Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins gestures as he shouts instructions during a practice session Thursday, April 18, 2019, at Georgia Tech's football outdoor practice field in Atlanta.
Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com
Photo: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

The future of Georgia Tech recruiting has long arms

It’s not as though Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins and his staff have unearthed some sort of secret, that players with long arms are preferable to prospects with T-Rex arms.

“I think that’s a little bit of a trend now in college,” Troup County High coach Tanner Glisson said. “People are looking for length, often over speed. If you can get length and speed, you’ve got something really good.”

For Tech and Collins, though, it is more than an added bonus, and that’s evident in comments that he’s made and in the body types of the defensive players who’ve committed to Tech thus far in the 2020 signing class. As Yellow Jackets coaches scour the state and beyond in May, visiting with high-school coaches and watching spring practice, and as recruiting staff pore over video of prospects, prospects long of limb – the coach-speak term is length – are on their radar.

Tech general manager Patrick Suddes said that the staff has criteria on height, weight and other physical attributes, “but here, we’re trying to recruit long bodies. Coach Collins will talk about that all the time. We want really long bodies. That could be long limbs, that could be height, that could be whatever it is. But he wants long bodies, so that’s what we try to get.”

Eddie Watkins is a defensive end/outside linebacker commit from Evergreen, Ala., who gave his word in late April to join Tech’s signing class. Watkins is on the light side at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. But he can probably put on weight and muscle and – guess what – he’s got long arms.

Tech coaches even remarked as much on an unofficial visit when they weighed and measured him, including his wingspan.

“I can’t remember my wingspan, but they were like, it’s really long,” Watkins said.

On one play in his highlight video, Watkins rushed the quarterback from the left side. As he closed in, the quarterback tried to escape pressure by backing out of the pocket. He couldn’t do it quickly enough, as Watkins reached out with his left arm to reel him in, blowing up the play.

The videos of other commits show similar plays, of defenders enveloping ballcarriers with their long grasp.

One of Tech’s top-rated commits, Buford High cornerback Jalen Huff, looks the part. Listed at 6-foot-0 and 176 pounds, he can play press coverage, turns well and can tackle in open space. And, he is blessed with long reach, a trait that his highlight video shows him repeatedly to break up passes, even when his positioning isn’t ideal.

“They just told me that that’s kind of what they’re looking for,” Huff said of Tech coaches.

When defensive-line coach Larry Knight visited Grovetown High (outside of Augusta) on Monday, he informed coach Damien Postell of what he was looking for in linemen, according to Postell.

“They’re just trying to find those guys that are long and can run and are rangy, able to move in space,” Postell said.

Postell has one such player, rising-senior defensive lineman Simeon Barrow, listed at 6-2 and 252 pounds. A scholarship offer from Tech may be coming.

The benefit of height and reach isn’t too difficult to guess. Suddes compared it with basketball, how defenders with long wingspans can challenge more shots and deflect more passes.

“Same thing in football,” he said. “I think the longer you are and the bigger you are, obviously, the more space you cover. You think about (the football field), it’s 53-1/3 yards wide, you’re trying to cover the field, especially on defense.”

A wide receiver with long arms provides a more forgiving target than one with shorter arms. Offensive and defensive linemen with longer arms can control their opponents by getting their hands on them.

It doesn’t mean that Tech will turn up its nose at every last stubby-armed prospect. Suddes recognizes that there are anomalies, such as Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

“But you need long guys,” Suddes said. “Obviously, the taller you are on defensive line, the harder it is for the quarterback to see passing lanes. And from an offensive-line standpoint, if the D-ends and D-tackles have long arms, you’d better have just as long arms because they’re going to get in your chest and you can’t even touch them.”

This also doesn’t mean that Tech is recruiting long-armed players to the exclusion of nothing else. When defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker visited Apalachee High on Wednesday, he spoke with coach Tony Lotti about qualities less tangible than wingspan.

“I kind of knew that they were wanting length and things like that, but then it was more about that toughness, especially with him being the defensive coordinator,” Lotti said. “Who’s going to be that tough type?”

Tough with long arms and legs, preferably.

“It’s tough to win with really short guys,” Suddes said.

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