A look at Georgia Tech’s position groups going into spring practice, which begins March 28.
Returning: Redshirt freshman Harland Howell, junior Ricky Jeune, junior Antonio Messick, redshirt freshman Christian Philpott, sophomore Brad Stewart.
Lost: Michael Summers.
Incoming: Jalen Camp, Stephen Dolphus and Jair Hawkins-Anderson.
With only five scholarship players at the position - Jalen Johnson, who moved from safety last August to add depth, has returned to safety - there will be plenty of practice repetitions to go around in spring practice. Jeune stepped into the void left by DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller with a team-high 24 catches, four touchdowns and 21.7-yards-per-catch average. Stewart made a mark with seven catches for 93 yards. But both have room to improve, and coach Paul Johnson undoubtedly would like to see continued progress from Howell and Philpott, who both made an impression on him in their stints on the offensive scout team.
“I think they’ve both got a chance to be good players,” Johnson said.
Both were good enough, Johnson said, to have played this past season. However, Philpott got a late start after he missed summer workouts and part of preseason practice with an injury. Howell was on the fence to have his redshirt removed, particularly after Summers missed time with a clavicle injury.
“They should have been playing last year,” Johnson said
Stewart was contemplating playing baseball this spring, which would have interfered with offseason trainingand spring practice. He decided against it.
“He told me, ‘Coach, I’ve got to get stronger,’” Johnson said. “’I’ve got to get bigger, faster and stronger.’ Because he was out there, he knows.”
Developing a rapport with quarterbacks Justin Thomas and Matthew Jordan and making enough plays that they feel confident in throwing to them will be important. So will becoming more comfortable and confident in their blocking assignments in the run game and understanding the offense as a whole. Part of Tech’s inability to not spring break big runs was the receivers’ inconsistency with blocking assignments.
A wild card is Antonio Messick, who has received little playing time through two seasons, even when the group was thinned by Summers’ late-season departure.
“He’s just got to play tougher, more physical,” Johnson said.
As is the case with other skill positions, it’s a young group. The entire group should return intact in 2017. With three more coming in in the summer, some of whom will play, and playing time available, it should mean a competitive group.
“He’s probably the most gifted athletically of all of them.” – Johnson on Messick