Posted by Chip Patterson
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Georgia Tech, who started spring practice on Monday.
Will Georgia Tech be able to erase the turnovers and mental mistakes that plagued them in 2010?
Coming into the 2010 season, Georgia Tech was riding pretty high. The Yellow Jackets were fresh off an ACC Championship and a BCS bowl berth. Head coach Paul Johnson's flexbone option offense was working immediately, delivering at least a share of two Coastal Division crowns in his first two seasons at the helm. With a preseason #16 ranking, Georgia Tech held the fate of the 2010 season in their hands.
Then they dropped it, literally.
Georgia Tech fumbled the ball 20 times in 2010, more that any other team in Division I. The turnovers and mental mistakes were not the only reason that Georgia Tech finished with their worst record since 1994, but they certainly played a big role in the Yellow Jackets' struggles. A fumbling issue is particularly damaging for a team that rushes the ball an average of 57.9 times a game. For comparison, the rest of the ACC averaged 30-40 rushing attempts per game. But the Jackets not only led the conference with 323.31 yards per game, but also in yards per carry. So clearly the offense was working, as long as the Yellow Jackets were holding onto the ball.
So what was the issue for Georgia Tech? One word that has been floating around Atlanta as spring practice has kicked off is "complacency."
“I think there was a sense of complacency to a degree,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Not with everybody. But when you win nine games the first year and then you win 11 games, I think some guys just think, ‘Well, this is going to happen again.’ It doesn’t work like that.”
So for starters, the Yellow Jackets will be focusing on a new mentality this spring. According to Johnson, inspiring this bunch didn't take much extra push from the coaching staff. All any of the Yellow Jackets would need to do is think back to the horrendous 14-7 Independence Bowl loss to Air Force. With two muffed punts to compliment three lost fumbles an interception, it was the perfect microcosm of what went wrong with the Yellow Jackets last season.
“Our guys aren’t dumb, they know what happened,” Johnson said. “We’re light years ahead of where we were last year at this time. We have a lot more togetherness as a group. You can see our focus, our desire. I can look out my office window [onto the practice field] and see guys working, doing things we didn’t do last year. There’s a different aura.”
The aura is different and so will be a lot of the faces in 2011. Georgia Tech only returns six offensive and five defensive starters from last year's squad. What that will mean for the Yellow Jackets in spring practice is open competition for some the most important positions on the field. If complacency was an issue for the offense, that could be eliminated as several candidates enter spring ball competing for the quarterback, A-back, and B-back positions in Johnson's flexbone option.
Junior quarterback Tevin Washington took over as the starting quarterback when Joshua Nesbitt broke his arm against Virginia Tech. At the time, the Jackets were 5-3 and in a position to knock off the Hokies for a huge division victory. Washington was inconsistent on the field, showing both flashes of brilliance and mind-numbingly bad decision making sometimes in the same drive. This spring he'll go head-to-head against Synjyn Days, a 6-2 sophomore from Powder Spring, GA. Days ran an option offense in high school and got to see some time running with the first team in practice near the end of last season. Days will have an opportunity, but according to Johnson the starting spot will remain with Washington for now.
"[Washington] is the starter coming in, and I think that he has earned that," Johnson explained. It is very similar to a lot of the positions, the depth chart is always fluid. He has been taking snaps. This is why I try not to get too hyped up on the freshmen. Synjyn (Days) has a lot of ability, but he has to beat Tevin out. It's Tevins' job."
Another concern for Georgia Tech's offense this spring is replacing B-back Anthony Allen, who led all rushers in 2010 with 1,316 yards. The position previously held by Allen and ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer before him will be up for grabs among four different backs. Richard Watson, Preston Lyons, Charles Perkins, and former quarterback David Sims will compete this spring for their spot in the rotation. With all that talent, you would think that the Yellow Jackets could benefit from a running back-by-committee approach. But as Doug Roberson points out, Johnson has rarely done that in his 14 seasons as a head coach.
At A-back, the leaders would appear to be Orwin Smith (516 yards, 4 touchdowns) and Roddy Jones (353 yards, 4 touchdowns). In Johnson's system, the A-back needs to have that home-run capability that demands attention from the the opposing linebackers and secondary. Both backs have shown the ability to do that at times, but with another year of experience spring will be the time to show improvement and earn that top spot in Paul Johnson's fluid depth chart.
Georgia Tech will also need to fill holes on the offensive line and hopefully Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton have developed as more consistent wide receivers. The wideouts don't need to catch a lot of balls each Saturday. But when the pigskin is tossed their way, they are expected to pull it in. Defensively Johnson is expecting to see some major improvements in the second season under the direction of defensive coordinator Al Groh, but does not seem to place any of the blame for 2010 on that side of the ball.
"If you look at the [defensive] stats from two years ago to last year, there really wasn't a lot of difference," Johnson explained before the first spring practice. "We probably had a few less turnovers last year and gave up a few less big plays. But the total yardage, points per game, all that was pretty much right in line with where we had been. You hope that in the second year (of the 3-4) there is a little more familiarity. The bottom line is winning and losing the game is determined on how many points you give up. That is the bottom line."
If the mentality has changed, as Johnson suggested, you might see a brand new Yellow Jackets squad in 2011. The expectations are not what they were a year ago in Atlanta, but that does not mean you can count Georgia Tech out of the Coastal Division race. There is a lot of buzz around Miami with Al Golden's arrival, and you can never count out Virginia Tech, but if the Yellow Jackets can eliminate the turnovers and special teams issues they should see significant improvement in the fall.
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