johnson said of the offensive line. “If you had Freddie [as the Jackets expect to in the fall]…that’s why we’re trying to work Andrew at left guard. Yeah, [Muns] is going to have to play. He’s worked hard, gotten stronger.
“I thought the two tackles, Trey and Will, have got to play better. They played last year. They should be faster than those other guys. They’ve played.”
Griffin has played, too, showing considerable promise as a redshirt freshman while playing in 13 of 14 games. He’s knocking off rust, saying, “Anytime you make a change, you’ve got some learning to do.”
He learned a hard lesson when a bad hoops hop knocked him for a loop.
“I wasn’t really even doing anything stupid. I wasn’t going for a dunk…it was like a little layup,” Griffin said of his knee injury. “I guess I came down awkward and it popped. It was just a bad situation. No more basketball. Just football.”