Coach Dan Mullen has promised his starters and regulars an easy start to bowl practices. This doesn’t mean boring necessarily. The first unit, offense and defense alike, were largely together for many of Friday’s drills.
In fact the only full-time starter excused entirely was #1 left guard Justin Malone. The junior, a 11-game starter during the regular season, was not at practice. The foot injured in the 2013 season opener that cost him the rest of that year is still painful and after the regular schedule Malone can use a lot of down-time. Mullen said Malone will be back in the first unit when game preparations begin next Wednesday.
In his absence the #1 line was RT Justin Senior, RG Ben Beckwith, C Dillon Day, LG Jamaal Clayborn, LT Blaine Clausell. Clayborn only played four games all this true sophomore season, due to missing a lot of September with a family crisis and losing his role in the rotation.
The #2 line was RT Rufus Warren, RG Devon Desper, C Archie Muniz, LG Kent Flowers, LT Cole Carter. The third line was not easy to list because some jersey numbers did not match the helmet numbers. For instance, it loomed momentarily if senior tackle Damien Robinson was practicing…until checking the helmet showed it was redshirt Deion Calhoun wearing the 78 jersey. Or, walk-on Kris Todd was wearing the #79 jersey that on the roster belongs to redshirt signee Ronald Cochran. There was another #58 running third center who was not Justin Senior; and where redshirt juco Jocquell Johnson really was is anyone’s guess as of now, perhaps the #53 at third left tackle?
Mullen said after practice Robinson, who tore a knee ligament in August, will not learn whether his appeal for a sixth season is granted until after the season is finished. Robinson was running even with Senior for starting right tackle when August practices began, and with the graduation of Clausell the left tackle job is certainly open.
*He could have had the day mostly-off as well, but that isn’t RB Josh Robinson’s style. The junior still took his turns with the #1 offense. Senior RB Nick Griffin saw minimal snaps though so Ashton Shumpert and Brandon Holloway could alternate on the second offense.
*The first receiver rotation was unchanged from the regular season with split ends De’Runnya Wilson and Robert Johnson, tight end Malcolm Johnson and slot man Jameon Lewis. These were rotated with in order Fred Brown, Fred Ross, Brandon Hill, and Gabe Myles. But as the drills went on TE Gus Walley got more snaps than senior Hill and took advantage. B.J. Hammond got some turns at tight end, behind ‘big’ tight end Darrion Hutcherson.
The most impressive individual on Friday? Whether in seven-on-seven or full eleven-on-eleven, Myles turned those sessions into his own show-times. The freshman worked sidelines and interior equally well and caught balls delivered by veteran and redshirt quarterbacks just as efficiently. He also showed strength after a catch at the 15-yard line. S Kivon Coman didn’t tackle Myles but grabbed the ball and the two wrestled all the way to the goal before the receiver let it go.
There were some other excellent individual plays. Walley pulled in a catch with S Jay Hughes all over him. WR Joe Morrow raced down the left sideline for QB Dak Prescott, on the 30-yard line, to hit him in stride at the other 20. And R.Johnson made QB Damian Williams look good by going way, way up for a sideline catch.
The best move of the day though was by Wilson. After running about 15 yards downfield he came back for a catch; did not turn so much as ‘loop’ around freshman DB Chris Rayford until the new kid simply fell to the turf; then resume running upfield for the big gainer.
*With Lewis graduating there is need for another slot man to rotate with Myles though. True frosh Jamoral Graham had some struggles fielding kicks this season but he can catch a pass fine, as his touchdown against Tennessee-Martin showed. Graham wore #9 today, not his varsity #81, but that may be for eventual scout-team work as Graham reps for Georgia Tech’s offense.
*The newest name in the 2015 wideout mix is redshirted frosh Jesse Jackson, wearing #88. And Prescott did not hesitate to go for him in team work after Jackson got behind S Boderick Oliver for a deep strike and touchdown.
Since regular season practices were closed this was the first chance to observe where the redshirted freshmen of 2014 are trying to win jobs. On defense, Rayford worked most often at a safety but did line up at least once on a corner; Brandon Bryant at safety; Grant Harris and Will Coleman were temporarily the #2 team ends, with Cory Thomas and Braxton Hoyett the tackles. Gerri Green was an outside linebacker, usually weak-side but at times was lined up in the middle much the way Beniquez Brown does with the varsity.
One of the freshmen who did not redshirt was working with his classmates anyway today. But J.T. Gray doesn’t mind, not after earning Freshman All-SEC for his five games’ worth of varsity work. Gray was also an outside ‘backer today with Green and Deandre Ward on the backup unit.
*Prescott may be the starter but he threw about as many passes Friday as if it were a regular in-season practice. So State scripted the session for nothing but passing plays by the offense so Williams and the two redshirts, Nick Fitzgerald and Elijah Staley, could get their sufficient snaps.
For that matter, while Prescott agreed that this first phase of camp is to get youngsters as many reps as practical, “But for us to actually get a jump-start on Georgia Tech’s defense. And get it going early. We’ve got a lot of time to prepare for them so we’re going to spread it out.”
Prescott has only looked briefly at the #12-ranked Yellow Jackets’ defensive unit. It doesn’t get the same attention as the Tech option offense, but is worth studying closely. “They’re a good defense. They’re fast, they cause a lot of turnovers, they’re not too complicated with their scheme but they’re very disciplined and get in the right spots.”
Prescott will have a couple of spots to be in at the same time Saturday. Practice begins at 10:00am, but so does his own graduation. So when the undergrad Dogs are drilling a couple of long throws away Prescott expects to be in Humphrey Coliseum shaking hands with Dr. Mark Keenum.
”Education first!” Prescott said.
And might the second priority be getting a gauge on his professional potential? Prescott has turned in paperwork to request a NFL draft-round evaluation. “I’ll decide that later. I’m not really thinking about that now.”
He has been thinking about #7 Mississippi State’s upcoming holiday week in Miami. In fact, when Prescott learned officially that he and the Dogs had earned the Orange Bowl invitation, he invoked a piece of pro sports history.
“To be in South Beach, it’s awesome. Like LeBron (James) said, taking our talents down to South Beach!” Then again, speaking of ‘talents’, Prescott can keep his focus as far as other attractions of that famed spot beside warm winter weather.
“I can’t say women because I have a girlfriend!”