Chip Long to increase focus on tight end for Georgia Tech

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Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

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Generic Georgia Tech flag image

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Something less than a focal point of the Georgia Tech offense in coach Geoff Collins’ first three years, the tight end position will have a bigger role with new offensive coordinator Chip Long.

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In his first interview session with Atlanta media on Friday, Long espoused his preference for “12″ personnel – one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers – and his belief in using tight ends to create a dynamic, flexible offense.

“I just think it’s hard for the defense,” Long said. “They’ve got to be able to match.”

With two tight ends, particularly two with size and superior athletic ability who can effectively double as receivers and in-line blockers, an offense can shift from having a wide-open one-back formation with four receivers spread across the field to a power look with both tight ends outside of the offensive tackles. It’s especially problematic for defenses if the offense goes into a hurry-up mode and doesn’t make substitutions – as Long prefers – in which case the offense isn’t required to wait for the defense to make substitutions.

A defense that chooses to play three linebackers and four defensive backs will face a potential mismatch with a linebacker trying to cover a tight end lining up at receiver. Or, if a defense goes with two linebackers and five defensive backs, Long could line up both tight ends as extra linemen and pound the run against a lighter defense.

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“So if we can be able to get into all kinds of different formations in the same personnel, it just helps us dictate the pace of the game and the way we want it to be played,” Long said.

Long used it effectively in three seasons as offensive coordinator at Notre Dame (2017-19) for then-coach Brian Kelly. In those three years, the Fighting Irish ranked 12th, 28th and 25th, respectively, in the Fremeau Efficiency Index ratings. (Notre Dame was 22nd, seventh and 37th in the three seasons prior.)

With Dave Patenaude, Tech’s former coordinator, the Yellow Jackets mostly played out of “11″ personnel – one back, one tight end, three receivers. Tech’s issues on offense were arguably deeper than personnel groupings over the past three seasons, though, when Tech finished 94th, 92nd and 78th in the same FEI rankings. Long offered other changes with the offense.

“The transition will probably be quite a bit different for the guys,” Long said. “Just the tempo and the physicality that we’re going to play with is probably going to be a major change for these guys – how hard we practice and the demands that we expect those guys (to meet).”

He also vowed to emphasize the “little things that entail winning” – penalties have at times been an issue for Tech the past two seasons – and to move quickly play-to-play.

“We obviously want to attack,” Long said. “I tell our guys, we always want to try to play at a two-minute pace. But it’s a pro-style offense and it goes fast. And we ask our guys to do a whole lot. You’ll see very different presentations formationally, guys moving all over the place to put them in position to make plays. It’s an offense that, over the years, has really showcased our playmakers and (you’re) never coming out of a game wondering why so-and-so didn’t touch the ball multiple times. I’m more about ‘How do we get our players the ball?’ than ‘This is what I want to call in this situation.’ So it’s a player-driven offense.”

The proposed usage of the tight end, though, figures to be a noticeable change. In Long’s time at Notre Dame, the leading tight end pass catcher went from 19 receptions in 2017 (Alizé Mack) to 36 (Mack again in 2018) and 43 (Cole Kmet in 2019).

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Last season, Jackets tight end Dylan Leonard had 11 catches and the position group combined for 16 receptions. In 2020, Dylan Deveney led with four catches and the group had a total of 11. In 2019, Tyler Davis had 17 catches and the tight ends as a whole caught 25 passes. Davis was drafted in 2020.

In addition to his coordinator duties, Long will coach the tight ends, replacing Chris Wiesehan, who left Tech to coach the offensive line at Temple, where he had coached five seasons before coming to Tech with Collins. Leonard and Deveney both return, as do Billy Ward and Ben Postma.

“From film, the talent’s there,” Long said. “We’ve just got to be able to get them going and playing at a higher level. But I think they’re excited about it. You’re going to play better when you touch the ball a little more, too. I think they’re really excited about the direction of the offense.”

Tech has also added a tight end out of the transfer portal, Luke Benson from Syracuse. Benson, who played in 34 games with 10 starts in three seasons, has two years of eligibility remaining.

“Luke is impressive, just his athleticism,” Long said. “He was a gunner on the punt team (at Syracuse). At his size, you don’t usually see that in major college football. So that really excited me. I think he gives us an extra gear to own the middle of the field that you always like to have at the tight end position. And just another guy who can make things happen with the ball in his hands.”

Other tidbits that Long shared:

Officially hired on Dec. 5, Long flew down to Jacksonville, Fla., soon after to visit with quarterback Jeff Sims and his family to introduce himself and the offense. Long made the trip at least in part to try to head off the possibility of Sims going into the transfer portal.

“If you’re not recruiting your own team, someone else is,” Long said. “That’s just the new reality of college football. Relationships matter.”

Long said he was eager to work with Sims, whom he called “an extremely talented young man.” He’ll compete with incoming transfer Zach Gibson and incoming freshman Zach Pyron.

Said Long of Sims, “When the offense rolls out there, he’s going to be the first guy going. But we want to have great competition at all spots. It’s his job, but he has to maintain it, and he has to compete and work at the level that we expect the starting quarterback to work at.”

Long was connected with the job through Tech general manager Patrick Suddes and offensive line coach Brent Key, whom Long said are two of his closer friends in the business. Suddes and Long worked together at Arizona State 2014-15 when Suddes was an assistant athletic director over recruiting and Long was tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator.

Long said that when they reached out to him about the opening – he was finishing his first season at Tulane as offensive coordinator – he was “absolutely” interested. He said that he has always had respect for Tech, it was closer to his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., and “it gave me an opportunity to work with two guys that I respect immensely in this profession. You don’t always get the opportunity to do that, and didn’t want to miss that.”