On Friday, April 20, the Tech football team will hold its annual spring game. Tech is deviating from the normal Saturday afternoon start, but the game will still allow fans to get an early look at next year’s team.
Tech players will use Friday night’s game as the last opportunity to get reps in before practice starts in the fall, as well as to try to leave a lasting impression on the coaching staff.
The most publicized question heading into the season was who would start the season at quarterback. There were similar questions heading into last season, but then-junior quarterback Tevin Washington won the job over a pair of younger players. Washington is now a year older, but so are Tech’s backups.
Redshirt sophomore Synjyn Days played sparingly at quarterback last season, and while he showed flashes of elite athleticism, he struggled with ball control.
Tech’s other quarterback is redshirt sophomore Vad Lee. A lot of Tech fans clamored for Lee to start last season as a freshman, but Head Coach Paul Johnson elected to redshirt him so he could preserve his eligibility with older players ahead of him.
Washington should be the opening-day starter for the Jackets this upcoming season, but the coaches have decided to give most of the first team reps to Days and Lee during spring practices. If that trend continues, expect to see a lot of Days and Lee on Friday night.
Another question for the Jackets next season will be who will start at the running back positions. The B-back position will most likely belong to redshirt junior David Sims considering he started there last year. However, redshirt sophomore Charles Perkins will see his playing time at the position increase due to the departure of Preston Lyons.
While the starter at B-back looks fairly certain, the starters at A-back are completely up in the air. Senior Orwin Smith should start the season at A-back, but he has been injured all spring. That means that Friday will be the first real showcase for seven other A-backs, who are fighting for one spot. Adding to the fray is Johnson’s suggestion that Perkins or Days could see some playing time at A-back this season.
The favorites to win the other A-back spot are redshirt sophomores B.J. Bostic, Deon Hill, Tony Zenon and redshirt junior Robert Godhigh. They can all block and run quickly, so Tech could employ an A-back by committee on Friday.
Another skill position to keep an eye on is wide receiver. With the departures of Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton, Tech will look to start two young players at receiver this upcoming season. Tech will choose between players such as redshirt senior Chris Jackson, sophomore Jeff Green and redshirt junior Jeremy Moore.
Tech returns every starter from a year ago up front, but that might not be apparent on Friday. Tech has suffered five injuries on the offensive line this spring and the team is also trying out a different center from last year.
Tech will have two new starters at guard on Friday due to injuries of redshirt senior Omoregie Uzzi and redshirt junior Will Jackson. The two new guards were expected to be redshirt senior Nick McRae and redshirt junior J.C. Lanier, but an injury to Lanier put a damper on that plan. The injury to Lanier gave sophomore Shaquille Mason a chance to step up and play, but then he was injured as well. Finally, redshirt freshman Trey Braun has filled in, so it looks to be Braun and McRae will be starting at guard on Friday.
The tackle position is not as convoluted as the guard position, but that position has suffered setbacks as well.
Redshirt sophomore Morgan Bailey was poised to play significant minutes at one of the tackle spots in the fall, but an injury will most likely force him to sit out the rest of spring. Tech still has two experienced players to play tackle on Friday in redshirt juniors Ray Beno and Tyler Kidney.
The coaching staff is also determined to make redshirt sophomore Catlin Alford into the starting center. The coaches are impressed with his athleticism, but he has had problems with the quarterback-center exchange. If Alford cannot get the snap down, redshirt junior Jay Finch, who started last year at center, will spell him.
On defense, the key position battle to watch is the defensive line. The group will try to recover from the loss of Logan Walls and Jason Peters, who both graduated last season. The group does return one starter in senior defensive end Izaan Cross, and he will now become the anchor of the group. Cross looks poised to take on that role after playing in nearly every game during his Tech career, and he was arguably the most productive defensive lineman last season.
