Aug. 3, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
– The first day of football practice, at face value, may not offer much for prognosticators to hang their bets upon. It tends to be a bunch of young men running around in P.E. clothes and helmets, trying to remember plays they last ran in the spring all while some freshmen drag down the curve.
It is not too early, however, to point out that no matter how much talent is on hand nor how sharp the coaching staff might be, certain constructs that are not even three-dimensional may undercut the ability of any team to maximize its potential.
Georgia Tech has potential. Nothing in Friday’s first practice would suggest otherwise. Head coach Paul Johnson said he like the energy moments before shooting down a question about quarterback competition. “Tevin Washington is the starting quarterback,” he said sternly.
Yet the hard-to-describe concept of, “chemistry,” comes up here because observation has over the years made it clear that the way players fit with one another is a barometer of success. There can be an immense synergy created by people who sense — and respect — a pecking order or hierarchy among themselves. Frankly, the pure form of this is remarkably elusive.
So after Day 1 of Football on The Flats, the issue will first arise here with theory: Tech has in recent years had plenty of football players capable of leading by example on the field, in the weight room and in the class rooms. But The Yellow Jackets have been short of Full Metal Jacket peer police.
A full metal jacket usually is a lead bullet that is covered with a jacket of a harder metal.
It’s one thing for a coach to tell a player or group to shape up. I want a few guys willing to grab a teammate by the facemask and tell him to get his head out of his rear. Tech needs a few players of harder metal to wrap the rest. That message is more likely to resonate, and it takes a certain pressure off coaches which — at least in theory — makes them more effective at communicating their messages.
“Yeah. I’m a perfect example,” said senior center Jay Finch. “When you’re dragging the team back, there’s no reason for that and I’m probably the first one to get in somebody’s face when the players, let alone the coaches, can see the dragging. We’ve all got the same treatment, the same reps … it’s time to go.”
That was, in Finch-French, a way of saying, “Stop whining and work.”
If you follow him on Twitter, you’ve seen evidence in recent months of his mindset.
There is a difference between peer police and bullying, although Tech probably hasn’t had to worry about that for a while.
While covering the Atlanta Falcons every day in 1998, the year they went to the Super Bowl, it wasn’t hard to pick out their locker room cop. It was linebacker Cornelius Bennett, although he wasn’t alone in that role. He was respected as a player, had been to multiple Super Bowls with the Bills, was still a high-level player, he didn’t tolerate nonsense nor laziness and he was willing to be vocal yet didn’t waste words just to hear himself.
There has been quite a bit of talk about collective work ethic in the off season, and glowing reports about strength, speed and conditioning gains. Yet Johnson pointed out Friday that there is a difference between running and lifting fitness and being in football shape.
Likewise, there is a difference in peer policing once the season arrives. Finch will be more inclined to correct players who work with him on offense, but that doesn’t mean he’ll turn away from slackers on defense. Here’s hoping he has help.
“I definitely feel more comfortable with the offensive side of the ball, but I’m not afraid to do one side or the other,” he said. “Izaan [Cross] is probably one of the leaders of the D-line. He’s a fourth-year starter, and he’s developed into a great athlete.
“[Linebacker Jeremiah] Attaochu’s come a long way. I would say the DBs as a unit has one of the best chemistries that I’ve seen. It’s like watching the Olympics, and the basketball team is killing everybody . . . I would say we have better chemistry than them right now.”