Having walk-through practices before camp (another adjustment for this season), " I think that’s really been good for the development of our guys leading into camp,” Collins said. “I thought we’ve handled it very, very well.”
2. Better return game
Collins spoke with optimism about improvements in special teams, particularly the return units. A priority in the offseason was for the team to gain, on average, 10 pounds per player. One place where he said that his team was outmatched last season was in the kicking game, in no small part because of players’ weight.
Further, the roster now has tight ends and more linebackers, which are positions “that are your core special-teams groups,” he said.
Tech signed three linebackers in the 2020 class, Tyson Meiguez, Khatavian Franks and Khaya Wright, and tight end Billy Ward. Also, freshman defensive ends Jared Ivey and Kyle Kennard could help.
“We’ve got some dynamic returners, but I think the biggest piece that we had to address was the size/speed personnel that were on the punt-return units, kickoff-return unit and even the kickoff units,” Collins said.
Tech ranked tied for 59th in kickoff-return average in FBS last season and 110th in punt return average.
3. Quarterback competition
Asked about the status of the quarterback competition, Collins offered only the most general of updates.
“There is really good competition,” he said of the derby between incumbent James Graham, redshirt freshman Jordan Yates and incoming freshmen Tucker Gleason and Jeff Sims. “We still haven’t had a scrimmage yet. We’re planning to have one on Saturday. So those kind of things, when it’s live situations, you’re going to be able to tell a lot. But they’ve spun the ball really, really well. Some days, certain guys elevate a little higher than others.”
He did say that the four made “leaps and bounds” of progress in understanding the offense in the spring and summer when players were not allowed on campus and met with coaches via videoconference.
Collins is loathe to comment on questions about competitions at quarterback. At the end of his answer about the quarterbacks, he asked, sarcastically, “Do we want to talk about the starting nose guard or the starting right tackle? I’m happy to talk about those things, as well.”
4. Transfers looking good
Collins expressed his excitement with the team’s three transfers who sat out last season, safety Derrik Allen (Notre Dame), defensive end Antonneous Clayton (Florida) and wide receiver Marquez Ezzard (Miami). Collins praised them for their effort on the scout team last year, “giving a great look, having a great attitude, and now they’re getting their chance, and they’re really embracing it and doing a really nice job competing every single day.
Allen has caught Collins’ attention for his recent progress in practice.
“Derrik Allen, the last five practices, it’s just been an explosion of growth within our program just schematically,” he said. “We’re very complex on defense, but (he is) understanding the nuances and getting better at those every day.”
5. Classes have begun
Players began the fall semester Monday, a mix of in-person, virtual and hybrid classes.
“All of those things are happening, and we’ve got to make sure we’re still following all of the safety protocols and executing all of that at a very high level,” he said.
In fielding multiple questions about dealing with the risk of the spread of COVID-19, Collins made repeated references to following protocols such as washing hands, wearing masks and practicing social distancing and used a variation of the phrase “control what we can control” at least four different times.
“We live in that mind-set 365 days a year, but it’s never been more relevant than it is right now,” he said. “And I’ve been proud of the guys, the coaching staff, the players, even the student equipment managers, the student athletic trainers. They’re all in on this, as well, and they’ve done a great job.”