As fall camp gets underway, the lineup begins to take shape
A day after formally getting fall camp underway, the Tech football team held an open practice on Saturday morning, carrying out a series of position drills and brief scrimmages before a small audience on what was also Fan Day for the program.
There weren’t too many major schematic revelations—and frankly it would be surprising for the coaches to tip their collective hand on anything during an open practice—but the morning session did shed some light on which players are most likely to see playing time when the season starts four weeks from today. All of this, of course, comes with the caveat that it’s all based on one practice, but what’s more fun than drawing sweeping conclusions from a tiny sample size?
As expected, the playcalling during scrimmage sessions was fairly vanilla. An early 11-on-11 session saw the offense line up exclusively in 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end) while rotating out units. The play selection was a mix of read option, outside stretch runs, swing passes to the slot receivers and running backs, and the occasional deep strike down the sideline. One interesting note came when the team ran two-minute drills, as the first-team offense took the field with 20 personnel—two running backs and no tight ends—with Jahmyr Gibbs and Jordan Mason in the backfield alongside Jeff Sims, which is probably the best possible alignment from a pure talent perspective.
(Note: 2021 freshmen will be addressed separately because of how they were handled in this game—see next section for that.)
Quarterback: Jeff Sims and Jordan Yates both looked sharp on both short and long routes, with Sims hooking up with Kalani Norris and Ryan King for long touchdowns in early 11-on-11 drills. Temple transfer Trad Beatty also saw a lot of action.
Running Back: It’ll be Jahmyr Gibbs, Jordan Mason, Dontae Smith, and Jamious Griffin in that order. No surprises here. Between the four, Tech has a human highlight reel, a veteran bruiser, a versatile rotation back, and a good all-purpose reserve.
Wide Receiver: The main action here was broken down across three trios:
- Malachi Carter (outside), Adonicas Sanders (outside), Kyric McGowan (slot)
- Peje Harris (outside), Ryan King (outside), Nate McCollum (slot)
- Marquez Ezzard (outside), Kalani Norris (outside), Malik Rutherford (slot)
The first group are the most seasoned guys and the likely starters at present, but there’s plenty of room for movement here.
Tight End: Nothing too exciting here. Dylan Deveney might have a slight edge over Dylan Leonard and newly-minted scholarship TE Jack Coco.
Offensive Line: The first two units today were:
- LT Devin Cochran, LG Jordan Williams, C Mikey Minihan, RG Ryan Johnson, RT Nick Pendley
- LT Jakiah Leftwich, LG Paula Vaipulu, C Weston Franklin, RG Kenny Cooper, RT Kenneth Kirby
There’s a very strong transfer portal flavor here, with three transfers in the first unit and a fourth in the likely swing tackle (Kirby). As of now, the starting five seems all but set, with Franklin, Cooper, and Kirby likely to rotate in.
Defensive End/EDGE: The main rotation was Jordan Domineck, Jared Ivey, and Alabama transfer Kevin Harris. Sylvain Yondjouen anchored the second unit, and freshman Noah Collins was in the mix.
Defensive Tackle: T.K. Chimedza and Mike Lockhart were getting first-team reps here, with JaQuon Griffin, Akelo Stone, Zeek Biggers, and walk-on Jason Moore also getting reps.
Linebacker: The four guys who rotated in with the first and second teams are the four with experience: Quez Jackson, Maryland transfer Ayinde Eley, Charlie Thomas, and Demetrius Knight. A few second-year freshmen got reps as well, including Khatavian Franks and Khaya Wright.
Secondary: As with a couple other positions, the secondary broke down pretty cleanly into a couple strings:
- CB Zamari Walton, CB Myles Sims, NB Tre Swilling, FS Juanyeh Thomas, SS Tariq Carpenter
- CB Tobias Oliver, CB Derrik Allen, NB Wesley Walker, FS Jaylon King, SS Jalen Huff
Seeing Allen at corner and Huff at safety was odd, as Huff was recruited as a corner and Allen was a safety last season. But it’s still very early in camp, and the coaches might just be getting in some cross-training to try things out.
Special Teams: The lone dedicated special teams session was a kickoff coverage drill. Austin Kent and Brent Cimaglia split the mock kickoffs, and a huge swath of reserves on offense and defense rotated in for coverage reps.
Absences: Notable absences (from what this writer could tell) included defensive linemen Keion White and Djimon Brooks. At present there’s no indication that either will be out for more than today, and both are likely to be fixtures in the defensive line rotation if healthy.
This was the first open practice for the 2021 signing class, but only a few of them saw action with the first or second unit. For example, quarterback Chayden Peery worked almost entirely with reserve units, and wide receiver Leo Blackburn and linebacker Trenilyas Tatum were with the fourth groups at their respective positions. The players who did see action with the top units were at positions where depth is lacking—most notably Weston Franklin and Jakiah Leftwich on the offensive line,
The rationale here is likely some combination of 1) a reasonable desire for the new guys to earn their way up the ranks and 2) wanting to get them reps with the “development team” at positions where they’re unlikely to play immediately. Again, it’s still early, and a few of them are all but certain to find their way into the rotation by the end of fall camp.