ACC: Richard Watson
“The guy who had the stats was the quarterback, which was different than the first few years,” coach Paul Johnson said.
In 2008, Georgia Tech’s leading rusher was B-back Jonathan Dwyer, ( 1,395 yards). In 2009 it was Dwyer again (1,395). In 2010, B-back Anthony Allen led the way with 1,316 yards.
Georgia Tech’s leading rusher was quarterback Tevin Washington, who had 987 yards and 14 touchdowns. Starting B-back David Sims and backups Charles Perkins and Richard Watson combined for 823 yards (698 by Sims).
In his first season as a running back, Sims, a former quarterback, averaged 5.2 yards per carry and rushed for eight touchdowns. Perkins has the potential to challenge him for the starting job this spring, and he is a player Johnson said the staff is eager to see this spring.
“We didn’t get as much production out of our B-backs as we needed to, for sure,” Johnson said, “so that’s something we have to take a long, hard look at.”
Here’s a look at how each team ranks in the position:
2. Boston College: Montel Harris could break a 33-year-old ACC rushing record this fall, and his backup, Andre Williams, is a bigger back who has proven more than capable of shouldering the load himself. Together they’re one of the best one-two combos in the league.
3. Miami: The transfer of Storm Johnson hurt, but Lamar Miller should be one of the best in the ACC, and Mike James was ahead of Johnson on the depth chart. The Canes also have Darion Hall, Maurice Hagens and incoming freshman Kevin Grooms.
4. Clemson: Andre Ellington will be the leader of the pack, but true freshman Mike Bellamy could also make an immediate impact, and the group runs deep with Roderick McDowell, D.J. Howard and Demont Buice.
5. Virginia Tech: Had Ryan Williams and Darren Evans returned, this would have been one of the premier groups of running backs in the country. Instead, it will be the David Wilson show (and Josh Oglesby). Not that the Hokies will have any problem with that.
6. Maryland: Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams are a talented duo, but depth should be a concern. Meggett posted a team-high 720 rushing yards in 2010, while Adams had a freshman school-record 11 rushing touchdowns.
7. NC State: The Wolfpack are in a much better position at running back than they were a year ago, when nobody with starting experience returned. Mustafa Greene, James Washington and Brandon Barnes should make NC State’s running game a bigger factor this fall.
8. Georgia Tech: Coach Paul Johnson isn’t concerned about his B-back position because it’s one of the deepest on the team. There isn’t one superstar like in recent years, but Richard Watson, Charles Perkins and Preston Lyons will work together to keep the Jackets one of the top rushing teams in the country.
9. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace three tailbacks who accounted for 96 percent of their rushing last year. Ryan Houston is back for his sixth season of eligibility, but he is the only one who has seen significant playing time. Giovani Bernard, Hunter Furr and Travis Riley help the depth.
10. Wake Forest: Josh Harris could crack the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy, and Brandon Pendergrass is a capable backup. There are three true freshmen at the position, and it’s one area coach Jim Grobe can’t afford any injuries.
11. Virginia: Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are talented, but the Cavaliers will miss the production of Keith Payne, who accounted for 14 of the team’s 17 rushing touchdowns. Jones started all but one game last year, but only scored one touchdown.
12. Duke: The Blue Devils’ running game is starting to show progress, but last year it still ranked 104th in the country. Depth isn’t a problem, as Desmond Scott, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson should help make it a more productive group this year.
Stay tuned for the top 10 ACC running backs for 2011 ...
The B-back competition: It’s the deepest position on the roster, but none of them have separated themselves as the heir to Anthony Allen. Four players will finish the spring in the mix to be the Jackets’ next 1,000-yard rusher in Preston Lyons, Richard Watson, former quarterback David Sims and Charles Perkins. While it’s an open competition, it’s not a position of concern for coach Paul Johnson.
The battle up front: Is the offensive line bad, or is the defensive line really that good? The defensive line has pretty much won the battle this spring, and Johnson has publicly called out the play of his offensive linemen. It’s a thin group that lacks depth, but is there really that much of a gap between the two up front?
