A-backs not short on depth, lack gametime experience

On March 26, the Tech football team participated in its first spring practice for the 2012 season. Like any other college team, Tech has several question marks surrounding key positions going into the season, including the defensive line and quarterback.

However, it is only spring practice, and the questions surrounding the Tech football program will likely not be answered definitively until the fall. Jobs are rarely won or lost during spring, and if some players see spring practice as just going through the motions, Tech’s A-backs should not be among them.

“Spring practice is very important. The instincts start now, and what we do will carry over to the fall… I am working on my blocking, especially. I want to show everyone that I can get downfield and block,” said redshirt sophomore A-back B.J. Bostic.

While a running back focusing his practice time on blocking may seem strange to some, it may be what separates Bostic from the crowded Tech backfield. Heading into camp, Tech has seven A-backs competing for one spot. That number does not even include junior B-back Charles Perkins or redshirt sophomore quarterback Synjyn Days, who could see playing time at A-back this season.

“When all is said and done, we want our best 11 players on the field. Perkins has played at A-back before, but [Tuesday] was the first day for Days… We will just have to see,” said Head Coach Paul Johnson.

The other A-back spot should belong to senior Orwin Smith. However, Smith has been injured this spring, giving the coaching staff plenty of opportunities to evaluate those nine guys.

“[Redshirt junior] Robert Godhigh is probably the most solid in knowing assignments. [Redshirt sophomore] Deon Hill did okay in [Saturday’s scrimmage]. Bostic made some big plays. [Redshirt sophomore] Tony Zenon is still working at it. Those are probably the four best right now,” Johnson said.

Johnson will certainly rotate the A-backs during games come fall — just as he has done since he started at Tech — but the lack of two clear-cut starters will be something that Johnson has not seen since he took over at Tech.

For the past three seasons, Johnson has relied on A-backs such as Roddy Jones, Embry Peeples and Anthony Allen who were head and shoulders above any other A-back on the roster. However, Allen left Tech in 2010, and Jones and Peeples just used up their final year of eligibility a season ago.

The two most recent departures have opened the door to a massive opportunity for playing time for at least nine players who have seen only brief action throughout their careers. The problem for Tech is that no one has stepped through that door yet.

“We can’t replace [Jones and Peeples]. We are going to miss them, but we have a couple of guys that have speed and can block… I don’t really feel like I am the main guy right now. We have a lot of guys out there,” Bostic said.

Along with Bostic, another leading candidate for playing time is Godhigh, who enters his fourth season with two career rush attempts. The number is not especially low, though, considering the six other listed A-backs competing for the spot opposite of Smith have a combined 30 career carries.

“I think it is my time to step up. I know pretty much everything now, so I am just trying to get it tightened up to the level that Jones and Peeples had it. Hopefully there is no drop off from them to us,” Godhigh said.

If it is not clear today who the other starter at A-back will be for the fall, one thing that is certain is that somebody will have to play in the shoes that Jones and Peeples left behind. Unfortunately for whoever that player is, those particular shoes are pretty big.

Of the 2,882 yards gained by Tech backs last season, Jones and Peeples accounted for 990. Also, Jones and Peeples accounted for 57 percent of all of the yards gained by A-backs last season.

“I don’t think there is any pressure to replicate those numbers… we are looking to fill that void of [Jones and Peeples’s departure], so we are going to need more players to step up,” said A-backs Coach Lamar Owens.

Owens should not have problems finding players to step up into a starting role with the breadth of players on the roster. One thing that might be hard for Owens is finding a player who can match Jones or Peeple’s consistency.

“So far in spring it has been a mixed bag. Some days the A-backs look really good and there are some days when we don’t… I don’t want to single anybody out because [the coaching staff] looks at production as a whole. [Tuesday], the production was not very good,” Owens said.

On one hand, Tuesday started just the third week of spring practice. On the other hand, it is clear that the A-backs have a lot of work to do before Sept. 3. If one A-back does not step up, there could be up to eight others who will be vying for his spot.