Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets running back Dedrick Mills (26) celebrates after he scored a touch in the first half at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday, October 1, 2016. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Howard, Benson top candidates to replace Dedrick Mills

With Georgia Tech B-back Dedrick Mills dismissed from the team Friday for a violation of athletic-department rules, the Yellow Jackets’ next step is getting ready his replacement.  The season starts soon with the opener against Tennessee on Sept. 4 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The two most likely candidates to replace Mills in the starting lineup are freshman Jerry Howard and sophomore KirVonte Benson. Howard, from Rock Hill, S.C., quickly impressed coach Paul Johnson in the first week of practice. This past Saturday, when the team scrimmaged for the first time, Johnson heaped praise upon him.

“Jerry Howard really ran the ball hard,” Johnson said. “He’s a load. He played like I thought.”

Johnson later called him a “load” and “hard to tackle,” though he acknowledged that, as a freshman, he was still learning the offense. In winning the starting job as a freshman last season, Mills had the advantage of having enrolled early in January 2016 and gone through spring practice.

“He was kind of a wrecking ball in high school,” Johnson said of Howard. “When he goes through there, he gets his pads down and he is tailor made for what we do.”

Benson, from Marietta High, had edged ahead of fellow B-back Quaide Weimerskirch this past spring. Benson is a smaller back – he is listed at 5-foot-9 and 211 pounds, compared with Howard’s 6-0 and 215 – but has speed and runs low to the ground. Johnson praised him before the start of preseason practice for his work in the spring. Johnson gave extra practice time to Benson and Weimerskirch in the spring, wanting to ease the load on Mills.

“I think KirVonte Benson had a really good spring practice, and he started to kind of get a foothold,” Johnson said. “We’ll see where he’s at, if he can carry over in fall camp.”

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