Georgia Tech begins spring practice Tuesday morning, the first of 15 on-field sessions in March and April that will conclude with the spring game April 26 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
There might not be a group of players more eager to get started than the Yellow Jackets’ wide receivers. Position coach Kerry Dixon related their excitement upon meeting them for the first time in January.
“Just excited about the change and being more primary than (tertiary),” Dixon said of the receivers’ response to meeting him. “I know they’re extremely excited about it. You could just feel the excitement.”
In that group, sophomore Malachi Carter, from Mountain View High, may be the one to take a leading role in the Jackets’ passing game next season. He’s the fifth Tech player to watch in a series previewing spring practice.
What he’s done so far
Carter was the only freshman on offense to burn his redshirt, playing in all 13 games in the 2018 season. He was one of three members of the 2018 signing class to play in every game, along with linebacker Quez Jackson and safety Juanyeh Thomas. He played special teams and earned playing time with the offense as the No. 3 receiver behind Brad Stewart and Jalen Camp. In so doing, he moved past multiple receivers on the depth chart.
His highlight of the season was a 32-yard touchdown pass from quarterback TaQuon Marshall against Duke, a play in which he fought off a Blue Devils cornerback and reached high for Marshall’s looping pass. He finished the season with three catches for 56 yards.
As a freshman, Carter showed good hands, body control and a willingness to block. Midway through last season, then-coach Paul Johnson said that he had developed as much as any freshman wide receiver that he could remember.
“He’s just a good player,” Johnson said. “He’s a good receiver, he can catch the ball, he comes out of breaks, he’s not afraid to block. He’s just going to be a good player.”
A tweet earlier this month from the football team’s strength-and-conditioning Twitter account gave a look at the strength gains that he has evidently made (along with running back Christian Malloy) since January. Carter is listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds on the roster.
Why this spring is important
Changes are coming for the wide receiver group as the Jackets transition from Johnson’s option scheme to the spread run by offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude. Where Tech typically kept around eight scholarship receivers, played two at a time and last year threw 14 percent of the time, the Owls often played four on the field (including slot receivers) and threw 47 percent of the time.
It’s still running routes, blocking and catching, but with the change in staff and scheme, players will have to learn new plays, new terminology and a new style of play, and then grasp it well enough to actually perform it. That Carter caught on quickly to Johnson’s scheme and showed enough in the preseason to merit playing as a freshman suggests that he can again make quick progress with Patenaude and wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon.
Four more receivers are coming this summer – Miami transfer Marquez Ezzard and signees Nazir Burnett, Kalani Norris and Zach Owens – which will raise the number of scholarship receivers to 12. It’s possible that players from other positions, notably the former A-backs, will move into the group, too.
For Carter and the other receivers who will take part in spring practice – Camp, Jair Hawkins-Anderson, Stephen Dolphus, Pejé Harris, Jaylen Jackson, Adonicas Sanders and early-enrollee freshman Ahmarean Brown – there’s motivation to quickly absorb the offense and make an impression.
What his role could be
It remains to be seen if Carter would play as an outside receiver or in the slot. At Temple, a player’s size didn’t necessarily dictate whether he would play slot or on the outside.
But with Brad Stewart graduated and a bigger role expected for the receivers, the opportunity is plentiful. It won’t be a surprise if Carter rises to the top of the depth chart.
A member of the previous coaching staff:
“He’s a good athlete and has potential to be a really good player. He’s got really good skills, and he runs well. It’s just going to be a matter of how he adjusts to the new system and picks things up. But he has some really good skills, that’s for sure.”
The series so far: