Jahaziel Lee came to Georgia Tech as an offensive lineman despite never having played on offense in high school. It may be that, as a senior, he is finally going back to defense.
As Tech coaches audition various players at different positions in coach Geoff Collins’ first spring practice, among the most noteworthy shifts has been Lee, who had started 17 games at center and tackle in his first three seasons.
Lee was moved to defensive tackle for Tuesday’s practice and was there again Thursday, the eighth of 15 this spring. In one of the final plays of the morning, Lee drove back the pocket on a pass play and forced an incompletion.
“I’m loving it,” Lee said. “It’s still like muscle memory. I’m having fun with it.”
Guard Connor Hansen also has been tried on defense, as has guard Brad Morgan.
“He’s only done it a couple of days,” defensive line coach Larry Knight said of Lee. “He takes coaching very well. He has a natural take-off. He’s a good kid, he listens, he’s very coachable, so happy with what I’m seeing out of him, and we’ll see what coach Collins decides to do from there.”
This spring Lee had been playing offensive tackle, a position he played in his first three seasons, along with center. He was not usually with the “A” offense. Knight said that Collins has a “special eye” for plugging players into different positions.
“Obviously, he’s a defensive guy, but he’s watching the offense, as well, so he watches the way certain guys may move, the mentality of certain guys,” Knight said. “It’s like, Hey, maybe he can do this. Let’s try him over at this.”
The motivation to find interior defensive linemen in particular has a somber motivation. Defensive tackle Brandon Adams was expected to play a major role on the defense this year before his unexpected death in March, days before spring practice was to begin. The loss to the team was a deeply emotional one, but it left a void on the field, as well. Even with Adams, who had played in 33 games and was by far the most experienced returning defensive lineman, the position was going to lack significant experience. It is all the more so now.
“Those guys, they’re trying to make him proud,” Knight said. “They know that they have to step up. They know that there’s some big shoes to fill. Nobody can be Brandon, but everybody knows they have to step up to contribute.”
And that may include Lee, who is hopeful he’ll get a third practice on the defensive line Saturday, when the team scrimmages for the first time this spring.
“Hopefully, (Collins) can continue to keep me over there,” Lee said. “I’m loving it. I continue to get better, stronger, faster and continue to condition and continue to be a great teammate.”
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