ATLANTA — Changing positions just three weeks before the season might sound like a daunting proposition, but it is one Steven Sylvester has embraced with open arms.
Granted, the linebacker isn’t switching from a defensive skill position to an offensive one or becoming a lineman, but still, his move from inside linebacker to the outside will be a challenge, just because of the sheer difference in responsibility.
But even that doesn’t matter.
“It’s not really an adjustment,” the junior said. “(Defensive coordinator) Coach (Al) Groh does a real good job. When we meet, we all (linebackers) meet together, so a lot of the terminology is the same.
“So even though I was playing inside linebacker, I heard a lot of the same terms used for outside linebacker. So once I stepped in, it’s sort of like second nature.”
There is another reason why the move earlier this week probably felt like second nature; Sylvester has been there before.
While shifting between inside and outside linebacker last season during Georgia Tech’s switches in base defensive scheme, Sylvester saw plenty of action on the exterior, appearing in all 14 of the Yellow Jackets’ games. He had 40 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Sylvester, who spent the spring practicing at inside linebacker and began preseason camp playing with the second-team unit there, said he believes his “size, athleticism” and ability to “cover a tight end” helped contribute to the switch which was made earlier this week.
“Monday morning, right before meetings, Coach Groh called me into the office and told me he felt I could help a lot more at outside linebacker than I could at inside. So I was all for it,” Sylvester said.
With five players competing for the two inside spots, the competition Sylvester saw was steep. So steep that it pushed he and Macon native Julian Burnett—another often used linebacker in 2009—into a race for backup spots behind named starters Brandon Watts and Brad Jefferson.
But on the outside, with A.T. Barnes, Anthony Ebguniwe and Malcolm Munroe all fighting for time, the competition has not eased for Sylvester. When it comes to chances of starting there, Sylvester said his chances are “about equal” to what they were at inside.
“It’s still steep. Linebacker, we’re deep wherever you go, across the boards,” Sylvester said.
Impact on Burnett
During his post-practice interview session Tuesday, head coach Paul Johnson first brought up the switch for Sylvester, indicating that the move stood to give Burnett—a former Westside standout—more opportunities in practice to prove his strong playing ability.
Sylvester, who mentioned being proud of Burnett’s performance as a true freshman last season, agreed.
“As we all saw last year, Julian’s a great player, a great athlete,” said Sylvester, who previous to this week had been competing with Burnett for playing time. “He has the ability to make a lot of plays happen. So when you put four of us on the field that have the same kind of potential, it’s going to be electric.”
Burnett had 41 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season.
Backup QB race
While sophomore Tevin Washington won the backup quarterback competition in the spring, defining separation between those behind him remains less clear.
After redshirting their first season on the Flats last fall, quarterbacks David Sims and Jordan Luallen continue to push each other for playing time behind Washington. During last Saturday’s scrimmage, both performed positively and negatively, Johnson said. Consistency is the thing he seeks from both players.
As a result, the head coach is still not rather trigger happy as far as naming a victor in the position battle.
“It would be really hard to call right now,” Johnson said Wednesday.
During the Yellow Jackets’ T-Day spring game, Washington led his first-string unit—starter Joshua Nesbitt missed all spring rehabbing from ankle surgery, but has since rejoined the team—to a weather-shortened 28-7 halftime win. His production that month has seemed to carry over, Johnson said.
“He may have went backwards the first couple days of camp, but he’s coming on,” Johnson said of Washington. “He’s got more reps, more experience and he’s doing a better job with it.”
Punters battle tight, too
Chandler Anderson, the little-used Yellow Jackets punter from a year ago, may not be safe and secure on the two-deep depth chart.
Johnson said Wednesday that junior is very much involved in a two-man scrap for punting duties with redshirt freshman Sean Poole.
“Oh yea, no question,” Johnson said. “It’s a pretty tight race.”
Last season, Anderson attempted 37 punts, averaging 42.3 yards per punt. Seven of his tries went further than 50 yards, and 12 landed inside the 20-yard line. The Columbus native learned from Macon product and former Tattnall Square standout Durant Brooks. Brooks claimed the 2007 Ray Guy Award honoring the nation’s best punter his senior year at Georgia Tech.
Players get break
During the Yellow Jackets’ second session of Wednesday’s two-a-day, Johnson gave them a bit of a break.
After dressing in full pads and undergoing one of their ritually physical practices during the morning periods, he allowed them to go through a much calmer walk-through inside Bobby Dodd Stadium, wearing just shorts and jerseys.
“It was just something we needed to do,” Johnson said. “We’re pretty beat up, beat down. That’s 16 or 17 practices without a break.”
Following workouts Thursday, Friday and Saturday, he added they could get Sunday completely off.
Wednesday was the final two-a-day on Georgia Tech’s preseason calendar.