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#TGW: Working with a Six-Pack

Aug. 18, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

– They will roll at Wofford’s Terriers in waves, most coming from a similar point in time of origin, yet each with a playing personality all his own. Georgia Tech has these A-backs, you see, yet not a back among them has staked out a permanent claim.

When the Yellow Jackets open the season, six or more wingbacks will play.

The top five listed on a recent depth chart are fifth-year seniors who arrived on The Flats in 2010, but they’re not peas in a pod unless you consider their relationships with one another as sufficient criteria to consider them alike.

Charles Perkins sure doesn’t look much like Tony Zenon.

In the pair presently listed atop that depth chart, on one side there is a 6-foot, 216-pound chunk of chiseled granite who will bring mayhem to each collision.

On that side, there is a 5-8, 174-pound blur of a lad who might find a way to go untouched if running against the Bulls in Pamplona. Zenon has the name of an X-man where Z is for zig and zag.

“We all have different skill sets. Everybody can bring their own thing to the table,” he said. “Some guys may be bigger power guys. Some guys may be quicker and faster.

“I feel like I’m a speed guy, a shifty guy, and I can make plays in the open field. Being able to catch the ball, that would be my skill set.”

In a perfect world, Johnson and A-backs coach Lamar Owens would have a few players at these positions who can do it all especially well. That has, over the course of Johnson’s time at Tech, rarely been reality.

Robbie Godhigh last year came close. He was second on the team in rushing (744 yards to B-back David Sims’ 884 on 82 fewer carries) and led the Jackets in receiving with 23 receptions, a 20.5-yard average per haul, and two scores.

Dude blocked a bit, too. So, he played far more than all other A-backs.

More often, the Jackets have played the Frankenstein game at both A-back spots. Coaches often mix and match personnel to match situations.

“We would much rather be able to play with two A-backs, guys could do every job,” Owens said. “In 2011, we played a good bit with Roddy [Jones], and Embry [Peeples] and Orwin [Smith]. Those were pretty much the top guys who played. Since then, we’ve probably played four or five A-backs a game.”

Johnson wants top players on the field in every situation whether it’s the same guy every time, or a different young man as dictated by circumstance and his chances of matching it.

Perkins knows.

With no shirt on after practice Monday, he was reminiscent of former A-back Anthony Allen, who in 2009 had the luxury of opposing defenses keying with mania on B-back Jonathan Dwyer and quarterback Josh Nesbitt.

They merely became the most prolific single-season rushing trio in Tech history, and Allen’s 618 yards and six touchdowns (on a modest 64 carries) were large as the Jackets marched to and won the ACC championship game.

He, by the way, was larger than Perkins, and that’s saying something. Most of Tech’s A-backs look more like wide receivers, which they kinda are, than bruisers.

Don’t tell that to Perkins.

He’s done time at B-back, and liked it. He has a better feeling living on the edge.

“I like A-back. I like being out in space, cutting corners, being one-on-one is a lot of fun,” he said. “It takes a little more finesse [to block outside]. At B-back you’re blocking linebackers. At A-back, you’re blocking corners and safeties and they’re moving really fast. Linebackers are moving slower.”

Funny that Perkins should mention that.

Were you to poll any of the top six A-backs, including Deon Hill, B.J. Bostic, Synjyn Days and redshirt sophomore Dennis Andrews, they’d bring it up as well.

There’s a certainty about playing wing back at Tech: if you’re not a blocker, just stay at your locker.

“The main thing is, in this offense, you have to be able to block and you’ve got to bring something else to the table,” Zenon said. “If you can do those things, you’re going to play.”

In the event that no A-back or two rise so significantly through the remainder of the pre-season as to distinguish himself/themselves as the whole package, there will be more shuffling of personnel on the flanks.

Those decisions have not yet been made. Wofford arrives Aug. 30.

“That remains to be seen. We haven’t broken down who are the Red-Zone guys, who are the third-and-long guys,” Owens said. “My job is to get all of the guys ready to play regardless of what coach Johnson calls.

“Probably by the end of the week, we’ll start having some conversations about who is on the field with whom, and what type of jobs we want [them to do].”

The players know, “We all do different things,” Bostic said. “Me and Tony, we’re smaller, so we can help in the play-action game. Perk and Deon are bigger, smash-mouth football.”

Johnson is rarely one to go overboard in singling out a player.

Asked about the prospect of a wingback elevating himself so as to put a Godhigh-esque stranglehold on playing time, he said, “They’ll play themselves into that. Charles Perkins is doing well; he’s had a really good camp. Tony is doing well. He got hurt. Deon is coming on. They’ve all done some things. Synjyn is splitting [time] at both [A-back and B-back]. We’ll have guys.”

Yes, in fact, they’ll have several.

By the time conference play rolls around with October riding shotgun, the depth at A-back may well become more shallow as those who best take advantage of September opportunities will play more moving forward.

Some edges have been staked out, all subject to change.

Perkins has carried the ball effectively through summer camp, and he may be blocking better than ever.

And, “I would say the top route runners would be Tony Zenon, Deon Hill and Dennis Andrews,” Owens said.

Whether “The Man,” emerges at A-back or not, Johnson and his staff are more interested in getting production from the position than any one player – although having one or two step up makes personnel management easier.

“It’s always an advantage to have a good player,” Johnson said.

Owens is on the case, working a six pack and then some.

“There is really not a right way to do it [whether by committee or with a standout],” he said. “What we want to do is keep our production at a high level.

“The guys are playing with a chip on their shoulder, and we’ve got to keep that going. We can’t let up.”

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