A year ago, he was the rare freshman to start on the offensive line for coach Paul Johnson. He was named a freshman All-American. As a sophomore, Georgia Tech guard Parker Braun can get much better.
“There’s always a whole lot of room to improve, no matter who you are,” Braun said. “I definitely think there’s things that we all need to work on, and me especially, and part of that is coming off lower, coming off quicker, faster and harder.”
Thanks to the tutelage provided last summer by former center Freddie Burden and his own dedication, Braun made the starting lineup by the sixth game of the season. He started the remaining eight games, cutting and walling off defenders to accelerate the Tech running game. He and offensive tackle Jahaziel Lee became the fourth and fifth freshman in Johnson’s first nine seasons to start on the offensive line, joined later by center Kenny Cooper.
ESPN named him to its true freshman All-American team. Two other outlets named him to their freshman All-American teams. Despite not starting the first fifth games, he led Tech in cut blocks.
“Obviously, Parker had a pretty good freshman year, but when you watch the tape, he shudders and kind of cringes sometimes when I show him some of the particular plays that we had last year,” offensive line coach Mike Sewak said.
Going into the season, he has at three levers that could allow him to improve upon his play from 2016. One is his knowledge of the offense. He knows the plays and the terminology and said that the scheme has almost become second nature, so he doesn’t need to think his way through plays and can just concentrate on technique.
“Just getting the pad level lower, lower and lower, and coming off with a good first step,” Braun said. “I mean, it’s the basics and fundamentals of what we do.”
Second, he is stronger after an offseason of work with strength and conditioning coach John Sisk. Redshirting freshmen take part in a strength program during the season to prepare themselves for college football, one that Braun couldn’t join because he was preparing his body to play in games.
Third, coaches made a technique adjustment that they believe will help him move more quickly. Braun played last season in a four-point stance, lining up with both hands on the ground. In the Tech offense, linemen play with 60 percent of their weight going forward to help them get the low, quick jump off the line to create a surge for run plays. However, being down in a four-point stance makes standing upright to pass block or to pull on run plays more difficult.
In the spring, his technique was changed to a three-point stance. At left guard, his left hand is on the ground and his right hand points forward, tucked under his body.
“You have trouble pulling if you’ve got both hands on the ground, so they coached me up and they got me right and I feel more comfortable in a 3-point (stance) than I did,” Braun said.
Braun is part of a line that, despite its youth, brings back experience. Offensive tackles Andrew Marshall and Lee, Cooper at center and guards Will Bryan, Shamire Devine and Braun have made a combined 54 starts. There is reason for optimism that this group can be the core of a highly productive offense, with a number of skill players enveloping the new starting quarterback, likely Matthew Jordan.
Provided he continues to improve, Braun figures to be an integral part of it.
“That’s a kid that, he works at his task,” Sewak said. “He does not sit on his laurels.”
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