Aug. 23, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
I made a special point of watching Heather Dinich’s podcast on ESPN.com today because I know that she irks so many Georgia Tech fans and because I wasn’t able to get out for interviews after practice Monday afternoon to talk to real Yellow Jackets.
Drew Barry and I kept exchanging phones calls. We spread out one interview over about four calls and two days so the post-practice interviews didn’t happen. Hopefully, you’ll like the Barry chronicles on the other Sting Daily link.
Attempts to reach Jonathan Dwyer failed as well, but I’ll keep trying.
So back to Dinich.
She dwelled on the same point that the AJC’s Jeff Schultz did a couple days ago when he wrote about Tech being ranked ahead of Georgia in the preseason AP poll for the first time since 2001.
Schultz’s suggested that Georgia has lost some benefit of the doubt, at least with the folks who vote on the poll. His ancillary point was that Tech’s building benefit of the doubt at the same time. Dinich said that all of this is a sign of Tech gaining respect.
(Who thinks sports journalists read and watch each other’s work?)
Can’t say there has been any sports hack whom I have enjoyed being around more over the decades than Schultz, with the possible exceptions of Steve Hummer if he’s not obsessing, Chris Mortensen and maybe Jay Glazer if he’s not fending off calls from a stalker.
But I’m proud to suggest that I may be the first person including all of them to ever string those words together, you now, using “ancillary” and so forth. Technically, they may not make sense. But you understand, right?
There’s no way to be sure where the Yellow Jackets will shake down, but it’s a good bet they will be relevant. That can be counted upon. Not so long ago, it was a crap shoot in any given year whether Tech would be a threat to compete for a conference championship and/or a win over Georgia.
The Jackets haven’t had a losing team in a long, long time, so it’s not fair to suggest that Jackets went into every season expecting schlock. But in the past decade-plus, only in three of the past four years have they spent more time on the national radar than not.
It’s not for lack of athletes, nor tough academic requirements that reality came to exist.
The difference is Tech is being coached up.
That’s why it’s entirely possible that even though the Jackets lost juniors Demaryius Thomas, Jonathan Dwyer, Morgan Burnett and Derrick Morgan to the NFL (not to mention seniors Cord Howard and linebacker Sedric Griffin), they might be better (although that’s not a guarantee to win more games).
If they’re not, there is a reasonable chance that it will be for insufficient chemistry or drive because they have the manpower and coaching.
A team does not need to have the most talent – nor the most future NFL players – to win a title. But a title squad has the most believers.
I think Tech has more players buying in now to what coach Paul Johnson and has staff want.
The offensive line has more players who have been recruited to play this system, and although the Jackets are only slightly more physical up front than last season – when they were manhandled in the Orange Bowl by Iowa – there figures to be more cohesion, more chemistry there. Injuries messed with the offensive line late last season, and chemistry went to pot.
Here are more reasons Tech may be as good or better:
# There is more depth at running back. At B-back, Anthony Allen can do some of the things Dwyer could do, and backups Lucas Cox, Richard Watson and Preston Lyons are all very good fits. There is so much competition at A-back that Tech will redshirt a few. It says here that junior Roddy Jones goes berserk in a good way.
# Replacing Thomas at WR is impossible, but Stephen Hill is as much of a physical freak as Thomas. He may not put up the numbers that Thomas did (until next season), but may be better in 2011 than Thomas was in 2009. In the interim, Hill, Tyler Melton, Kevin Cone, Quentin Sims and others may generate a more potent passing attack because . . .
# Pass protection will be better, which will give quarterback Joshua Nesbitt more comfort to throw. Mark these words: Time has been spent on pass protection in practice and scheming. You’ll see.
# The defense will be better. Period. Who would relish losing players like Burnett or Morgan, or even Griffin? Nobody. But the biggest issue last season was a lack of stick-to-it plan. There is a plan this season, and a proven ability to adjust.
If you had the offer to be a fly on the wall anywhere in the Tech program this season, the most enticing option would be to listen in on the headphones as new defensive coordinator Al Groh makes in-game adjustments with his staff.
Tech’s conversion to the 3-4 will help less because of the schematic differences relative to previous schemes but more for the fact that the boss will recognize holes in the dike and quickly devise plans to thumb the breeches.
The Jackets don’t have prototypical players at key spots, like outside linebacker and end, but they’re as deep in the secondary as in recent years and . . . again . . . they have a plan. And first-year regimes just seem to always have a leg up. Think about Paul Johnson’s 2008 offense, the Falcons under first-year coaches Jim Mora and Mike Smith (never mind Bobby Petrino in between).
Just watch. It’s going to be fun.