On Saturday April 23, the Tech football team will play its annual “T-Day Game” and will give fans their first real look at the 2011 squad. It will be the first opportunity for starters and backups alike to get meaningful reps and show what they have accomplished so far this offseason. The spring game also ushers in another exciting season of college football, even if the official season does not actually start for another four-plus months.
Sometimes the spring game can be an omen of things to come. Take last year for instance: then sophomore quarterback Tevin Washington started the game in place of injured starter Joshua Nesbitt. Little did most Tech fans know then that Washington would have to fill in for Nesbitt for the season’s second half due to an unrelated injury. Bad weather cut last year’s spring game short, but Washington shined in the abbreviated game, running for three touchdowns and throwing for one more.
Washington did not get a full season of starts under his belt last year and the Tech team as a whole struggled to a 6-7 season.
Other times, like in 2008, the spring game has no bearings on what the team will actually do that season.
The 2008 season was Head Coach Paul Johnson’s first year at Tech, so players were uncomfortable with his offense in the spring and it showed in the spring game. Tech fumbled on its first snap of the game and had what seemed to be a dozen fumbles on the day. No player shined and Tech looked every bit the team that Sports Illustrated ranked as the No. 93 team in the nation.
Instead, Tech went 9-4, shared a division title and received a bid to play in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
One can only guess at what implications this spring game will have on the 2011 Jackets, but the following players and storylines should be interesting to watch on Saturday even if the game does not count on the team’s final record.
One key offensive player to watch on Saturday is redshirt freshman B-back Charles Perkins. Outside of the quarterback, the most important position for the Tech offense is that of the B-back. Johnson has had the luxury of having Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen fill the role the past few seasons, but both players are now gone.
In steps Perkins, who redshirted last season and rushed for over 1,300 yards in his junior season at Collins Hill High School. Perkins is battling redshirt junior Preston Lyons and a few others for the B-back job, but Perkins’ combination of good size and breakaway speed make him an ideal fit for the position and a strong complement to junior A-back Orwin Smith.
The main defensive player to watch will be redshirt sophomore cornerback Jemea Thomas. Thomas played last season at safety but struggled to find playing time and did not start a single game.
However, with the departures of cornerbacks Mario Butler and Mario Edwards, Thomas has moved to cornerback and looks to be a key contributor for Tech’s secondary this season.
Thomas may not actually start with other capable players such as sophomore cornerback Louis Young vying for playing time, but Thomas has earned respect this spring with multiple interceptions and athletic plays, and coaches are definitely willing to give Thomas an opportunity to play.
“[Thomas] is a good player. He’ll find a way to get himself on the field,” Johnson said.
The special teams player to watch will be sophomore kicker Justin Moore. Moore will have a tough time replacing departed kicker Scott Blair, who made 15 of 17 field goals last season. Johnson at least thought highly of him coming out of high school, as Moore was the first special teams player that Johnson ever signed to a scholarship.
Moore was a two time all-region selection at Marist High School. Like Blair, he might have to go through some growing pains in his first season as a starter, but he has demonstrated a high arc and good accuracy on his kicks, suggesting that he is unlikely to remain in a slump for long.
One key to Tech’s 2011 season will be limiting fumbles. Last season Tech ranked No. 118 out of the 120 teams in FBS in fumbles per game. The numbers got even worse when the inexperienced Washington got under center, and in the Jackets’ last three games of the 2010 season they averaged almost four fumbles per game.
It always seemed like Tech was fumbling at the worst possible moment last season and while a lot of that is due to luck, some blame has to be attributed to players just not protecting the football. Ball security is something that Johnson has stressed at every coaching job he has had, and it will be interesting to see if Johnson has stressed it even more in this offseason and if the players will actually take his preaching to heart.
The second key to the 2011 spring game will be the Tech passing game. Quarterbacks in Johnson’s offense need not be the prototypical drop-back passer. They do not need to throw the ball 30 or even 20 times a game. Johnson will never ask his quarterback to throw for 300 yards a game or throw three touchdown passes. That being said, Tech’s passing offense last season was downright abysmal. Tech ranked 119th in total passing yardage, and Tech quarterbacks also only completed 38 percent of their passes and were sacked more than once per game.
The last key to the spring game will be the play and rotation of the defensive secondary. With the departures of Edwards, Butler and Jerrard Tarrant, Tech will be very inexperienced in the secondary this season. Tech has five cornerbacks listed on the roster and any one of them could start games this season for the Jackets.
At the moment, the favorites have to be Young and senior Rashaad Reid. Young came into Tech last season as a highly touted recruit and did not redshirt due to a possibility of playing as a freshman. Reid, on the other hand, started eight games as a freshman but did not start any last year. Coaches are sure to ask a lot of Reid this season with it being Reid’s last.
Sophomore Isaiah Johnson should start at safety after starting three games there as a freshman. The other safety spot is up for grabs, and it should be a good race to watch going into the season.