By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
There is a chance that the crowd tonight at Georgia Tech’s spring football game will be bigger than ever and there will definitely be a lot to see in Bobby Dodd Stadium, but don’t look for the Yellow Jackets to run a bunch of fancy plays on offense, nor new-age blitzes on defense.
Fans shouldn’t be surprised by local celebrities and legendary former players showing up on the sidelines and the big screen. You can look for some players working on both sides of the ball, too.
Just know that new coach Geoff Collins and his staff will keep things simple on the field and coaches will not seek to out-scheme each other. There will be no special teams action and everybody will have to go for it on fourth downs.
That’s what coaches are looking for: players going for it for four 12-minute periods.
“Execution, guys playing hard, guys showing that they have a good understanding of what we’re doing. It’s going to be kind of a watered-down plan; we’re not going to try to do too many crazy things,” said offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dave Patenaude.
“I just want guys to go out and play hard, enjoy being out there, enjoy playing, great communication – which has been a real emphasis for us across the board. And then just guys when they’re put in one-on-one situations – whether you’re running, throwing or catching – being able to make a play.”
VIDEO: Dave Patenaude press conference - Thursday, April 25
Tech’s new coaching staff is not coaching simple. They’ve installed entirely new offensive and defensive systems over 14 previous spring practices spanning five weeks.
But they’re not going to run everything tonight.
Tonight, coaches will look chiefly to see how well student-athletes are grasping concepts in game-like situations, and which players bring it over and over.
The fancy stuff can wait until there’s more time to work on it.
“We’ve pared back our playbook so our guys can just have our base calls and they can go out executing and just flying around to the football . . . ” said defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Andrew Thacker. “We’re more worried about them getting lined up, communicating and then just executing their assignment with great energy and technique.”
As always, quarterbacks will draw special attention.
Former starter TaQuon Marshall will graduate soon, and his job-share partner from last season, Tobias Oliver, has been slowed by injury this spring.
Oliver is on the Gold roster with redshirt junior Lucas Johnson, who missed last season with a foot injury, and redshirt freshman Ryan Lantz.
On the White roster will be redshirt freshman James Graham and redshirt sophomore Liam Byrne.
Patenaude said Johnson and all the quarterbacks are adapting.
“Coming from an option attack to a drop-back, pro passing attack is a big challenge, and the thing he’s improved the most at is understanding where to go with the ball,” the coach said. “These guys are all athletic . . . They all can throw, which was the first concern. The growth that they’ve made over the past five weeks has been amazing.”
Patenaude suggested that it’s possible that by the time the season begins that the coaching staff will design “packages” for quarterbacks to feature their skillsets. Oliver, for example, last season showcased dynamic running skills.
There is roster flexibility beyond the quarterback position.
Senior Jahaziel Lee came to Tech as a defensive lineman from Ponchatoula, La., and was converted to the offensive line as a Jacket.
He’s getting work on both sides of the ball now, and he’s not the only one. Dozens and dozens of recruits will be able to see Tech’s “position flexibility” up close and personal.
VIDEO: Andrew Thacker press conference - Thursday, April 25
“Jahaziel Lee can play offensive line and defensive line. Jair Hawkins-Anderson can play wide receiver, and then you’ll see him play cornerback,” Thacker said. “Probably the one that has stood out the most in terms of talent is Jahaziel Lee . . .
“It’s another tangible example to recruits that we’re playing guys both ways. At the last place we were at, the middle linebacker had carries.”
As much as anything, coaches are looking for excitement.
“Just being around the guys having that sense of ‘Hey, it’s game day.’ When you’ve got guys out there and there’s people in the stands, it’s just a different feel,” Patenaude said. “It’s really a family thing because a lot of the players’ families are in town. Their friends are here and they get to go out and show why we do what we do for as many crazy hours as we do.”
Thacker said, “If you’re a casual fan, hopefully you see great energy, great juice, teammates celebrating with one another having good energy and then dudes just flying around on defense.”