Notes from Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins’ news conference Tuesday ahead of the Yellow Jackets’ home opener against South Florida on Saturday.
1. Collins named the team’s players of the week from the developmental (scout) team — offensive lineman Jamal Camp (offense), safety Jeremiah Smith (defense) and Wesley Walker (special teams).
Collins also highlighted the play of running back Nathan Cottrell, left guard Mikey Minihan and cornerback Tre Swilling. Cottrell played gunner on the punt team, enforcer on the kickoff team and picked up a blitz on quarterback James Graham’s 34-yard pass (Collins called it “a huge block”) to slot receiver Josh Blancato.
Minihan, a sophomore who played in two games last season, “just battled the entire game,” Collins said. Swilling, who had an interception, a pass breakup and helped limit Clemson receiver Justyn Ross to three catches for 13 yards, also played on the kickoff-return team and was a gunner on the punt team.
“Every single rep, he is taking that role just as serious as being an elite corner against an elite offense,” Collins said.
2. Regarding the Clemson offensive game plan that was heavy on the run, Collins noted the work that the offensive line is doing in drilling on a “multitude of protections that we have” and taking a multitude of practice repetitions.
“So we’re going to play to our strengths as we continue to develop,” he said. “This is what we do well, these are the things that we need to do to compete at a very high level. Took some shots later in the game downfield, so that’s part of our nature of what we do, but just going into it, that’s what we felt was the best thing to do to move the ball and to do some good things.”
3. His assessment of USF: “A lot of offensive talent coming back. I think they have nine starters coming back (on offense). A lot of speed, a quarterback with a big, strong, powerful arm (Blake Barnett) and they do a lot of good things offensively schematically. So we understand we’ve got our work cut out for us. Defensively, they’re very multiple but still very sound. The same thing on both sides of the ball with the team is they’ve got really good team speed and they play really hard.”
He pointed out wide receiver Johnny Ford, a 5-foot-5 wide receiver who ran for 787 yards as a running back last season before moving to slot receiver in the spring. He did not play against Wisconsin in the season opener for unspecified reasons. Collins anticipated him playing Saturday. He did not play against Tech last year, but did run for 58 yards on 14 carries against Temple in November.
“He’s a dynamic player, dynamic athlete,” Collins said. “Not sure after Game 1 how they’re going to use him within the game plan, at running back, as a receiver, or jet sweeps, so great deal of respect for him and the things that he can do with the football.”
4. Collins said that the team pays attention to how many games freshmen have played, but “we don’t have that kind of thought process” regarding decisions on whether to limit any to four games and thereby preserve their redshirt.
“Every single week is a new week for us,” he said. “Later in the season, if there’s been some runs where they’re not playing, we might calculate that, but right now, it’s every week – who can work to be above the line, who can work to contribute.”
In that vein, he said that cornerback Kenan Johnson stood out in his first game with his special-teams play, so that “you might see him playing even more on special teams, even more on defense, elevating his status.”
Others whom he named were linebacker Demetrius Knight and defensive end Chico Bennett, along with tight ends Dylan Deveney, Dylan Leonard, wide receiver Kalani Norris and running back Jamious Griffin.
They were among 21 freshmen who played against Clemson, including nine first-year players.
5. Collins said that the depth chart released Tuesday was not updated for this week’s game against USF. The new chart will not be released until Thursday, giving players the week of practice to demonstrate their readiness for the game in practice.
“Because everything we do in this program, practice is everything,” he said. “How you practice is how you play.”
6. Collins said that, against Clemson, he liked the team’s effort, competitiveness and togetherness, but “there were times the attention to detail and the guys just committing to doing their job was lacking at times.” He said players were in the wrong gaps or trying to cover up for teammates.
“That misfit against some teams might hurt you for 12 yards,” he said. “Against an elite team of players and an elite running back, that play’s going to go for 90 yards.”
7. Collins’ response to a question about how well he thought the team played against Clemson:
“There’s a lot of things to clean up schematically, execution-wise, making sure we’re trusting our gaps, trusting our communication along both sides of the ball and the lines, so there’s always going to be room for improvement. It is just, every day is such a battle and a process to just make sure we’re refining our fundamentals, our techniques. Everything that we do for the most part has been brand new to them, and just hat’s off to the guys and the coaches for getting to the point that they’ve gotten to and now it’s every single day, a challenge to continue to get better.”
8. Collins said he was proud of nickel backs Ajani Kerr and Kaleb Oliver as they shared that spot.
“Both have a huge special-teams role, as well,” he said. “I thought they were able to sub each other out. We had 28 guys play significant snaps on defense Thursday night. That’s a lot. And they handled it the right way, we had a sub pattern going and the guys kept communicating and playing at a high level.”