When Georgia Tech safeties coach Nathan Burton leads meetings for his players, there’s often an engaged visitor sitting in the back. That would be coach Geoff Collins. When the team divides up for position meetings, led by either coordinators or assistant coaches, Collins often heads for Burton’s room.
While having one’s supervisor observing isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience, Burton welcomes Collins.
“Obviously, as the head coach, he can’t be there all the time, but I love it when he comes in there,” Burton said. “He’s excellent at what he does. He’s one of the best defensive back coaches in all of college football.”
It is a common practice for head coaches to lend their focus to a particular position group. Former coach Paul Johnson’s area typically was quarterbacks.
Collins has not coached defensive backs as a position coach, but in his years as a defensive coordinator at Florida International, Mississippi State and Florida and then as head coach at Temple, he did plenty to help develop them. Ten safeties or cornerbacks that Collins coached either as a defensive coordinator or head coach were selected in NFL drafts following seasons in which he coached them. Eight were first- or second-round picks.
“I say it’s been really beneficial for us,” safety Christian Campbell said. “Having a head coach who’s a defensive guy who usually coaches the secondary, it helps you a lot because it gives you a different outlook on the defense.”
Collins, who also often lends a hand in defensive backs drills during practice, is helpful in explaining how the safety assignments fit in with the defensive scheme as a whole, Campbell said.
“It’s a plus,” safety Avery Showell said. “Coach Collins is very hands on with the DB’s. He puts us in situations where he knows that we can be successful. He just wants us to have that muscle memory to get to where we get in the game, and it’s just easy.”
Collins is typically a low-key visitor to the meetings.
“He gives his little two cents when he has to, but it’s always nice to have the head coach on your side,” safety Kaleb Oliver said.
Collins’ assistance is going to probably the strongest position group on the team. Tariq Carpenter is one of three returning starters on defense and a playmaking force. Juanyeh Thomas might be the most promising player on the defense as he moves into a starting role. Oliver is a forceful and high-energy player at nickel. Campbell, the only senior in the group, is highly versatile.
“Christian, he’s the best,” Burton said. “He knows every spot on our defense. If we needed him to go play linebacker, he probably could do it.”
Unlike other position groups that likely have to depend on freshmen, the safety group even has backups like Showell, Ajani Kerr and Rich Stanzione who are sophomores or juniors. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker could find ways to accentuate that group.
“We might design more packages with them involved,” Burton said. “It’s just nice to have depth anytime you go, because you never know what’s going to happen during the season.”
The depth, it would seem, isn’t limited to the field. Like Burton’s meeting-room backup, for instance.
“To have that experience and draw from that, I love it when he comes in (the position meeting room),” Burton said. “I’m kind of disappointed when he doesn’t.”