Jeff Sims’ progress clear to Georgia Tech coordinator Dave Patenaude

Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims at spring practice on March 30, 2021. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)
Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims at spring practice on March 30, 2021. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s office in the Yellow Jackets football compound sits strategically located. Situated between the locker room and the cafeteria, it’s an easy place for his quarterbacks to stop off.

“So they walk by my office all the time,” Patenaude said Thursday, following the Yellow Jackets’ second practice of the spring. “A lot of times I’m not even in there – we might be in a staff meeting. I might come back in there, and two or three of those guys are sitting in there watching tape.”

With spring practice having started Tuesday, so did the time for returning starter Jeff Sims, along with backups Jordan Yates and Demetrius Knight (moved from linebacker) and early-enrollee freshman Chayden Peery, to apply the knowledge gained in those study sessions. For Tech, trying to improve upon its 3-7 record from 2020, it’s particularly critical for Sims to show better form than he did as a starter in his freshman season.

And while the Jackets are only two practices into the spring and have yet to put on pads, Sims said that “I definitely feel way more comfortable” because of his increased understanding of the offense.

“There’s still things that I can learn, but just going out there, having the confidence that I can check plays, check the protection and know exactly what the defense is doing, it’s really helping,” Sims said. “Because you can get the offense moving. I can slow it down, I can speed it up. And it’s really just helping because I have more control of the offense.”

Sims’ play last year was uneven. 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 touchdown/interception rate lower than his 13/13. Still, he showed dynamic playmaking ability with his arm and his feet, perhaps best demonstrated when he threw for 146 yards and three touchdowns in Tech’s win over Duke while also rushing for 108 yards.

Patenaude said that Sims was depending to a large degree on instinct and athletic ability.

“When he first came in, he didn’t really know a lot of football,” Patenaude said.

Patenaude said that part of Tech’s problem with pre-snap penalties, including 26 false starts, had to do with the tempo at which the offense was trying to move from play to play. The snap cadence shifted during games, as did the tempo, which would seem a lot for a freshman quarterback (along with center Mikey Minihan, who was playing the position for the first time) to oversee.

When it worked, it was often effective in catching defenses off guard. However, “a lot of our penalties were simply that the change of the pace was causing more problems than it was helping us,” Patenaude said.

After the snap, Sims at times played like a marvel and at others struggled with making decisions and in knowing where to throw the ball. On Thursday, Sims was asked to name a play he was proud of from last season and one he can’t bear to watch.

The first was a 45-yard completion against Florida State in the season opener. Sims connected with wide receiver Marquez Ezzard down the right sideline with a spiral that had just enough arc to clear the leap of defensive end Janarius Robinson, who had dropped into coverage. It was the first of Sims’ 16 completions of 30-plus yards, tied for sixth in the ACC.

“I’d been working on getting balls over their heads and dropping it in the bucket,” he said. “So it just showed me that the work paid off and it happened in a game.”

As for the other, he singled out an interception against Pitt in the final game of the season. On the first play from scrimmage, Sims tried for wide receiver Jalen Camp down the seam, but Pitt safety Erick Hallett stepped in front of it.

“They played a coverage that me and coach ‘P’ were going over all week, and they got me with it first play,” Sims said, “and I feel like I should have noticed that better and slowed down and not tried to rush the ball.”

The first play indicated a willingness to work. The second, maturity to learn from his mistakes.

“He’s so self-critical that he never wants to put himself in a position where he’s making the same mistakes that he made as a freshman,” Patenaude said.

Besides clips of his own play, Sims and the backup quarterbacks have been watching other teams that run offenses similar to Tech’s as well as video of NFL teams.

“And he’s absorbed it all in,” Patenaude said.

Sims has studied Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s technique and the power he puts on his throws. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is another player whom Sims has put under the microscope.

“Just to see how he conducts his offense,” Sims said. “His offense moves the ball so smoothly – just to see how he sits backs there so calm and just goes over the game and goes through his progressions.”

In the spring, Sims said he wants to be more consistent, to position himself to improve his completion percentage this fall by hitting shorter routes when the deeper throws aren’t available.

After two practices, Patenaude sees a difference in Sims’ understanding and confidence.

“He’s throwing the ball with authority,” he said. “He’s always had a good arm, right? He’s a good athlete. But the ball is coming out on time so much faster.”

With Sims’ physical tools, growing experience and an expanding knowledge of the offense, Patenaude is understandably bullish.

“If he plays to his ability, and we continue to play to his strengths from a play-calling standpoint, he can be as good as anybody in the league,” Patenaude said. “So we’re really excited about that.”

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