Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
After pounding on each other for three weeks, Georgia Tech's Yellow Jackets are starting to see orange in football practice, and they're ready to hit somebody else.
They'll get their chance on Sept. 4, when the Jackets will play Tennessee in Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Labor Day evening, and already Tech defenders are beginning to study up on the Volunteers.
Head coach Paul Johnson and his staff formed the scout teams ahead of this past Monday's practice. They simulated Tennessee's offense and defense after the first day of fall-semester classes, although in somewhat limited fashion as the Jackets won't go all in on the Vols until next week.
While working through questions about the effect on his team of sophomore B-back Dedrick Mills' dismissal from the program, Johnson reminded reporters that football is a team game.
"The program has to be bigger than one person," he said. "You don't have time to worry about it, [feel] pity about it. You've got to have next man up . . . We'll do the same stuff we've always done . . . We had four games last year where he didn't play, and we didn't change anything [and won all four].
"Virginia Tech, that was probably the best defensive game we played . . . and we had guys who made plays [in a 30-20 upset of the Hokies]. It's a team game. I tell our guys that that the scoreboard doesn't say offense, defense, special teams. It says Georgia Tech. You do whatever you have to do to win the game."
On the defensive side of the ball, Georgia Tech will face a talented and physical offense when Tennessee comes to town on Labor Day. However, the Vols will bring questions to Atlanta, as they lost talented quarterback Joshua Dobbs, wide receiver Josh Malone and running back Alvin Kamara all to the NFL.
That hasn't stopped the Jackets from doing a little early scouting.
They know that junior Quinten Dormady (6-feet-4, 222 pounds) and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano (6-4, 200) are Tennessee's chief competitors at quarterback, and they're different.
"No. 2 [Guarantano] is more dynamic, able to run and pass as well," said senior safety Corey Griffin. "Dormady is more of a pocket person."
With four returning starters in the offensive line, led by guards Jashon Robertson (6-3, 300) and Jack Jones (6-4, 312) and center Coleman Thomas (6-5, 309), the Vols are big up front.
The Tech defensive line will have its hands full, and that's OK because senior defensive end Anree Saint-Amour said the Jackets' d-linemen have been focused on their hand play this summer.
"They're good with their hands. They're big, good with their feet," Simmons said. "I've been working on getting faster with my hands, and understanding the plays to where it's automatic. KeShun [Freeman], Des[mond Branch] -- we've all been working on our hands.
"Des has got that speed inside. He may not be the biggest guy (6-3, 277), but he can definitely get some pressure."
The Jackets will not be surprised if the Vols try to feature senior tight end Ethan Wolf (6-6, 258). He's on the John Mackey Award preseason watch list for the second consecutive season after catching 21 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns as a junior.
Given Tennessee's losses at wide receiver, Wolf's role figures to grow.
"That guy, he's pretty physical," Griffin said. "I like his style of play, but as a competitor I'm going to give it my all. This whole offseason, that's what we've been working on ... coverage. The main thing is the eyes."
Alexander is thinking about what he can do to prevent Wolf from catching passes, and what he wants to do if Wolf does.
"We want to be a team that hawks to the ball and try to lead the country this year in takeaways," he said. "I want to be the most violent unit. When we're on the field, we want the ball back in our hands."