April 16, 2019 Atlanta - Georgia Tech football players participate in a drill at Georgia Tech's football outdoor practice field on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Changes for Georgia Tech offensive line ‘a big difference’

For three years, Georgia Tech offensive lineman Kenny Cooper took a pre-snap stance in which his weight was forward and he was up on his toes, all the better to drive ahead to stay low and charge off the ball quickly in coach Paul Johnson’s option offense. As a center, his left (non-snapping) hand also was on the ground.

Now, as a guard in the spread of offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude, his feet rest fully on the ground before the snap. His weight is more back on his feet, as he is just as apt to pull up into a pass block set as he is to drive forward.

“It is different,” Cooper said Tuesday, following Tech’s 13th session of spring practice with new coach Geoff Collins. “Instead of leaning the whole time, you’ve got to drive through your heel and your feet. It’s a big difference.”

He said that it felt funny at first, but as the Yellow Jackets have progressed through the spring, it’s become more comfortable. He still needs to be mindful, though, of unlearning the techniques that he had embedded into his muscle memory over the past three seasons.

“I’ve got to bring myself back and make sure I stay off my toes and use hands and everything like that,” Cooper said.

As the Jackets near the end of spring practice, the Tech offensive line has made progress as the offense shifts a radical change in style.

“These guys have done a great job of working to become multiple-position players, working with both sides of the line,” offensive-line coach Brent Key said.

Key said that he has sought to keep the transition from being overwhelming, trying to break the process into a step-by-step process. He said in his career as a coach – one that began as a graduate assistant at Tech in 2001 for coach George O’Leary following four seasons as a starter at guard for the Jackets – he has tried to keep it simple. Get your second step in the ground, get your hands inside the frame of the defensive lineman, play low to high and work the finish.

He downplayed the difficulty of the transition.

“Obviously, there are things that are different – stance and fundamentally and technique-wise – but a lot of it really, at the end of the day, it’s an offensive lineman’s job to block the man in front of him,” he said.

“And regardless of what scheme you’re in, usually from the time you’re this big” Key said as he put his hand at chest level “and been playing this position, what you’re told to do is to block this man and keep him from tackling the ballcarrier.”

He also has worked on developing depth across the line and working players at different positions.

“The triple-option guys like Kenny and Zach Quinney and Charlie Clark, they’ve done a lot better,” offensive tackle Jack DeFoor said.

DeFoor credited Jared Southers, a grad-transfer from Vanderbilt who has been getting a lot of snaps at right guard, with helping the line start the transition in offseason work.

“He’s a really smart guy, and he communicates well on the field,” DeFoor said. “In the offseason, we would be doing drills and stuff, and Jared led that kind of stuff because he was fresh off of it. He’s a really good leader.”

In the periods open to media, Key typically has stuck with the same combination at the guard and tackle spots in the “A” group, although that isn’t necessarily the lineup he has used in other periods – Quinney at left tackle, Cooper at left guard, Southers at right guard and DeFoor at right tackle. Quinney and Cooper were starters last season. DeFoor was a backup after transferring from Ole Miss.

“It’s all about getting the reps and just working off of each other and understanding the playing styles of the guys around you, so whenever you can work with the same group of guys a lot, it’s beneficial,” Southers said. “But everyone’s able to step up.”

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