Observations from Georgia Tech’s 11th preseason practice

Georgia Tech’s preparations for the season continued Thursday as the clock counting down to the start of the season grows louder.

As of Thursday, the season opener against No. 4 Clemson was 18 days away. The Yellow Jackets will conclude the camp portion of the preseason Saturday with a scrimmage. Thursday’s practice, again held under unseasonably mild conditions, was conducted with players in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts. It was the 11th of the preseason.

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Observations from the portion of practice open to media:

1. As coach Geoff Collins is prepping new players for the pattern of a game week, he ran a practice similar to the Thursday practices of the season. (The team will go through its normal game-day procedures before the scrimmage Saturday.) Included were periods for 11-on-11 play that normally would be offense versus scout-team defense and later defense versus scout-team offense, but on this day pitted the likely starting (and backup) units against each other.

There also were periods for special teams and situational play for the offense and defense.

During the period that will be offense against the scout team during the season, Collins permitted media to stand behind the offense, which is where he was stationed as he ran the drill, signaling plays dead with piercing blasts of his whistle.

With a script of the period – each play that the offense and defense were to run against each other – he could hone in on particular areas of the play, though little seemed to evade his notice. With virtually every play, Collins called out to players for their performance, defensive linemen, offensive linemen, defensive backs and linebackers among them.

He shared a quick word with new offensive analyst Jim Chaney as he passed by. He told linebackers coach Jason Semore that one of his players needed to be replaced. After he was the only voice calling a unit off the field to be replaced by the next group, Collins stopped director of football operations Scott Wallace to remind him that he shouldn’t be the only one on the field calling for that switch.

As offensive line coach Brent Key shouted commands to his players – “Pad level!” “Take it! Let’s go!” – Collins seemed in good spirits, noting that he had had to stop practice only twice in the preseason to kick-start players, one of those times by design. It was a more common occurrence last season.

2. Another part of Thursday practices that was included in the schedule was “Thursday Races,” in which players on the kickoff coverage team sprint down the field, with the fastest players having their mph speed (as measured by the team’s wearable GPS devices) read out over the loudspeakers. (The spirit of the drill is set with the playing of the opening bars of Kenny Loggins’ “Highway to the Danger Zone.”)

Players who hit 21 mph: defensive backs Derrik Allen, Kenny Bennett, Eric Reed, Rodney Shelley, Zamari Walton, Kenyatta Watson, running back Daylon Gordon, wide receivers Avery Boyd and Ryan King and linebacker Demetrius Knight.

Watson was the fastest at 21.7 mph. Knight’s speed (21.3 mph) might have been the most impressive, as he is the heaviest of the group, toting 247 pounds.

3. Boyd made two superlative catches in a subsequent 11-on-11 period. In both, he was tightly covered on deep routes down the sideline – first by Reed and then Watson – but was able to come down with the ball both times. Against Watson, he appeared to make the catch one-handed. In a show of sportsmanship, Watson offered a fist bump to Boyd after the drill ended.

Boyd, who played in only six games last season, is competing for a spot in the wide receiver rotation.

4. The handful of NFL scouts visiting practice took advantage of a water break to chat with defensive end Keion White, possibly the top draft prospect on the roster. It is another indicator of the expectations for White, who was able to play only the final four games of last season (his first at Tech after transferring from Old Dominion) because of an injury.

During the break, cornerback Myles Sims sought to make an impression with the visitors, offering an introduction and a handshake.