#TGW: Up The Middle
Competitions at QB, B-back could shape Georgia Tech's patented rushing offense in 2017
Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word -
Were you to suit up a couple rams in football uniforms, they might be called Dedrick Mills and Matthew Jordan, who figure to power Georgia Tech's offense next season with battering intentions.
The Yellow Jackets may center their attack next season in the middle of the field, where the size of Jordan (6-2, 208 pounds) could prompt head coach Paul Johnson to call more of the midline option than he did with departed quarterback Justin Thomas (5-11, 185).
"We're working on quite a bit of [midline option in spring practice], trying to get the running game up," said presumptive starting center Kenny Cooper.
There were glimpses of the possibilities last season, especially when Jordan started for the injured Thomas on Nov. 12 at Virginia Tech and rushed 32 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns as the Jackets upset the No. 18 Hokies, 30-20.
Mills started from the jump at B-back as a freshman last fall, leading the Jackets in rushing (771 yards) and touchdowns scored (12) despite missing four games.
Jordan played in nine games as a redshirt sophomore, primarily as Thomas' backup, but was deployed often enough in short-yardage situations to finish sixth on the team in rushing (243 yards) and tied with Thomas for second on the squad with six touchdowns scored.
This isn't to say that Jordan has a stranglehold on the quarterback position.
Junior TaQuon Marshall (5-10, 185) played in two games last season, has spent time at A-back and offers quite a different look than Jordan. The speedy junior can do work in the open field. Redshirt freshmen quarterback Lucas Johnson (6-3, 200) and Jay Jones (6-0, 175) are making impressions, too.
"I think that the quarterbacks are competing," Paul Johnson said. "Matthew's done OK. TaQuon is really quick. Jay's a great athlete. Lucas missed [Wednesday], but he's done some good things. There's more depth there than anywhere on the team, probably."
There is competition at B-back, too -- for backup jobs.
Redshirt sophomore KirVonte Benson (5-9, 206), whose speed is notable, and redshirt sophomore Quaide Weimerskirch (6-0, 217) are primary candidates.
"Dedrick will be the starter and [Benson and Weimerskirch] do some good and some bad," Johnson said of the backups. "KirVonte has looked good at times with the ball in his hands. They've both got to do a better job blocking. Quaide's tough but I don't think anybody has distinguished themselves in winning that battle."
It's conceivable that if Jordan holds onto the starting spot, Marshall might be used situationally in the reverse fashion that Jordan spelled Thomas. Or, if Johnson and/or Jones excel, Marshall could also contribute once again at A-back. Decisions are not imminent; summer practices will factor.
"I definitely think that could be the case," Marshall said of splitting time with Jordan. "He's a bigger guy, I'm a smaller guy. So he can fit it up in the middle better than I can just because of his size and I'm more of an outside runner in space . . . My reads have improved a lot since last spring. I'm playing faster. The reads come a lot easier."
Marshall said he's focused most on throwing the ball better this spring.
The passing game is a point of emphasis for Jordan as well. He's completed 8-of-18 passes in his Tech career for 205 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"He knows what he's doing, he understands the checks, he knows where the ball should be going in the run game and the pass game; it's just making all the throws" said quarterbacks/B-backs coach Craig Candeto about Jordan's passing ability. "He's thrown the ball well at times in the spring and there are times when he's got to get better.
"You'd don't have to a great passer all the time in this offense, but you've got to make the throws that are there. All those guys understand the deal, that's it's an open spot, and all of them want it."
At B-back, Mills doesn't love the idea of coming off the field at times for a breather, but he's looking forward to the likely shift to a more direct running approach and encouraged by Benson and Weimerskirch.
Mills didn't play when Jordan was the starter at Virginia Tech last fall but that day's two-pronged attack with Jordan and former Yellow Jackets B-back Marcus Marshall may have foreshadowed next season's approach, much like when the Jackets rode Jonathan Dwyer and Joshua Nesbitt to an ACC Championship game win over Clemson in 2008.
"I love staying inside, reading the guard's blocks," Mills said. "Matthew's kind of like a B-back playing quarterback so it makes the game a lot easier . . . KirVonte's doing pretty good, way better than he did last year, and Quaide is doing the same thing. I always tell him to get his pads down."
Candeto's doing the real coaching.
"They're pretty close," he said of Benson and Weimerskirch. "One of them does some things better than the other and vice-versa. We've got to continue to work on the areas that are weaknesses for them and whoever shakes out to be that backup coming out of the spring, I think is going to be very serviceable."