Spring practice for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets comes to a close Saturday afternoon when Paul Johnson's players battle it out for spots on the roster. Kickoff is set for noon at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Fans can park for free before noon in Peters, Klaus, or other parking lots around campus, but after noon there will be a charge, so get there early. There are plenty of festivities planned before the game, and gates 4, 5, and 7 open at 11 a.m. Afterwards, head over to Russ Chandler Stadium to see Danny Hall's squad try to clinch a series victory over Boston College at 3 p.m.
There is only so much you can learn from a spring game, but here are five things I am going to be watching:
The Quarterback Battle
Redshirt junior Tevin Washington gained valuable game experience after Joshua's Nesbitt's injury last season and entered the spring with the top spot on the depth chart. He still holds this spot, but has and will continue to receive plenty of a challenge from Synjyn Days. David Sims will also receive his chances running the offense while also getting carries at B-back. Who can manage the triple option, provide a playmaking spark, and be able to throw the ball effectively?
Al Groh's Defense
The defensive side of the ball is traditionally ahead of the offense in any spring practice, but Groh's defense seems to have had an especially impressive spring. The squad struggled last year adjusting to the new 3-4 system, ranking 64th nationally in total defense. With one year of experience in the system, the players have played faster and with more confidence.
Coach Groh commented on the identidy of the defense to the AJC: "That seems to be a little clearer for the players this time around."
The front seven seem to be fairly set in their spots, with Logan Walls, Izaan Cross, and Jason Peters all returning on the line and a linebacker corps that has plenty of experience. Brad Jefferson and Anthony Egbuniwe need to be replaced, but Julian Burnett, Jeremiah Attaochu, Steven Sylvester, and Brandon Watts all have shown great potential. Other players to watch here are Quayshawn Nealy, Albert Rocker, and Daniel Drummond, the former running back that switched to the defensive side of the ball this offseason.
The secondary, however, has to replace every single starter from last year and will see plenty of battle on the depth chart. Players to watch here include Isaiah Johnson, Rod Sweeting, Fred Holton, Louis Young, and freshman Ryan Ayers.
The defensive line as previously stated has plenty of experience. I will be interested to see how they have improved working together in the system and if they can provide run support at the line of scrimmage and produce any pressure in the backfield.
The offensive line, however, is not nearly experienced. Starters Omoregie Uzzi, Will Jackson, and Phil Smith are all back, but All-ACC center Sean Bedford leaves a huge whole in the line that will need to be replaced. Jay Finch got plenty of playing time last season at that spot and will most likely be the starter, while Ray Beno, Nick McRae, and freshmen Catlin Alford and Morgan Bailey will be in the hunt for a spot as well.
The A-backs and the B-backs will be one of the spotlight positions on Saturday as they usually are in the triple option. The A-back squad is absolutely loaded coming into 2011, with Roddy Jones, Orwin Smith, Embry Peeples, and Marcus Wright all having plenty of experience. B.J. Bostic had a handful of impressive plays last year and will be looking to improve in his sophomore year. Tony Zenon and Deon Hill will battle to make it into the rotation, while Charles Perkins will get looks at both back positions.
For the first time under Paul Johnson, there isn't a clear cut leader for the B-back position. Johnson's first two years featured Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen carried the load last year. It appears that veteran Preston Lyons holds a slight lead at this point of practice, but Richard Watson, David Sims, and Perkins will do their best to be the next 1,000 yard-rusher out of the backfield.
The struggles of Georgia Tech's passing offense last season were well documented. With the loss of Kevin Cone and Correy Earls, the only receivers that have caught a pass in game action are Tyler Melton, Stephen Hill, and Daniel McKayhawn. How much have those three and the A-backs improved their catching skills in the offseason?