ATLANTA — The season had only been over for a matter of days, but for some, plans for the next immediately began to take shape.
The sting of a 38-3 bowl game loss still weighing heavy on their minds early this January, members of Georgia Tech’s roster began thinking of ways they could prevent encountering similar disappointment in the future.
For Macon native Correy Earls, that meant doing something he had never thought he would have the guts to do — change positions.
“I proposed the move,” the one-time Yellow Jackets starting receiver said of a switch to defense. “I did some thinking about my positioning as far as being able to contribute to the team, and I thought I’d be able to help a little bit more on this side of the ball.”
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On Monday, just two months after approaching Georgia Tech coaches with the idea, Earls joined other members of the Yellow Jackets’ secondary at Rose Bowl Fields during the team’s opening spring practice session.
Going through drills in the defensive backfield for the first time since high school, the junior didn’t think the transition was as seamless as he hoped. But by the end of the spring training session — which ends April 18 — he believes he can become a major asset to Georgia Tech’s defense.
“Yeah, it is different being on the other side of the ball, but (Monday) it was more about getting rid of the first-day jitters and getting comfortable with the position and getting acclimated with the calls and the signals,” Earls said. “Once you do that, then we’ll see how things go from there.”
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson, who has several other players rotating to new positions during these workouts, said it is hard to really evaluate Earls’ switch this early in the spring season. After next week, he hopes to have a better idea of how sound the various switches will be.
“To be fair to Correy, you have to give him a week or so before you zoom in on him,” Johnson said. “We’ve got several guys in that mix in the secondary.
“I have a better chance in the spring to walk around and look at guys, and it gives me a better idea of if we need to move a guy from here to there or do some of those other things to get some depth.”
Earls’ addition to Georgia Tech’s secondary should give the Yellow Jackets a great deal of depth. Already expected to get extensive playing time are All-ACC safety Morgan Burnett, experienced corner Mario Butler, sophomores Cooper Taylor and Rashaad Reid and junior Dominique Reese. With Earls in the mix, it adds just another defender with electric speed and good hands.
Last season, he caught just four passes for 41 yards after missing the first four games with a hamstring injury. Despite the limited number of touches, however, his ability to catch passes should help the former Central standout add to Georgia Tech’s interception total.
In 2008, Georgia Tech picked off 18 passes, one year after having amassed just five interceptions.
Earls, who was a first-team All-Middle Georgia selection by The Telegraph his senior year of high school, believes his experiences as a receiver will aid his move Georgia Tech’s secondary for potentially the next two seasons while also helping his draft status when he considers going pro after his senior season.
“It’ll be real helpful for me to be out there as a guy who played both sides of the ball at the college level,” Earls said. “I mean, I’ll be able to play receiver and know what the defensive back is thinking, and I’ll be able to play defensive back and know exactly what the receiver is thinking. So it’ll be very beneficial to me.”
While the move may prove rewarding when Earls’ career is all said and done, it was also made, in part, because of what he perceived was an ever-decreasing role in Georgia Tech’s run-based option offense.
“It had a little bit to do with that, too,” Earls said.
With the perceived emergence of sophomore receiver Tyler Melton and junior Kevin Cone, Earls’ place in the Yellow Jackets’ receiving corps was beginning to disappear. Not to mention, his classmate and fellow Middle Georgian Demaryius Thomas had already solidified himself as the leading star at the position. Against Duke last season, Thomas had nine catches and nearly set the single-game program record for receiving yards.
Add to the mix the arrival this fall of highly touted true freshman Stephen Hill, and Earls’ spot on the receiving depth chart was on shaky ground.
Although he won’t be getting a chance to catch long touchdown passes this coming year, the proposition of keeping opposing receivers out of the end zone excites him.
“It’s not brand new, but it has been a minute since I’ve been able to get out there and play the position,” Earls said. “So it’s just getting the rust off and getting back to where I was and doing what I can to help the team from here.”