On one healthy foot, Brandon Watts already was one of Georgia Tech’s fastest players. With two healthy feet, the result of surgery to repair a turf-toe injury, the Yellow Jackets linebacker has found another gear.
“I can feel it,” Watts said. “I can put my foot in the ground now and push.”
Watts missed spring practice to allow his right big toe to heal. The condition had bothered him during the 2011 and 2012 seasons, forcing him to run on the side of his right foot, he said. Being able to push off both feet pain free has made an understandable difference.
“He’s moving well,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said following Tuesday’s practice.
While Watts sat out spring practice, Roof applauded him for the way he committed himself to learning the new scheme in the spring, as he visualized himself participating in the practices and stayed close by linebackers coach Andy McCollum. With less than two weeks to go before the Aug. 31 season opener against Elon, Watts said he has “almost got it all down.” The challenge is learning proper alignment and assignment.
“After I get all that down, then I’ll be playing fast,” Watts said.
Last season, he ranked fifth on the team in tackles with 77 total stops. His 8.5 tackles for loss were second behind Jeremiah Attaochu. In Roof’s 4-3 scheme, Watts will line up on the strong side, typically over the tight end, but will be able to play in space and utilize his speed.
“It depends on what kind of offense it is,” he said. “If we’re playing a spread (offense), I’ll be walked out a lot playing slot receivers. Probably when we play someone like BYU, I’ll be against tight ends a lot, or somebody like Georgia.”
Watts’ goal for the season has nothing to do with tackles or sacks.
“I just want to be the best teammate I can possibly be,” he said. “I try to help the young guys coming along and do whatever I can to help the team win the (ACC) championship. I get all that accomplished, I’ll be happy.”
Injury report: On Tuesday, center Jay Finch missed his second consecutive day of practice with an unspecified injury. Coach Paul Johnson said Finch will see doctors Wednesday.
Finch had shoulder surgery in the winter to repair a frayed labrum. He missed spring practice and practiced for the first time last week before the injury in Monday’s practice. Ray Beno and Thomas O’Reilly took the snaps for the offense in Tuesday’s practice. Finch’s continued absence underscores again the impact of the precamp decision by backup center Catlin Alford not to play this season and backup center Freddie Burden’s season-ending knee injury in the spring.
Zenon returning: A-back Tony Zenon, who has missed time in the preseason with a hamstring injury, is trying to find his form. Zenon is behind at least four players at A-back, where typically three or four players are in a rotation. Zenon’s quickness and speed have won acclaim from teammates, but he has had a difficult time earning regular playing time in his first two seasons.
“He’s missed a lot of football, so he’s got to play himself back into football condition, the speed of it and all that,” Johnson said.
Quotable: “I really don’t care. I hate both of them. It really doesn’t matter to me. I just want to beat both of them.” — Watts on the Georgia-Clemson game Aug. 31
Etc.: Johnson celebrated his 56th birthday Tuesday. The team sang to him after practice, and three sheet cakes awaited players and coaches in the lobby of the football offices afterward. … The quarterbacks of the offensive scout team are Ty Griffin and Brady Swilling, a walk-on. … The team held a meeting for students interested in walking on Monday night. New walk-ons could join the team next week.