Tech A-back lineup shaping up as season approaches

Tech’s football team had top-notch starters but very little depth at the A-back position in 2008. Several true freshmen ended up in key reserve roles due to a lack of personnel, and luckily the team was able to avoid any long-term injuries to its most important players at the position.

The outlook for 2009 is far brighter. As practice wraps up and the season approaches, neither quality nor depth at A-back is a concern in the slightest. Both of last year’s starters return, none of the key members of the rotation are gone, and the team has added weapons at the position. With junior Jonathan Dwyer returning to man the B-back position, the Jackets’ A-backs appear primed to make the team’s backfield one of the best units in the nation.

A number of players have been seeing time at the position throughout practice, and it remains unclear who will end up in the two starting spots on opening day.

The one name that would seemingly be certain is redshirt sophomore Roddy Jones; however, Jones dislocated his wrist in June and has had to sit out all contact drills during practice. His status for the season opener against Jacksonville State has been uncertain, but he had his cast removed on Tuesday and a day later, Head Coach Paul Johnson said that Jones would likely be able to play in the season opener against Jacksonville State.

The Jackets could certainly use his skills, as Jones was third on the team with 690 rushing yards last season and five total touchdowns, both of which were tops among A-backs, and he averaged a team-high 8.5 yards per carry.

Junior Lucas Cox started every game last season opposite Jones, providing a very different presence on the other side of the line. At six feet and 232 pounds, Cox played the role of bruiser last season, emerging as a strong blocker and power runner to complement Jones’s agility and big-play ability. Cox was not exactly slow either, as he gained 200 yards on the ground last season with an average of 7.7 yards per carry. He saw time at B-back as well last season in goal-line and other short-yardage situations. He expects to see time at that position this year too.

“I’m guessing I will [take snaps at B-back]…It’s more of a fit of what I am. I take reps at both positions in practice,” Cox said after Tuesday’s practice.

One player who could emerge as a key in the A-back rotation is redshirt junior Anthony Allen. He sat out last season after transferring to Tech from the University of Louisville but saw plenty of action on the scout team, and he performed well in the T-Day Spring Game with a team-high 69 yards rushing.

Allen is arguably the most versatile member of the unit, with considerable speed on a 231-pound frame, and he is battling for one of the starting spots. Whether he wins the job or not, he should be a major factor there and will likely spell Dwyer at B-back on occasion.

“[Allen’s] a great addition to Georgia Tech…He could be a standout player this year,” Cox said.

Several other young players should factor into the backfield as well. Sophomore Marcus Wright, one of the team’s quickest players, saw time as a reserve A-back last year and as a kick returner alongside Jones. He has reportedly shown great improvement during practice and should be a bigger factor than last year.

Another sophomore, Embry Peeples, is in the same mold as Wright and will provide another fast option out of the backfield. He too saw limited time last year as a reserve, but performed well when on the field. Meanwhile, true freshman Orwin Smith is bigger than the trio of quick sophomores and should be a viable and versatile option.

Since everyone but the freshman Smith has a year’s worth of experience running the offense, the unit’s focus in practice has shifted toward more specific areas. “We’re focusing more on our routes and on our assignments. We just had to get the gist of it last year…but now we’re just fine-tuning everything,” Cox said.

Cox highlighted the unit’s overall speed as its biggest strength and said that the depth would come in handy as well, allowing players to be fresh and energized every time they took the field. He did note that the A-backs could improve in some areas, though.

“Getting blocks on the perimeter…[has] been a challenge, and it’ll always be a challenge. But if we can fine-tune it a bit, I think we’ll be better off,” Cox said.