Georgia Tech's Thursday practice was another productive secession. It was the first day this summer that the team went to a two-a-day practice. As more formations and plays are being implemented the offense remains as productive as I've seen them this early in the camp. There is a good amount of talent and experience on offense this season. The offensive line is young but Coach Joe D'Alessandris is doing a nice job of whipping them into shape so far.
On to Thursday's report…
1. Coaches continue to tinker with different personnel on the second team offensive line. Travis Kelly, a former walk-on Center, is now getting a look at the Guard position. He and Cordaro Howard are battling for playing time for now but both could be bumped back to third team when Matthew Rhodes returns.
2. In the meantime Leshawn Newberry continues to make good use of his time on the first team while Rhodes is healing. Newberry, a former defensive tackle, is the strongest man on the team and it shows often in the trenches. He still needs some more reps to be completely comfortable with the position but he looks like a player who will contribute a good bit this season even if he's not with the starting line. He's been perhaps the most pleasant surprise from camp so far.
3. Big Joe Anoai continues to be a thorn in the side of the interior line though. On one play yesterday a lineman tried to slide over to block him but Joe was so quick he slipped by without being touched. It would have been a brutal sack were they going with full contact. Anoai seems to be poised for a big season.
4. Defensive Coordinator Jon Tenuta and Linebacker Coach Brian Jean-Mary continue to ride some defenders pretty hard. Phillip Wheeler & Travis Chambers took a tongue lashing yesterday on separate occasions when they were out of position. With such a carefully choreographed defense, being in the right place at the right time is a must.
5. Speaking of Chambers, he made it up to the defense later on by making the hit of the day. George Cooper barely had time to make a catch and turn before Travis hit him square in the chest. It dislodged the ball and, I believe, DT Marcus Harris picked up the fumble for the defense.
7. The Tight End trio of Michael Matthews, George Cooper, & Colin Peek continue to be another nice surprise from summer practice. Both Cooper and Matthews continue to battle for a starting spot that seems too close to call still. They've been very sure handed so far this camp when past years they've both had trouble finding the handle sometimes. They proved to be human again yesterday and didn't hold onto a couple of passes in addition to the fumble by Cooper but they are also making some good plays and providing Reggie Ball with a good target. Cooper got in good position to shield his defender on one touchdown catch from Thursday's practice.
8. Chris Reis continues to get better and better at the Strong Safety spot. It appeared that Cooper was going to make a big play on one occasion when he broke open down the field. Reggie threw the ball a tad late and Reis made a super play by getting in front of Coop and stretched to just get a hand on the ball and knock it away before George could corral it.
9. Ball, who's been very sharp so far in practice, was off on a few passes on Thursday but still made most of his plays and continues to avoid throwing interceptions by making good decisions. He is firmly in control of any QB race that might have existed back in spring.
10. Mohamed Yahiaoui once again looked very good as a place-kicker despite putting perhaps too much leg to a long attempt that sailed wide left. We seem to be very strong with our group of kickers. Travis Bell is a pre-season first teamer in many publications and Mohamed & Troy Garside appear to be suitable backups. The one question is how they will fair on long kicks. Bell wasn't tested in that area last season when we used another kicker as the deep guy but he was solid on all other attempts, only missing 2 kicks all season.
11. Rashaun Grant stood out Thursday running in the redzone. He broke off several touchdowns in that drill and Chris Woods made a nice scamper for a TD as well. But as running backs go, P. J. Daniels put on the nastiest video game move of the day. With Dawan Landry in hot pursuit of Daniels, PJ broke down and froze Dawan then ran right behind him for a touchdown. PJ continues to be the soul of the offense too. He'll jump up and down and make a lot of noise whenever any offensive player makes a big play, including other backs.
12. The offense appears to be trying out the other receivers more lately and getting away from just getting the ball to Calvin Johnson. Damarius Bilbo, Chris Dunlap, & Patrick Clark all had some good moments yesterday. Clark looks like he has perhaps the best hands on the team. He'll catch the bad passes as much as the ones thrown right at him. Dunlap got some good separation on a play Thursday that led to a TD. Bilbo is doing a much better job this season of keeping the ball in his hands and not letting it get to his chest. He's not perfect but he's catching more balls than he ever has in the past and seems to have gained back his confidence. And this is news only because it's so rare to see but CJ actually dropped a pass yesterday that was catchable.
13. On the injury front both KaMichael Hall & Anthony Barnes got nicked up some on back-to-back plays. Hall returned pretty quickly and appeared to be just fine. Barnes did not return so we'll have to wait and see when he'll be able to return.
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