Georgia Tech coaches easing physical load in practice

Georgia Tech started preseason practices 120 days ago, on Aug. 5 — only a few days later than normal. The Yellow Jackets won’t finish their season until Dec. 19, making this unconventional year a longer season than normal.

Typically, the regular season would’ve wrapped up this past weekend, and if the Jackets played in a bowl game, it would be toward the end of December after a limited number of practices. This year, the end is still three games away.

Tech coach Geoff Collins has lightened the practice load in recent weeks in an effort to keep his team healthy and engaged down the stretch. Instead of a typical Tuesday practice — in full pads and full contact — they’ve practiced in foam “spider” pads the past couple of Tuesdays and hitting has been reduced.

“It helps the bigger guys tremendously because you’re not just pounding on each other anymore,” senior linebacker David Curry said. “We definitely still will, depending on which week it is, we’ll definitely still put on shoulder pads sometimes. But for us now, it’s like, your body’s a little bit more beat up now, and now it’s just more about keeping you healthy, and you don’t have to really hit each other as much anymore.”

The Jackets spent the past two Tuesdays practicing inside Bobby Dodd Stadium, a departure from their typical location at the Brock indoor facility. Collins admitted the decision to stay in the stadium for Tuesday this week was largely because they beat Duke after practicing in the stadium Tuesday last week, but it’s also an opportunity to mix things up and get in a different environment for practice.

And Collins and his staff have gone beyond just lightening the physical load in practice to keep the team engaged. They’ve played kickball and dodgeball a handful of times, which sophomore running back Dontae Smith said has been a fun outlet for the players.

“I feel like it was just another way to for us to come together, also being socially distanced in the pandemic, but we come together and have fun,” Smith said. “A lot of times, we practice and then we lift separately, and it’s not the same as when you have a game. But then you throw in some kickball and some other stuff, everyone’s enjoying it.”

At this point in the season, every player on every team is playing through bumps and bruises. Tech is no exception, but the time off between playing Notre Dame and playing Duke did help some of the players get healthy and fresh. Keeping practices less physical helps ensure that those players will continue feeling healthy down the stretch.

“Toward the end of the season, you’re gonna have some bumps and bruises,” Smith said. “You just have to constantly be in the training room, and if you’re hurting somewhere, you just have to do your best to get better. As far as practice, it’s still the same. We might take off a little bit because it’s late in the season and we might not hit as much, but everything script-wise is the same and speed-wise, we still go hard.

“We still basically do everything we would do early in the season. It’s just you take a little bit off so people’s bodies aren’t as bad as they could be if we were just full pads, hitting and everything, throughout the whole year.”