Georgia Tech linebackers coach Andy McCollum, in his 32nd year of college coaching, came to Tech in 2010 as recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach, moving to linebackers in the middle of last season after the firing of defensive coordinator Al Groh.
McCollum, who was a star at Marietta High, has responsibility for one of the more experienced and talented position groups on the roster, with three returning starters in Quayshawn Nealy, Jabari Hunt-Days and Brandon Watts. McCollum spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday about his players and preseason camp. Questions and answers were edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Quayshawn Nealy seems like a natural-leader type. Is that how he is?
A: He’s a quiet leader. Quayshawn, I think, he’s got respect from the players, and he needs to be a leader for us. He’s played two years for us (as a starter) and done some good things. Quayshawn’s a kid that looks for ways to improve every day, wants to be a great player, great character kid.
Q: Who’s a backup who’s made a lot of progress in camp?
A: Tremayne McNair, he got banged up a bit last week, but before then was making some good strides at (strongside linebacker), which was really good to see. Need to get him back out there because he can help us if he just keeps progressing from where he was before he got hurt.
(Daniel) Drummond’s working hard to get better. Anthony Harrell, he’s doing some things inside at (middle linebacker) and then (Paul) Davis, the freshman, he’s got to learn it and learn to play. He’s got a great knack and a great feel for the game, got a great motor, and just got to keep learning responsibility and being more disciplined at what he’s doing, and he’ll do that. And then Beau Hankins is back doing some things. Those guys are working at it right now.
Q: Players often talk about preseason camp being a grind. Is it the same way for coaches?
A: It’s a grind for everybody, but this is what you coach for. This is where you get ready for (the season). So, yeah, it’s a grind on everybody, but the exciting thing is to get out on the practice field and get away from everything and do nothing but coach ball.
It’s fun to go out there and watch your players get better. You set goals for them daily and see how much better they can be on what you do every day. Then, go back, study the film, watch it. We’re around them from 6 in the morning till 10 at night. It is a process, but it’s one that we know that we’ve got to have, and we’ve got to work at it.
Q: Are you most comfortable coaching linebackers?
A: I’ve always coached linebackers. Coaching (defensive) linemen was fine — that’s what (Paul Johnson) had hired me to do in coach (Al) Groh’s system, but halfway through last year when we made a change, I got back coaching linebackers. It’s what I coached at N.C. State, and it’s what I coached at Baylor and always have and had the pleasure of coaching some really good ones.
I enjoy coaching it and enjoy that part of it. But coaching’s coaching. You just get out there and watch them improve and have great enthusiasm and fun doing what you do.
Q: What’s a drill you like to do?
A: My guys would probably say the ladder (in which players step in and out of a training tool similar to a rope ladder) because I want footwork every day, but I think as a linebacker, any kind of tackling drills, to make sure that they’re tracking and clubbing their arms and doing the things to get people down (are my favorite) because the bottom line is to make plays and make tackles.
Any kind of drill like that. I like what I call the shed drill, where you line up four (players) in front of one and one comes after him and one comes after him and one comes after him (in succession). It’s a toughness drill. We call it the stinger drill. There’s times you want to do that and see who’s going to be tough, who’s going to keep their pads down, who’s going to strike somebody.
Q: Who usually does well in that drill?
A: All of them do it pretty well. You don’t want to see anybody flinch. If you flinch, you can’t play linebacker. I’d say Quayshawn’s pretty good at it. He understands it.
Q: Do you have an idea of how the Pittsburgh and Syracuse offenses might change things in the ACC?
A: I haven’t even (thought about it). I’ve seen them just briefly through the summer just to see them. I’ve got my mind on a lot more than that right now. We’ve got Elon, and (I’m) very familiar with their head coach. Me and him were together at North Carolina State — Jason Swepson. One of my former (graduate assistants) is on his staff, so I know all those guys pretty well. My focus is on linebackers right now, getting better and understanding what we’re doing, and then the focus will be on that first (game).