This much appears certain: Georgia Tech defensive tackle Jahaziel Lee will be a centerpiece of coach Geoff Collins’ position-flexibility strategy.
Collins has touted his plan to use players at multiple positions, sometimes on offense and defense, as a way of getting more use out of players, prepare them for the NFL and appeal to recruits. The plans are for Lee, who played his first three seasons on the offensive line but moved to defensive tackle in the spring, to play both ways, even in the same game.
“It’s not just talk at all,” defensive line coach Larry Knight said Tuesday, following the Yellow Jackets’ 12th practice of the preseason. “(Lee) is definitely going to do it and he’ll be able to execute at a high level, as well.”
In this preseason, Lee has continued to get time at both spots. On Monday, he was dressed in a white jersey and pants along with rest of the offense. Tuesday, he was outfitted in the same practice gear as the defense, a gold jersey and pants.
“I’m primarily defense, but I’m adding value to the team by playing both sides,” Lee said. “Whatever coach wants, whatever he asks me to do, that’s what I’m doing.”
The plan took another step following Tuesday’s practice, when Lee’s jersey number was changed from No. 95 to 51. The significance of the switch is that offensive linemen must wear a jersey number between 50 and 79, an indication of the coaching staff’s commitment to using him on the offensive line. The change may have been a touch painful for Lee – he requested the switch from No. 53, which he wore the past three years, to No. 95 to honor his grandmother, who died last year and who never saw him play in person.
But the meaning of the change – that he’s versatile enough to be the rare FBS player who will play on both the offensive and defensive lines – might have been a consolation.
“I think it’s great for myself,” Lee said of playing both ways. “I think it’s great for the next level. It’ll be good for me to be out there playing defensive line and o-line. When scouts come and they see that, scouts like that you add value to yourself when you do that. I like it.”
It’s not clear exactly how much he’ll be used on either side as Collins’ “above the line” policy toward playing time (all players judged capable of contributing are deemed above the line and will be used in games) is implemented. For the most part, Lee has not been playing with the “A” units on offense or defense. Part of his usage will depend on how many players are above the line at defensive tackle and offensive tackle.
Whatever the amount, it will be an aid for the Jackets, who are light on experience at both positions.
Knight said he thought that there would be enough players able to play “so it’s not too many reps on him. Of course, that’s going to be based off of how coach (Collins) wants it to roll. But position flexibility is huge in this program.”
Lee attends meetings with both position groups in addition to practicing with both.
“I’m a part of both groups,” he said. “The guys welcome me in and they love me.”
Defensive tackle Brentavious Glanton said that having Lee in defensive-tackle meetings has allowed that group access to valuable intelligence.
“So we can ask him, like, what would you do if you were an offensive tackle and we did this to you?” Glanton said. “Or if you were at guard, what would you do? So it’s been a big help having him in the room.”
Moving positions is not new to Lee. He played defensive line at Ponchatoula (La.) High but was recruited to Tech to play offensive line. With the Jackets, he played both center and offensive tackle in coach Paul Johnson’s offense.
“He has a great attitude,” Knight said. “I love everything about him. He’s a great person, a great football player. I’m excited about him. I think he’s going to play his best year of football this year.”
Collins said that others who could have roles on offense and defense are three other defensive tackles – Chris Martin, Ja’Quon Griffin and T.K. Chimedza. In the spring, Griffin got practice time as a short-yardage fullback. Wide receiver Jair Hawkins-Anderson has also practiced at cornerback. Collins described the dual roles as “really, really cool.”
The recruiting value of things that are “really, really cool” is not lost on Collins. The chance to be a two-way player is a lure that not many coaches can offer. Collins made a practice of it at Temple, too.
“It’s not just recruiting talk,” Knight said. “We tell kids that, ‘Hey, it’s guys that are in this program that play this side of the ball and this side of the ball, as well as special teams. You cut on the film, you see it.’”
This fall, they’ll see Jahaziel Lee.