5 things to know about Georgia Tech’s tight end group

After a season following then-senior tight ends Tyler Davis and Tyler Cooksey, leadership roles for the position group have been thrust upon sophomores Dylan Deveney and Dylan Leonard. The two Dylans shared their thoughts about that transition and, along with position coach Chris Wiesehan, gave other updates about the preseason through a videoconference Saturday with media.

1. On scholarship

Leonard confirmed that he was put on scholarship following last season. Leonard had arrived at Tech in 2019 as a walk-on from Milton High. He played regularly last season, sharing snaps with Deveney behind Davis, the starter. Leonard played in all 12 games and caught two passes.

Leonard said that coach Geoff Collins and Wiesehan told him that if he got his weight up, he would be put on scholarship. When he arrived, Leonard said, he weighed about 215 pound and he is now about 243. Leonard said that Wiesehan shared the good news just before winter break began.

“He said he wanted to give me a good Christmas present, so he wanted me to go home knowing I was going to be on scholarship,” Leonard said. “So it was just awesome to see my parents being proud of me and I’m just proud of myself, so I really enjoyed that.”

2. Pads coming on

After practicing without pads from the start of preseason camp Aug. 5, the team could begin to practice in pads this coming week following another round of COVID-19 tests.

Normally, teams are in full pads as early as the fifth practice of the preseason, but helmets were the only protective equipment players wore through Saturday, the final day of camp, with classes beginning Monday. Collins made that decision in order to limit player-to-player contact and the potential spread of the coronavirus that practicing in full pads would induce. With a longer-than-normal preseason, Wiesehan said that the team will have about the same amount of time in full pads as it would in a normal preseason before the season opener, scheduled for Sept. 12 at Florida State.

“Coach Collins had a great plan in place from a safety perspective for our players, playing clean football (without pads), getting the offense and defense installed as well as the special teams,” he said. “We’re just trying to put the plastic on when the time is right and we count back from the games. We’re right on schedule.”

3. Jump in production predicted

Wiesehan offered a rather ambitious prediction. Because of anticipated improvements across the board on offense, “I think the tight ends are going to be a group that’s going to catch 70 balls this year,” he said.

A 70-catch season would be a hefty jump. Tech’s tight ends caught 25 passes last year, led by Davis’ 17. In the ACC last season, no team’s tight ends caught more than 63 passes and 11 caught 44 or fewer.

Wiesehan offered his forecast as part of an answer about improvement on the offensive line and in the offense as a whole.

“I think the O-line’s going to be wonderful,” he said. “We’re excited about them, we’re excited about the quarterback position and obviously the running back position. We have really good skill players, and we’re excited to be running the offense at the pace at which we’re running it.”

4. Now in command

Leonard and Deveney, both sophomores, have assumed leadership of the position group with the graduations of Davis and Cooksey.

“Me and Dylan just try to be like the two Tylers last year, the way they helped bring us along,” Deveney said. “We’re just going to try to bring (freshman Billy Ward) along the same way and try to bring him up to speed, get him ready to play in some games, for sure.”

Davis, a sixth-round pick, is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Cooksey has a job in real estate. They are still connected. They were kept on the tight ends’ group text, and Deveney said that he tries to talk with Davis on FaceTime once a week. Deveney said he’ll maintain the early-morning video-review sessions that the two Tylers instituted for Sunday mornings after games.

“It’s definitely different without them,” Leonard said. “I think they prepped me and the other Dylan really well to be able to take over the roles that they held.”

Aside from Ward, the group also includes walk-ons Joseph Macrina, Chris Miller and Jack Coco, who has long snapped for the past two seasons.

5. Improvement plan

Wiesehan said that he wants to see Leonard and Deveney develop “from a physicality standpoint,” noting Leonard’s weight gains and Deveney’s dearth of blocking experience since he joined his high school’s team midway through his senior year (and then played at a prep school the year after that).

Before players were allowed to return to campus in June, they stayed in contact with coaches through videoconference calls, time that Wiesehan used to teach the position and also concepts such as defensive structures and disguised coverages. Wiesehan has seen the development in Deveney in his ability to adjust his routes based on what he is seeing from the defense. He estimated that Deveney had had only four missed assignments in practices through Saturday.

“He’s playing a really high level of football with truly minimal M.A.‘s,” Wiesehan said.