5 updates from Georgia Tech spring practice

Georgia Tech quarterback Lucas Johnson (7) defensive back Tariq Carpenter (29) and defensive lineman Brandon Adams (90) celebrate a touchdown by Ricky Jeune during the fourth quarter of a football game on Saturday, Nov.11, 2017, in Atlanta. (Photo/John Amis)

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

Georgia Tech is into its third week of spring practice, continuing with workouts Wednesday, Friday and a scrimmage Saturday morning. Updates on how the Yellow Jackets have progressed.

1. Setting the depth chart

After nine practices this spring, Tech coach Paul Johnson said he has a pretty good idea of who the starters will be at most positions. The remaining six practices (including the spring game April 20) can be focused on figuring out the backup slots so there’s a depth chart to take into the preseason.

“It’s just, who’s going to be the third guard or the third defensive end, those kind of things,” Johnson said Monday. “That’s what you’re trying to figure out.”

Johnson’s plans for the remainder of spring practice speak to the importance of staying healthy during spring practice. At safety, for instance, A.J. Gray and Jalen Johnson have been out the entire spring with injuries, leaving Christian Campbell and others the opportunity to gobble up reps and coaching as the defense learns a new scheme. Having moved over from quarterback after redshirting his freshman season, Campbell has ground to make up, but the time he’s had this spring will undoubtedly aid him in his bid for playing time.

Along the same lines, backup quarterback Lucas Johnson missed last week with an injury before returning Monday.

“So Tobias (Oliver) is getting a lot of reps,” Paul Johnson said. “Lucas has looked good when he’s practiced. He just hasn’t been out there much.”

Lucas Johnson and Oliver are competing to be the No. 2 behind TaQuon Marshall. Johnson returned to practice Monday. Asked if he could pick a backup before the preseason began, Paul Johnson replied. “Oh, yeah. I could pick a backup (Monday).”

2. Lee sees defense’s improvement

Offensive tackle Jahaziel Lee has gotten a firsthand look at the defense now under the direction of defensive coordinator Nate Woody. He likes what he has seen.

“It definitely excites me,” Lee said. “I see a lot of guys making plays, making tackles, being explosive, being aggressive. Talking and actually playing, getting after it, hustling. So I see a lot of guys stepping up and playing a big part of the defense, playing their role.

Lee is at 290 pounds, he said, up from about 275 last season. Lee started eight games last season as a sophomore.

“I’m feeling good, I’m running good,” he said.

3. Slimmer B-back

Sophomore B-back Jerry Howard has trimmed down, confirming Johnson's observation earlier in spring practice that he is "leaner, faster, stronger." Howard said he was around 227 pounds when he arrived and dropped down to 215 after his first preseason camp but said he was still carrying a lot of fat. In the offseason, he got up to 230, but is now down to 210 with 9 percent body fat, he said.

“So I got a lot leaner and a lot faster,” Howard said.

Howard said he has become better at practicing full speed. As a freshman last season, he said, if he was unsure of a play in practice, he would go half speed, but now has picked it up.

“If you’re going to make a mistake, make a mistake full speed,” Howard said. “I didn’t do that last year.”

Howard is competing with Jordan Ponchez-Mason for the No. 2 job behind KirVonte Benson. He ran 23 times for 175 yards and two touchdowns last season. The three have a camaraderie, Howard said.

“We’re all just competing right now,” he said. “Like, every day’s a competition. We’ll talk junk to each other or encourage each other, we even coach each other up and tell what each other needs to do, because it’s what’s best for the team.”

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4. Making an impression

Wide receiver Jalen Camp on the cornerback who is the toughest to practice against:

“I would have to say it would probably be Ajani Kerr, and then a close second is Lamont (Simmons), just because of their footwork and their hands. And both of them are not weak corners. So I’m competing with them, getting through my routes, in and out of my breaks.”

Kerr was a backup last season at cornerback and saw some time. He notably made a critical pass breakup against Virginia Tech, on a fourth-down pass into the end zone with just over a minute to play to preserve the Jackets’ 28-22 upset win. Simmons was the No. 3 cornerback.

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Lee also said that Kerr has stood out this spring, and also mentioned safeties Tariq Carpenter and Campbell. Lee lastly named nose tackle Chris Martin, joining others in praising his improvement after rarely seeing the field last season as a redshirt freshman.

“Chris Martin, he’s doing a great job playing that nose position,” Lee said.

5. Will Bryan back at tackle 

At the start of spring practice, offensive lineman Will Bryan was under the impression that he had settled in at guard opposite left guard (and buddy) Parker Braun, though open to whatever was needed.

Johnson said that Monday that Bryan is in the first string at tackle along with Jahaziel Lee. Bryan’s versatility has made him a useful member of the line. Last year, he started two games at left tackle, three games at right guard and one game at right tackle.

It's conceivable that Bryan could well yet move back to guard. Andrew Marshall has been out this spring recovering from a foot injury that kept him out all of last season, and others are in the mix, as well, including Bailey Ivemeyer, Jake Stickler, Zach Quinney and possibly Jack DeFoor, who is hoping to receive a waiver to play immediately after transferring from Ole Miss.

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