March 28, 2016 Atlanta: Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson during the first day of Spring football practice Monday March 28, 2016. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM
Photo: Brant Sanderlin
Photo: Brant Sanderlin

Tech’s Jerry Howard making a run at backup B-back spot

Georgia Tech freshman B-back Jerry Howard has caught coach Paul Johnson’s attention. In the team’s Saturday morning scrimmage to end the first week of preseason practice, Howard was a forceful player who is making a strong case for playing time this season.

“Jerry Howard really ran the ball hard,” Johnson said after the practice. “He’s a load. He played like I thought.”

Howard is one of two freshman B-backs competing to play behind starter Dedrick Mills, with Jordan Ponchez-Mason the other. Also competing are KirVonte Benson and Quaide Weimerskirch, with Benson having finished spring practice ahead.

But Benson has been out with an undisclosed injury, Johnson said, which has given Howard extra practice repetitions and the opportunity to audition as the No. 2 B-back.

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Asked if Howard could be Mills’ immediate backup, Johnson replied, “I can see him playing, yeah.”

While Mills proved himself last season by leading the team in rushing with 771 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns, Johnson has been willing in the past to split snaps between B-backs. The position also is a grinder. Starting in 2011, there has been only one season in which one B-back has started every game (David Sims, 2013). Hence, having a quality backup at the workhorse position is of value.

Howard, from the football hotbed of Rock Hill, S.C., committed to the Tech recruiting class, giving his commitment in November after he previously committed to East Carolina.

“He was kind of a wrecking ball in high school,” Johnson said. “When he goes through there, he gets his pads down and he is tailor made for what we do.”

It is not the norm for Johnson to be that enthusiastic over a freshman, but Howard does have room to grow. Pass blocking is a big part of the B-back position and often one of the more difficult aspects to learn, and Johnson said that Howard is still learning where to go on plays.

Tech has three weeks remaining before its season opener Sept. 4 against Tennessee at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game.

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