ATLANTA — With his eyes locked in on the set of moving targets, Dominique Reese tried to maintain focus on the noticeably faster, almost blurring objects.
He had no choice; he had to. Lose sight of them, and he’d be burned, left lying on his back or stomach, watching helplessly as the targets went roaring by.
The spring before, it didn’t matter whether he paid full attention to his unknowing prey. There was always the chance that even if he made one false move, he’d still be able to recover in time to snatch up his hapless victim.
This year, things are different — and that doesn’t bother him at all.
Slated to be one of the three starting safeties Georgia Tech will line up in the secondary this upcoming season — that includes the Yellow Jackets’ hybrid linebacker/safety who will play the “Wolf” position — Reese has already discovered a frustration other defensive backs experienced late last year.
Like them, this spring and summer, he has been introduced to a fully confident Georgia Tech offense.
“(Early) last year, when they were just learning the offense, you can make one false step, but you still might be able to make the tackle,” Reese said of corralling Georgia Tech’s running backs in its then-new option offense. “Now, I can’t even explain it, man. These guys, it seems like they’re going 100 mph. They’re 10 times better than they were last year.”
Sensing the comfort with which the Yellow Jackets’ backfield has played this spring and in 7-on-7 drills this summer, Reese can’t stop smiling about the great things he expects from his team this fall.
“That’s what makes the defense so excited. Because if we can’t stop them, we know it’s going to be hard for anybody else to stop them,” Reese said. “We practice against them every day. It’s got to be hard when you’ve got just three days leading up to the game to practice for them.”
To hear the Yellow Jackets themselves tell it, opposing teams will need as much extra preparation time as they can find this year.
“Last year, (the running backs) were kind of cautious. They didn’t really know who to cut. They would kind of come out at me and pause like, ‘Which way to go?’ ” Georgia Tech junior linebacker Brad Jefferson said. “But this year, they knew their assignments. They just came straight at you.
“They don’t think twice about it. They just come to cut (past) you.”
For B-back Jonathan Dwyer, the ACC’s 2008 player of the year who racked up nearly 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns in his heralded sophomore campaign, the Yellow Jackets’ offensive confidence has grown as the offensive talent and game plan have grown.
In addition to having what he thinks is a strong stable of young but experienced running backs, Dwyer also believes Georgia Tech’s talk of an expanded passing package will make this year’s offense tougher to defend.
“Pretty much the play starts with me and (quarterback) Josh (Nesbitt), and it depends on what the defense wants to do. If the defense wants to key on me, then someone else will have a big game, and if they want to key on the passing game, then we’ll run the ball all day long,” Dwyer said.
Virginia Tech was one of the few teams last season that keyed heavily on Dwyer, pounding him seemingly every play during a 28-yard performance in Georgia Tech’s 20-17 loss.
Just the Yellow Jackets’ third game of the year, the contest came at a time when Georgia Tech had few other backfield weapons and at a time when its passing game was virtually nonexistent.
This fall, however, some players expect others to shine when Dwyer and Nesbitt are unable.
“People like Dwyer — who was out there every play and had no choice but to play — he’s still going to have that mentality that he’s got to put the team on his shoulders, but at least we know there’s something else there,” sophomore offensive tackle Nick Claytor said. “Like last year, he could not get hurt. But if something happens now, we know we’ve got Anthony Allen or Richard Watson, and we’ve got some other B-backs who can play. And we’re deep at A-back. Just knowing how deep we are at the skill positions and even at the offensive line, everybody is just that much more dependable now, which is a good thing.”
Perhaps that explains Dwyer’s bold assertion about the upcoming season year: “I’ve seen a lot of improvements,” he said. “We’re going to be a dangerous team this coming season.”