1. A demonstration may not have been necessary, or certainly desired, but Georgia Tech’s spring practice has provided a confirming example of why coach Paul Johnson has made building offensive-line depth such a priority.
Injuries have considerably whittled the group available to practice.
“Fewer and fewer as it goes on,” offensive line coach Mike Sewak said Monday. “It’s a little bit disappointing. I think the guys have done a good job physically preparing themselves. Just, unfortunately, sometimes they get dinged up.”
Out of 15 scholarship linemen, nine were available for all segments of practice Monday. Center Freddie Burden, who had been out with a hand/wrist injury, returned, but could not snap the ball and was at guard. Utility lineman Nick Brigham was out Monday as was Bryan Chamberlain (now working at guard). Guard Shamire Devine, who suffered a concussion early in the spring, is close to returning but has been held out of contact drills. Center Andrew Marshall and tackle Chris Griffin have been out for the entirety of the spring.
“It’s just kind of a patchwork deal,” Johnson said.
It isn’t uncommon. Regardless, an opportunity is lost to develop cohesion with the likely starters and provide repetitions for players like Devine, who played a considerable backup role last season. Further, Sewak said returning starters like Trey Braun and Errin Joe have had moments of solid play, but not all the time. Of the five freshmen who redshirted in 2014, none have jumped ahead in their ability to understand and execute assignments by Sewak's standards.
“Every time I get excited, they’ll do something to come right back to square one and then they’ll go right back to it and do it again,” Sewak said.
That said, it isn’t the end of the world, either. Sewak wasn’t ecstatic with the line last spring, either – “I don’t know if we’ve progressed as fast as we’d like to,” he said a year ago – but the group turned into one of the team’s biggest strengths and helped the offense set school records in rushing yards and yards per carry. Burden, one of the biggest surprises last season at center, spent part of the spring at left tackle.
On the other hand, Sewak noted Monday, “As the season went on last year, we got better from week three to week eight to week 11. … Our football team wasn’t all that solid in the beginning of the season.”
Perhaps if the spring had been more productive, the offense could have started the season more effectively.
To go back to the other hand, there is considerably more experience on the line this year than last year. Braun, Burden and Chamberlain started the full season. Joe started seven games. Devine and Marshall received valuable time as backups. Sewak said the chemistry and buy-in with the group is good. But the challenge of meeting raised expectations is proving elusive.
“You want to go forwards,” Sewak said. “Everything you do, you want to go forwards. So, yeah, they need to improve.”
2. Johnson’s assessment of B-back C.J. Leggett:
“C.J. does some good things and then he does some things you don’t like. He’s just got to become more consistent, learn mental toughness, learn to push through things. But he’s a young guy. He’s got to learn to play. He’s got some ability. He broke a couple long runs today.”
Leggett is trying to develop rapport with quarterbacks Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly on the mesh and then also trying to run behind centers who have had a rough go of things. That he is struggling as a freshman is not a great surprise. Quarterbacks and B-backs coach Bryan Cook said Saturday that consistency, learning to finish plays and drives and ball security are objectives for the final two weeks.
Cook wasn’t quite concerned about his readiness for the season just yet.
“That’s so far down the road,” he said. “We’ve got two weeks of spring, we’ve got four weeks in August. We’re heading in the right direction.”
3. The Tech baseball team took two of three from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., led by a strong series from junior Matt Gonzalez. He was 5-for-14 with six RBI, including an RBI double on Friday that led the Jackets’ comeback from 5-2 down in the seventh inning. He added a go-ahead RBI in the eighth in what proved to be an 11-5 win. Tech lost the second game 9-8 after going into the bottom of the ninth up 8-7, but gave up the tying and winning runs with two out. The Jackets lost in cruel fashion, as second baseman Wade Bailey fielder a grounder for a force-out at second but the ball slipped out of his glove, allowing the winning run to score.
The Jackets won the final game 7-6 after leading 5-0 early. Reliever Matthew Gorst ended a two-on, two-out rally in the sixth and finished the game with 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to earn his first career save. Bailey hit his first career home run. The Jackets picked up an ACC series after dropping the previous two, to North Carolina and Louisville, and ended a stretch of eight consecutive road games.
Tech will be at home for 15 of its next 19, including Mercer Tuesday night at 6 p.m., No. 16 Virginia this weekend and Georgia next Tuesday.
The Jackets also took games from Georgia and Georgia State last week, with Gonzalez again leading with four RBI against Georgia and two hits and an RBI in the win over the Panthers. For the week, Gonzalez was 10-for-23 with 11 RBI. It was a big lift, as Gonzalez had had a rough go of things in his first four games in the 3 hole in place of the injured Kel Johnson.
4. With wins over Georgia in football and men’s basketball in November, Tech is one baseball win from its first football/men’s basketball/baseball series sweep over the Bulldogs since 2008. That one is debatable, as Tech won the regular-season series 2-1 but lost two NCAA regional games to the Bulldogs. Prior to that, the last year was 1998.
5. By my count, there were six former Tech players on major-league rosters on opening day – Charlie Blackmon (Colorado center fielder), Marlon Byrd (Cincinnati right fielder), Brandon Cumpton (Pittsburgh pitcher, though he’s out for the season after Tommy John surgery in March), Derek Dietrich (Miami second baseman), Mark Teixeira (Yankees first baseman) and Matt Wieters (Baltimore catcher, although he begins the season on the disabled list after Tommy John surgery last June).
The next up might be pitcher Buck Farmer, who competed for a spot on the Detroit roster but will start the season in Triple-A Toledo.
6. The Tech golf team, ranked No. 15 in the country last week, tied second at the Mason Rudolph Championship outside Nashville, Tenn. The Jackets finished at 5-over-par, 11 shots back of host Vanderbilt, which was No. 6. The second-place finish tied for Tech’s best team result this spring.
The Jackets moved up to No. 11 as a result. All-Americans Ollie Schniederjans and Anders Albertson both earned top-10 individual finishes, Schniederjans tying for sixth at even par and Albertson tying for eighth one stroke back.
Tech will play this weekend at the Robert Kepler Invitational in Columbus, Ohio. The Jackets are the only team in the field in the top 20. It will be Tech’s final tournament before the ACC championship April 24-26, when the Jackets will attempt to win their 16th title in school history and eighth in the past 10 years.
7. At the Florida Relays, both the men’s and women’s 4x800-meter relay teams took first and third, respectively. The men’s relay was Zach Fanelty, Jeremy Greenwald, Andres Littig and Brandon Lasater won for the third year in a row, in 7:20.81, about four seconds off the school-record time set last April.
The women’s foursome of Samantha Kiblinger, Christina Pensock, Morgan Jackson and Haley Jackson set an 18-year-old school record in the process, finishing in 8:56.94.