CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Georgia Tech’s 7-on-7 sessions have taken on a new dimension this summer. Sometimes when quarterback Jeff Sims drops backs to pass, he’ll manipulate the coverage, perhaps looking to one side of the field to draw a safety over before pivoting to deliver a pass to a receiver in the vacated space.
“I have literally witnessed that this offseason,” safety Juanyeh Thomas told the AJC on Wednesday. “He has that down pat. He’s going to be great.”
Thomas shared that testimony at the ACC Kickoff media event, attended also by Sims, linebacker Ayinde Eley and coach Geoff Collins. Asked about his newfound skill, Sims smiled and professed his zeal for what he termed “messing with the defense.”
Said Sims, “I love it because I just feel so much more confident out there. When we’re out there throwing and stuff, the defense will be like, Jeff, when did you learn how to do that? I’ll say, ‘I don’t know. I just did it.’”
It wouldn’t be the offseason if players and coaches weren’t proclaiming their offseason improvement and optimism for the approaching season. But, with Sims, who showed repeated flashes of brilliance as he started all 10 of the Jackets’ games last season as a freshman but also amassed a pile of mistakes, it’s hardly naive to think he’ll be an improved product when Tech opens the season Sept. 4 against Northern Illinois at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Asked if he could have toyed with the defensive coverage a year ago, Sims answered, “Not at all.”
Going back to January and continuing through the summer months, Sims practically has been a resident of offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s office, reviewing game video from his freshman season.
“One thing I try not to do is watch the good plays,” Sims said. “I try not to do that. I just look at everything I did wrong.”
There was enough of that. Sims threw 13 interceptions – second most in the ACC – and his 54.9% completion percentage was second lowest among Power 5 quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts. He also threw for 13 touchdowns, ran for six and had four games of 200 yards passing, showing dazzling playmaking ability with his arm and legs.
The interception total does merit some context, as Sims seemed to suffer from more than his share of unlucky bounces and tipped passes that turned into interceptions. When this subject was broached, Sims laughed and agreed, “I didn’t throw 13 interceptions. I don’t really like to use that as an excuse, but sometimes you can’t control everything.”
Credit: Grant Halverson/Atlantic Coast Conference
Credit: Grant Halverson/Atlantic Coast Conference
The mistakes were understandable. Not only was Sims starting as a freshman, but he didn’t have the benefit of being able to throw with his receivers in the summer because of the pandemic, not to mention spring practice (after arriving as an early enrollee) was cut short. Shortcomings by his teammates also contributed.
Sims acknowledged he was guilty of mental errors, which sometimes got in his head.
“So this year, I’m focused on just going out there and playing and having a good time like I always do,” he said.
This summer, he has thrown daily with Jackets receivers, sometimes twice a day. He has thrown to them as they work on routes without any defensive pressure and in 7-on-7 drills. On top of learning the scheme better, he has also learned his receivers better.
“I know if I say 10 yards, (Adonicas Sanders) is going to get to 10 yards, and I know how fast he’s going to get to 10 yards,” Sims said. “Same with Malachi (Carter) and same with all the other receivers. Like, I know Kyric (McGowan), he’s a little bit faster than most of the other receivers, so I know I’ve got to quicken my process up with him.”
Then there’s the video work. Besides studying his mistakes from last season, he also has begun to look at Tech’s first five opponents of the coming season, and he also likes to analyze NFL quarterbacks Lamar Jackson (playmaking), Aaron Rodgers (game management and poise) and Russell Wilson (leadership, accuracy).
“Some days, my notepad is full,” he said. “Some days, I’m just sitting there watching it.”
Collins said that he has spotted Sims in the offensive-line meeting room watching video with line coach Brent Key, guard Ryan Johnson and center Mikey Minihan.
“One of my favorite things about him is, he’s so talented, but to have the humility to look at the things he could have done better, look at the flaws that, as a true freshman quarterback, you’re going to have, the things he needed to learn,” Collins said.
As Tech awaits the start of preseason practice, likely around Aug. 6, the sum of Sims’ progress and preparation has put him in a far different spot than a year ago.
“This year, just getting those reps in the offseason is definitely a big help because I just feel like I know a lot of stuff right now,” he said. “I feel way more comfortable, and my confidence is at an all-time high right now.”
Sims was quite happy to shine the spotlight on his teammates. He said tight ends such as Dylan Deveney and Dylan Leonard are getting more comfortable in the offense, improving in their route running and that they are “definitely going to be involved in the offense this year.” The offensive line, Sims said, “is going to be scary good this year.” The receivers, he added, “are going to do a great job this year.”
Sims himself said he aims to improve his competition percentage to at least 65%, a rate that undoubtedly would be shaped by better protection from the line and better routes by the receivers and tight ends -- besides his own improvement in decision making and accuracy.
He recalled one interception, the last of four against Syracuse. He was trying to throw to the sideline to receiver Marquez Ezzard, but at the last moment tried to pull the ball back as he recognized heavy coverage. But he was unsuccessful, and the ball was underthrown, intercepted and returned for a game-breaking touchdown.
“At that point, I’ve just got to throw it,” Sims said. “That was really bad.”
With the wisdom gained from hundreds of game snaps, increased knowledge of the offense and his offseason preparation, Sims heads into his second season as a starter bearing heavy responsibility for the first winning season in Collins’ tenure, now going into its third year.
Sims declared that “it’s happening this year,” and then went one large step further.
“I’m going to get the goal as high as possible,” he said. “Anything’s realistic for me. I’m going to say we go undefeated. But that’s just me.”