When Georgia Tech concludes spring practice Friday night with its annual spring game, coach Paul Johnson won’t be particularly concerned about the outcome. Through 14 practices, he and his staff have seen what they need to see out of the Yellow Jackets.
“My goal for the spring game is nobody gets hurt and they go out there and have some fun,” Johnson said. “It’s the culmination of spring practice. It’s the one time you play a game where you really don’t care who wins.”
For Tech fans, though, it will be the only time that they’ll get a glimpse of their team before the Jackets play Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game Sept. 4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. For those who will be in attendance at Bobby Dodd Stadium or watching online, here are five things to watch in the scrimmage.
Taking turns at quarterback
On Wednesday, Johnson was planning for TaQuon Marshall and Jay Jones to lead the first-team offense (white team), while Lucas Johnson and walk-on Chase Martenson would quarterback the second team (gold team), even though Jones injured his ankle on Monday.
Before and after No. 1 quarterback Matthew Jordan injured his foot halfway through the spring, Johnson has been pleased with what he’s seen from the group, saying on Wednesday that he’d be good with any of the four playing in a game. It’s a considerable endorsement considering neither Jones nor Lucas Johnson, both redshirt freshmen, have taken a snap in a game.
Jones has caught Johnson’s attention with his quickness and speed. What bears watching from each is how well they can make the reads in the option, get the ball distributed safely, stay in the pocket during pass plays and make accurate throws. Taking care of the ball is paramount.
Competition for backup B-back
Starting B-back Dedrick Mills will likely get one or two series of action with the white team against the first-team defense before giving way to backup KirVonte Benson. Quaide Weimerskirch and walk-on Brady Swilling will play for the gold team. Both Benson and Weimerskirch, vying to be the backup to Mills, have had their moments this spring.
While he’ll go against the No. 1 defense, Benson has the advantage of running behind the No. 1 line, as the second-team line likely won’t have one player who has played a significant amount of snaps on the line. (No. 3 guard Shamire Devine is injured and is not expected to play.)
While Mills figures to log plenty of playing time this fall, Tech would benefit from a backup who can carry the ball productively and safely and block. Friday is an opportunity for Benson and Weimerskirch to show they’re up to that task.
Seeking help at defensive tackle
Four players critical to the success of Tech’s defense are defensive tackles Brandon Adams, Desmond Branch, Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Brentavious Glanton. Cerge-Henderson has started 10 games, but after that, the position group that is at the heart of the Jackets’ run defense and critical in the pass rush is light on experience. Cerge-Henderson and Branch will be on the gold team (first-team defense) and Adams and Glanton will be on the white team (second-team defense).
Adams has been one of the stories of the spring, having lost about 15 pounds from his freshman weight of 350 and responded with more stamina and productivity. The longer Adams can play and be a force, the better for the Jackets, who last year tied for 86th nationally in defensive yards-per-carry (4.73).
Auditioning at linebacker
Tech has candidates to fill in the vacancy left by three-year starter P.J. Davis in Victor Alexander and Terrell Lewis, athletic and physical players who could pair with Brant Mitchell to take the linebacking slots in defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s 4-2-5. David Curry is another and incoming freshman Bruce Jordan-Swilling also seems a possibility upon his arrival this summer. Alexander, Lewis and Mitchell are all on the gold team.
Lewis, who started three games last season and had eight tackles against Duke in one of those starts, is hungry for a spot on the defense after largely playing special teams in his first three seasons.
Alexander has become more comfortable in the defense and, like Lewis, is looking for his shot to be a regular on the defense. Both can help themselves by making impactful plays; Tech ranked 120th last season in tackles for loss per game (4.39).
Hoping for clear skies
After moving the spring game to Friday in 2012, inclement weather cursed the game in 2013, 2014 and 2015. After playing on Saturday last April, the game has returned to Friday night.
National Weather Service called for partly cloudy skies, a 10 percent chance of rain and a low around 62 degrees, pretty ideal weather for spring football.
Pregame festivities, including live music and inflatables, are planned for Callaway Plaza at the north end of the stadium starting at 5 p.m.