Looking back on a season that was a disappointment all around, Georgia Tech wide receiver Brad Stewart looked at his own play with sober perspective.
“I could have done more, I feel like,” Stewart said. “Not to be hard on myself, but I expect a lot out of myself, and I’m a perfectionist. There were times where I felt like I should have done things that weren’t accomplished.”
Stewart’s reception total dropped from 19 in 2016 to four last season. Judging a receiver in Tech’s offense by his reception total is something of a precarious method – coach Paul Johnson said he doesn’t pay attention to it – as the Yellow Jackets ran 84 percent of the time last season. Such a run-heavy scheme means that no small part of Stewart’s contributions to the Tech offense was his perimeter blocking.
Against Wake Forest, for example, Stewart made blocks on A-back Qua Searcy’s 42-yard run and quarterback TaQuon Marshall’s game-sealing 70-yard touchdown run. The block for Searcy’s score was a shove that dropped a Demons Deacons defensive back with an angle on Searcy. And he did score his first career touchdown, a 60-yard catch-and-run score that helped the Jackets upset then-No. 17 Virginia Tech.
Still, a rising senior, Stewart wants better play out of himself, as does Johnson.
“I think just be consistent,” Johnson said. “Maximize what you’ve got, your abilities. Brad’s got really good hands normally, and he adjusts well to the ball and just be consistent and when you get a chance, make plays.”
Stewart’s catch total was limited by a scarcity of opportunities. Beyond his four catches, he was targeted 11 more times, according to the game summaries. Of those 11, perhaps two could be judged as catchable. Others were off target, often as a result of quarterback TaQuon Marshall throwing under pressure.
However, one of those missed passes was one of the more significant plays of the season, when Stewart made a diving attempt across the middle, but was unable to secure a third-and-8 pass from Marshall late in Tech’s 25-24 loss to Miami. Had Stewart made the catch, the Jackets may well have been able to run out the clock or at least put the Hurricanes in a tougher spot. But he couldn’t, Tech punted and Jackets fans probably don’t want to hear about Miami’s game-winning field-goal drive.
“There’s always that ball the comes, and as a receiver, you want to catch it. It didn’t happen,” said Stewart, speaking generally. “It’s going to happen. That’s football. You can’t be perfect, but I still expect myself to do that, so this offseason, I’m just continuing to work on little things that not the average fan would see and just get after it and get the guys following me doing those little things.”
For his numbers to improve, he’ll need his teammates to make progress. Marshall has to develop as a passer, the line has to improve its pass blocking and the run game needs to be more consistent to open up play-action pass opportunities.
Stewart is in position to elevate himself to the role of Tech’s primary receiver with the graduation of Ricky Jeune, who led the Jackets in receptions for the past three seasons. Johnson said that identifying a go-to receiver in the spring is a major priority.
“I’m just going to do my thing and just be consistent,” said Stewart, a mechanical engineering major. “That’s what Coach Johnson is asking of us and we need to be consistent as a receiver corps.”
Stewart also will take on the leadership role within that group. He’s the only senior out of the five-man group this spring. Of the other four, three are freshmen or sophomores.
“I feel like the last time I was in this position was in high school at (Benedictine Military School in Savannah),” he said. “It was a weird time at first, but having the guys looking up to you and following your footsteps and what they should do and should not do, I like that. I think I can guide them in the right direction, and we can be successful as a receiver corps.”
Junior Jalen Camp is the only other player with meaningful experience. Sophomores Jair Hawkins-Anderson and Stephen Dolphus mostly played special teams last season. Adonicas Sanders is a redshirt freshman. In brief, Camp has good hands and strength, Hawkins-Anderson has speed, Dolphus has size and Sanders is athletic. They’ll be joined for the season by signees Malachi Carter and Peje’ Harris.
“We have so many guys that have so much potential,” Stewart said. “Learning the plays is the big thing, learning the concepts. Everyone can make plays, so this spring will be really big for the guys to see what kind of plays we can make.”
With his team in need of a receiver to step into the playmaking role previously filled by Demaryius Thomas, Stephen Hill, DeAndre Smelter and Jeune, that would include Stewart.
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