“I know myself. I know every first I’ve been through these last nine, 10 months,” Key said. “I’m very, ‘OK, let me observe, let me feel it out, let me make sure.’ So I know I’ll be that same way as practice goes early on. ‘Ya’ll gotta cover it up for me. You got to make up with the energy and enthusiasm.’”
Key, his assistants and his team will hit the practice field at 2 p.m. Tuesday on a hot Atlanta afternoon exactly one month before the opener against Louisville at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The first-year coach expects to have 120 players, 84 of whom will be on scholarship, on that practice field with him to begin a new era of Tech football.
“I want to see them play hard. I want to see them compete their (butts) off and develop not as two separate teams, an offense and a defense, but as a full team,” Key said. “I hope that’s an advantage I can bring because I wasn’t an offensive coordinator or a defensive coordinator. There’s not that vested interest in (one side of the ball). To me it is, truly, all of us together. I hope that comes through.”
Key already has four wins as a head coach, all of those coming in 2022 as he led the Jackets on an interim basis after Geoff Collins was fired in September. Now the former Tech offensive lineman has had eight months to put his fingerprints on every aspect of the program.
Tuesday is a date that’s been circled on the calendar for everyone associated with the team.
“Just seeing us compete,” LaMiles Brooks said about his expectations for the start of fall camp. “Just keeping that same love we have for each other now. Got to keep that going.”
Brooks is part of an experienced defense that needs to greatly improve under coordinator Andrew Thacker. Tech ranked last in the ACC in defending the run and gave up more than 28 points per game.
Andre White (Texas &M) and Braelen Oliver (Minnesota) will help bolster the linebacker position. There are enough familiar, veteran faces along the defensive front and on the back end to reason both those units will take a step forward.
Those veterans need to raise their play on the field and keep the momentum from a strong end to 2022 going.
“We have our leadership group that has the standards set for the team. We’re hopeful it works out like we think it will,” senior Sylvain Yondjouen said.
Offensively, coordinator Buster Faulkner and quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke have their work cut out for them. They’ll need to decide on a starting quarterback, a competition that will likely come down to Zach Pyron and Texas A&M transfer Haynes King (although Zach Gibson can’t be counted out); figure out how to elevate the league’s worst passing offense; and, most importantly, do better than 17.2 points per game.
Tech had to turn to the transfer portal to help provide depth at running back and wide receiver so those areas will be questionable until the season begins. The offensive line returns four starters and should be a strength if that unit takes another step forward.
As for Key, part of his foundation was certainly put down over the final two months of the 2022 season. Now he’s charged with building upon that foundation and turning Tech into a contender.
“I know who these guys are. I know they’re tough. I know they’re smart. We have to show it on the field,” he said. “We have to play collectively. We have to play together. That’s my expectations. If we do all those things and put those things together, we’ll have the outcomes that we want.”