OK, so Day One is in the books.
The Yellow Jackets hit Rose Bowl Fields for the first time of the spring practice session this afternoon, and boy, did they look a lot better than this time last year. Last March, fumbles, missed pitches and botched snaps were the story from the opening day of spring practice, as Georgia Tech struggled to comprehend then-new head coach Paul Johnson's option offense and its tricky components.
Today, when the option was employed, the Yellow Jackets operated like a well-oiled machine, and looked like they had been around the block with the offense before. Sure enough, the fumbles were kept to a very, very bare minimum (I didn't count any in all the time I spent watching the offense, but I could've missed one or two). The missed pitches were also low, although I feel like I saw maybe one. And the botched snaps were kept to a dull roar. But a roar they were, as missnapped balls defined the afternoon for several offensive linemen rotated in and out of the center position. Among the rotating centers were redshirt freshmen Nick McRae (from Dublin), Zach Fraysier and junior Sean Beford. The trio bobbled a few of their handoffs to the quarterbacks, and Johnson did notice. It's not a big deal to him at this time, however, because it is, after all, the first day. Now if these botched snaps are still happening like this April 17... the Yellow Jackets may have a problem.
Because regular starting center Dan Voss is out for the spring with a shoulder injury. He's currently recuperating from shoulder surgery incurred in January. He was joined on the side of practice in a red jersey top by fellow offensive linemen Nick Claytor and Jason Hill (a converted offensive lineman who played defense his first three seasons). Until they return, specifically Voss, there will be an open call in practices for the role of the spring's lead center.
DEFENSIVE LINE SET?
I've got to report this just because it was kind of funny. Kind of sad for Yellow Jackets fans, but humorous to hear, nonetheless.
As I was standing near the defensive line unit at one point Monday alongside AJC beat reporter Larry Hartstein, a number of Georgia Tech students walked up to peek at the action, as well. As they came up, one of them said, 'All I see over here in this area is a giant question mark...'
It's true. Maybe sad for you die-hard Yellow Jackets fans to hear it, but it's true. A lot of question marks do reside around the defensive line at this point of the spring session, as Georgia Tech's front four enters the year with a lot more uncertainty than it did the last. In 2008, the Yellow Jackets had three senior linemen who were not only worthy of all-conference honors, but were also worthy of the national attention they were beginning to receive. Now, with their departure, their fourth compadre, junior Derrick Morgan, emerges as the only clear favorite to start and lead the team on the defensive line.
But Monday afternoon, the Yellow Jackets gave fans in attendance a little taste of they could expect at the position in the coming season. Breaking off into groups during the defensive line drills, the dozen or so defensive linemen lined up in waves to go through drills getting off the ball. At one point, defensive line coach Giff Smith barked, "First group, up!" And when he did, Morgan, along with juniors Robert Hall (from Hawkinsville) and Ben Anderson, and sophomore Jason Peters stepped up to the line to go through the drills first. Following practice, Smith confirmed that right now, those four are the favorites to start on the defensive line. But of course, it is spring, and there's plenty of time before the season starts. The competition is only beginning.
SPEAKING OF MORGAN...
Morgan was the focal point of one drill late in Monday's workout, when he briefly stole redshirt freshman Antonio Wilson's shine time.
During the drill, all the defensive players -- secondary to the line -- came together for a team soft contact drill. Basically, players were fighting through gigantic medicine balls that substituted for players trying to block them, and then ran toward a teammate (who was holding a padded dummy), and crashed into him to make the initial contact of a tackle. Actual hard hits were not supposed to be the result of the drill.
So as Wilson comes up hit Morgan, who was holding the padded dummy, the veteran defensive end (Morgan) gives Wilson a ginger, yet playfully aggressive love tap of a push that created a rise of laughter and awe from the players and fans who were sitting several yards from the drill. Bouncing off Morgan, Wilson crashed unexpectedly to the ground. (He got right up and was OK)
Although amused, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack took the opportunity to remind his players that they were in shorts and helmets and that they were "working on fundamental stuff. That's all." He added that he knew Morgan's playful hit was done in good fun, but "I don't want any broken collarbones out here."
OK, so that's all I've got from the blog for today. Check out tomorrow's (Tuesday's) Telegraph and macon.com for more extensive Georgia Tech coverage from today's (Monday's) practice.
Also, the gameplan on twittering/blogging during and or after practices is likely going to change, so don't expect updates quite as much as I had initially hoped. Sure, not ideal for you, but it's an accomodation that must be made. In the meantime, continue to come back to macon.com and The Telegraph!