Aug. 14, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word –
With a week of full-pads practice and the first scrimmage of fall in the books, Georgia Tech head Paul Johnson sounds as if he likes what he’s seeing of the offensive line. It helps to have Freddie Burden back in the middle of everything.
The Yellow Jackets struggled with line play last season, and Burden missed spring practice after surgery to address a hand injury.
His return to action — and the fact that Tech has several younger linemen back who were forced into action perhaps earlier than coaches might have forecasted last year — likely helped the first-team offense impress during Saturday’s scrimmage in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
It included with a 17-play scoring drive, and a 6-foot-4, 299-pound, fifth-year senior from Statesboro who has started 26 consecutive-games led the way. Burden’s quarterbacking the line, and doing more than his share of plowing.
“I think it makes a difference, a huge difference,” Johnson said of the man in the middle. “He’s a three-year starter. He’s played. He’s a good athlete, and a big guy . . . He knows what to do so he’s very helpful with [linemates]. He can help out with calls.
“He’s just a bigger, stronger presence trying to get to the [linebackers] level. He’s harder to keep from getting off the line and to the second level. He’s older, and a better athlete.”
Johnson said he thought the line has a chance to be better this season than last.
That long 17-play drive — which culminated with a touchdown against the first-team defense — was just what Dr. Johnson ordered. In particular, he noted the 6-7, 370-pound Devine.
“I was pleased with Shamire. He fought through,” the coach said. “You’ve got to play yourself into football shape . . . You couldn’t have scripted it any better. We had to convert a few fourth-and-shorts.”
Several Jackets trimmed body fat in the offseason, their conditioning appears improved and Saturday wasn’t the first time this summer that the coach has lauded the big — although not as big — fellas up front.
“Will and Trey are both a year older,” Johnson said a few days ago. “Eason’s doing some decent things.”
Burden started all 12 games last season, Devine started nine and played in 11, Bryan started six and played in 10, Klock started three and played in all 12 and Fromayan played in all 12 off the bench.
Backup center Andrew Marshall has worked some at tackle, tackle Chris Griffin is trying to return from knee surgery and fifth-year senior Michael Muns — a former walk-on who was recently placed on scholarship — may help at center.
Johnson even made the rare move of pointing out freshmen without being asked. He said a few days earlier that guards Parker Braun (6-3, 280) and Kenny Cooper (6-3, 307) and tackle Jahaziel Lee (6-2, 267) have made impressions.
“Both Kenny and Braun are strong, physical guys. Jahaziel is a good athlete,” Johnson said. “That doesn’t mean they’re going to start, but if they can get in the two-deep, they’re going to play.”