5 things to watch in Georgia Tech spring practice

Georgia Tech running back Dontae Smith (28) scores a touchdown during the second half of a 56-33 victory over Duke during the 2020 season.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Georgia Tech running back Dontae Smith (28) scores a touchdown during the second half of a 56-33 victory over Duke during the 2020 season.

Georgia Tech will begin spring practice Tuesday, the first of 15 practices culminating with the spring game April 23. After a 3-7 season in coach Geoff Collins’ second season, the Yellow Jackets begin preparations to push higher in the ACC standings.

Here are five things to watch as the Jackets begin their spring workouts:

1. First practices for transfers

Seven transfers will be taking part in their first Tech practices, all seeming to have a clear shot at contributing and possibly starting. The spring can be useful for getting acclimated to different schemes and terminology and learning teammates.

They include three grad transfers - offensive tackle Devin Cochran (Vanderbilt), linebacker Ayinde Eley (Maryland) and wide receiver Kyric McGowan (Northwestern) - and four standard transfers, defensive end Kevin Harris (Alabama), guard Nick Pendley (Mississippi State), defensive tackle Makius Scott (South Carolina) and cornerback Kenyatta Watson (Texas).

Cochran, who started 32 games for the Commodores over three seasons, may be the most impactful. Offensive line coach Brent Key will have three tackles with at least one season of starting experience in Cochran and returning starters Zach Quinney and Jordan Williams. A fourth, Kenneth Kirby, is expected to arrive in May as a grad transfer from Norfolk State, where he was a three-year starter.

2. Moving up the ladder

Spring practice will provide players with more opportunity to get practice time and put to use strength gains made in the offseason.

Here are five in particular who are primed to put themselves in better position for playing time this fall. Running back Dontae Smith, who shined when given opportunities last season, made significant physical gains in the offseason, including adding 3.5 inches to his standing vertical leap (up to 37 inches), according to a tweet from the strength-and-conditioning staff.

Offensive lineman Austin Smith did not appear in any games last year, but was one of three players named an “Ultimate Iron Jacket” for his work in the weight room this winter, along with quarterback Demetrius Knight and safety Juanyeh Thomas. Wide receiver Nate McCollum’s role grew throughout his freshman season, and he made a strong impression on offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude. Defensive tackle Akelo Stone had two tackles in six games last season but is a physical player who could become an anchor for the line. Cornerback Miles Brooks appeared in four games as a freshman, but is expected to push a deep position group in the spring.

3. Freshmen on the field

Seven early-enrollee freshmen also will have their first snaps on the practice field – linebacker Grey Carroll, safety Kaleb Edwards, offensive linemen Weston Franklin and Jakiah Leftwich, quarterback Chayden Peery, defensive lineman Josh Robinson and linebacker Trenilyas Tatum.

Early enrollees, including quarterback Jeff Sims and Williams last spring, often see the field early because of the head start they receive in the spring.

Edwards, from Dacula, is one who appears to have made the transition to college well and could bear watching in practice.

4. Opportunity for Sims to grow

Sims showed all kinds of promise as a freshman, notably an ability to connect on deep balls and ability to escape pressure in the pocket.

However, with Patenaude’s help, he’ll need to develop consistency in his accuracy, making reads and avoiding interceptions. Out of 39 quarterbacks at power-conference schools who threw at least 200 passes last season, only one had a lower completion rate than Sims’ 54.9% and only two had a poorer touchdown/interception ratio than Sims’ 13/13.

At the same time, Patenaude will have to develop a backup for Sims with Tucker Gleason and James Graham both having transferred. Jordan Yates returns, Demetrius Knight has moved from linebacker (he was a high-school quarterback) and Peery, the early enrollee, will also be in the mix.

5. Replacing starters from 2020

Tech will have to replace three full-time starters from the 2020 lineup – receiver Jalen Camp, left guard Jack DeFoor and linebacker David Curry. Slot receiver Ahmarean Brown, who missed the final three games before transferring, is another, although PeJé Harris replaced him in the starting lineup.

Tech is deeper at wide receiver than guard or linebacker. Adonicas Sanders is among candidates who could succeed Camp, along with Marquez Ezzard and McCollum. McGowan, who caught 34 passes at Northwestern last season, is another. Avery Boyd and Ryan King were making strides last fall when they both suffered season-ending injuries.

At guard, Kenny Cooper would seem a strong candidate to replace DeFoor as he returns for his second senior year. At linebacker, Eley, who started 11 games at Maryland over three seasons and has two years of eligibility left, looks like he could play multiple positions. Tyson Meiguez, a freshman linebacker, figures to get a good look also.

There’s also a gaping hole at punter with the departure of Ray Guy Award winner Pressley Harvin. Returnee Austin Kent was Harvin’s backup and will compete with signee David Shanahan when he arrives in the summer.