Georgia Tech wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon has had a pleasant surprise in his first spring practice with the Yellow Jackets. Dixon said he has found that his group has picked up on the pass concepts of offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s spread scheme more quickly than he expected.
“There are some things that we’ll have to work on, but their mental aspect, as far as taking things from the classroom onto the field and just knowing where to be, is something that I was extremely surprised by,” Dixon said.
The learning pace is maybe more beneficial this spring and with this group than normal, as there is a great deal for the Jackets receivers to learn. For receivers Jalen Camp and Malachi Carter, a returning starter and the No. 3 receiver in the rotation last season, respectively, the accumulation of game snaps is beneficial, Dixon said, “but I will say it’s totally different as far as the system is concerned, as far as coverage recognition and the different things we’re asking them to do.”
Moving from an offense with two wide receivers on the field in which the Jackets threw the ball about 20 percent of the time to one where three or four can be on the field and the run/pass ratio is closer to even, there is more passing-game knowledge to absorb, as well as technique. Dixon said has been constantly working on improving his players’ ability to get in and out of breaks in their pass routes “because it creates separation and so we have to go back and do a lot of cone drills and redirection drills just to get them to understand their foot placement and understand how to run a route.”
There are also two positions to learn, outside receiver and slot. Dixon said that he has been keeping players at one or the other for now, but that they’ll eventually get to a point where they can be moved from one to the other.
“So it’s not necessarily just slots and outside, it’ll all encompass itself into us having mismatches where can we put guys for the offense to be successful,” Dixon said.
Not surprisingly, Dixon said that he has seen his players thinking their way through plays more than simply playing.
“We’ve got a bunch of concepts we’re installing every day, different route concepts every day, different tags (adjustments) and all that,” Carter said.
Dixon inherits a group that largely is young and inexperienced, but he likes what he has seen. Camp and slot receiver Nathan Cottrell are the only seniors in the group. Among others who have stood out, Carter and Adonicas Sanders are sophomores, PeJé Harris is a redshirt freshman and Ahmarean Brown is an early-enrollee freshman. Stephen Dolphus, who has missed time with an injury, is a junior, as is Jair Hawkins-Anderson.
Camp and Carter have gotten plenty of time with the “A” offense.
“It’s still taking baby steps, but they both have tremendous ball skills, and that’s one of the things and characteristics that you really can’t teach sometimes,” Dixon said. “Those guys do a great job of tracking the ball in the air.”
Harris is “doing a really good job of trying to do everything that we coach him to do” Dixon said. The 6-foot-5 Dolphus is learning to use his size and is intent on improving his technique. Sanders is “super explosive, and he just wants to get better at route running,” Dixon said.
Brown, a 5-foot-10 burner who was not recruited by the former staff, has speed and shiftiness “and probably the brightest spot is the mental aspect of the game,” Dixon said. “He’s one of those kids, you make an adjustment and he can get it right away.”
Carter, who played his way into the rotation last season as a freshman, needs to be more detail-oriented and learn to recognize coverages, but has good initial quickness on top of an ability to track the ball.
Cottrell, formerly an A-back, figures to find a way to contribute.
“He attacks the meetings, he attacks everything we do, and that’s one of the things that I admire about him, and I’m glad he’s coming along,” Dixon said.
They’ll be joined by signees Nazir Burnett, Kalani Norris and Zach Owens and Miami transfer Marquez Ezzard, who was a four-star prospect coming out of Stockbridge High in 2018. If he receives a hardship waiver, Ezzard can play next season and have four seasons of eligibility.
“Nothing but great things about this kid,” Dixon said. “He’s a young man with great initial quickness, great ball skills. He already has an edge as far as route running is concerned.”
While the quarterbacks and offensive line seem to be the focus of most of the concern about the difficulty in the scheme change, the receivers have their own challenges. In their case, though, there’s time for those lessons to eventually pay off.
“You can tell they just want to get better, they want to grasp it every single day,” Dixon said. “You can start to see the transition happening. So I’m excited about where we’re going.”
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