The other defensive end spot could belong to either Emmanuel Dieke or Euclid Cummings. Both players are redshirt juniors and both have seen playing time throughout their careers. Both are strong pass rushers, but Dieke could have the edge in that department, while Cummings’ compact size could help stopping the run. A sleeper to win the job is redshirt sophomore defensive end Anthony Williams. Williams does not have a lot of experience, but he has impressed all spring, and a strong outing on Friday could vault him up the depth chart.
The nose tackle spot is arguably the most important position in a 3-4 defense and Tech will be breaking in a new player at the position with the loss of Walls. Redshirt senior T.J. Barnes certainly looks like a prototypical nose tackle at six-foot-seven and 347 pounds, but he has had problems staying on the field during his Tech career. He certainly moved better at times last season in recording his first career sack, but Tech will need Barnes to stay on the field for at least 75 percent of plays to be successful.
If Barnes cannot stay on the field, Cross could plays some nose tackle or a younger player such as redshirt sophomore Shawn Green could see quality minutes.
When last season ended, the linebacker position looked to be heavy strength for the Jackets this upcoming season. However, an injury has forced senior captain Brad Jefferson to miss the entire season, putting the middle linebacker position in flux.
One middle linebacker spot will most likely go to redshirt junior Daniel Drummond, who filled in for Jefferson last season. Drummond was inconsistent at times last season but that can be attributed to the fact that he was learning a new position after switching from B-back.
The other middle linebacker spot should go to Quayshawn Nealy, who had a stellar redshirt freshman season a year ago. Last year, Nealy played in all 13 games, recorded 52 tackles and picked off two passes. Other players to watch on Friday will be sophomore linebackers Nick Menocal and Tremayne McNair, who will probably see their playing time increase next season due to the injury to Jefferson.
There is less concern for the outside linebacker positions as junior Jeremiah Attaochu and redshirt junior Brandon Watts should start for the Jackets on opening day.
Watts only recorded 15 tackles last season, but he has a huge upside. Some coaches believe that he is one of the fastest players on the team and three of those 15 tackles were sacks.
Attaochu was arguably the best player on defense last season for the Jackets after recording 11.5 tackles for loss and forcing two fumbles. However, his intensity could lead to suspensions like the one he had last season.
If Attaochu or Watts are unable to play next season, Tech will count on redshirt freshmen Chaz Cheeks or Jabari Hunt-Days to start. Both are inexperienced, but watch for their vaunted athleticism on Friday.
Another strength heading into the 2012 campaign should be Tech’s secondary. Although not extremely deep, Tech’s secondary is not short on talent. Tech returns every starter but one from a squad that intercepted 14 passes.
Leading the returners are senior Rod Sweeting and junior Louis Young. Both players played great in coverage last season and both should improve with another year under their belts. Sweeting will be one of two senior starters on defense this fall, so expect him to step up into a team leader role.
Hopefully, Sweeting and Young can stay healthy, because the depth chart behind them is littered of inexperienced players. Tech will rely on either redshirt freshman Domonique Noble or sophomore Jamal Golden should a starter miss time. Both players have combined for eight tackles in their careers.
Tech will welcome back redshirt sophomore Fred Holton at safety after Holton suffered an injury that forced him to sit out last season. In his freshman season, Holton saw playing time in 12 games and looked to be a staple on the team for years to come. Holton will be a key player to watch on Friday.
Tech also welcomes back junior safety Isaiah Johnson who has been a staple on the team for the past two seasons. Johnson has had an exceptional two years on the Flats and has recorded 124 tackles, four interceptions, and has recovered four fumbles.
Backing up Holton, Johnson, Sweeting and Young will be redshirt junior Jemea Thomas. Thomas could start at any one of the four secondary positions next season and has the versatility to do so. However, his versatility is a major asset, so it would not be unheard of for him to fill in on the second team.
Tech will not do kickoffs or punt returns on Friday, so do not expect to see any schemes from new Special Teams Coordinator David Walkosky. However, Tech will kick field goals on Friday so be sure to check out the improvement of junior kicker Justin Moore.