The quarterbacks: It’s the first time under Johnson that Joshua Nesbitt hasn’t been quarterback. Tevin Washington has a strong grasp on the starting job, but how much better has he gotten after starting the final four games of last season? Johnson said Synjyn Days looked good this spring, and physically, he’s capable of running the offense, but Washington’s experience has given him a significant edge.
And with the spring game looming on Saturday, the Jackets are still looking.
In what is easily the most wide-open competition of the spring in Atlanta, redshirt freshman Charles Perkins, former quarterback David Sims, redshirt senior Preston Lyons and redshirt junior Richard Watson are all trying to prove they can be the every-down back. All four players have a legitimate shot and that competition will likely extend into August. In past seasons under Johnson, the biggest question at B-back was who was going to be the backup to Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen.
All four combined for 31 carries in 2010.
Lyons, who transferred to Georgia Tech from Colgate, joined the program as a walk-on and was awarded a scholarship last August. He has played in 21 games. He’s strong, a good blocker and excels in short-yardage situations. He has also showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Lyons was one of the biggest surprises of 2009 when he climbed to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Dwyer.
Watson has been in the shadows of Dwyer and Allen as a reserve and special-teams player each of the past two seasons. He played in all 13 games last year, but only had 10 carries for 32 yards.
Sims, who was recruited as a quarterback, said he wasn’t disappointed in the move. He played in five games last year and had seven carries for 58 yards and one touchdown.
“Me and Coach are on the same page,” he said. “Anything I can do to play, get on the field, I was willing to make that move.”
Sims said he’s had to become more physical because he knows he’s going to have to hit or be hit on every play.
“The positive is playing quarterback I know where I’m going,” he said. “The hard part has been learning how to get there, whether it be blocking or running my track, running with pad level and everything like that, but for the most part it’s been pretty good.”
Perkins is a redshirt freshman who has learned both the B-back and A-back positions.
“Everybody brings their own good qualities,” Watson said. “If I were a coach I think I would have difficulty trying to separate who does what better and where everybody should go. That’s not our job, we just come out and play.”
None of them know yet, though, who will play more.
This offseason, Johnson liked the view more than usual.
“I think that the whole attitude is better," he said. "A lot of the little things, from breakfast checks to class checks, extra lifting, extra workouts that they are putting in on their own. I can see out my window and there are always people out there working.”
It was just like everything else, Johnson said, "just kind of so-so. We weren't really good at anything."
With only 11 starters returning, competition will be the theme this spring. Georgia Tech returns just 37.9 percent of its points from a year ago (128 of 338). The Jackets are in search of their next 1,000-yard rusher at B-back, and still in need of a go-to receiver. The good news is that the top two receivers return, the A-back position is deep, and all three starters return on the defensive line. There are also a few position changes to watch, including Daniel Drummond's move from B-back to linebacker, sophomore J.C. Lanier moving from defensive line to offensive line, and quarterback David Sims switching to B-Back.
One of the more intriguing position battles will be at B-back, where Preston Lyons, Richard Watson and Sims are all competing for the majority of the reps. Redshirt freshman Charles Perkins practiced last year with both the B-backs and A-backs. Johnson said he's not worried about the position, but knows everyone will be watching the quarterback battle, where it's Tevin Washington's job to lose.
“He is the starter coming in, and I think that he has earned that," Johnson said. "It is very similar to a lot of the positions, the depth chart is always fluid. He has been taking snaps. This is why I try not to get too hyped up on the freshmen. We are excited about a group of them, but until they do it on the field consistently, I don’t know that you hype them all that much. Synjyn [Days] has a lot of ability, but he has to beat Tevin out. It’s Tevins’ job.”
Johnson said the players worked a lot on team building and chemistry in the offseason -- "probably more so than we have in the past" --and as a result, the work ethic has been better. Johnson said it's still too early to tell how much better this year's team will be.
"We'll have a better idea coming out of spring," Johnson said. "I like our athleticism. I think we're going to be all right. I think it's going to be good to be kind of -- nobody has very high expectations for us, and I think that's a good thing. It's kind of the way we were the first year I was here."
In 2008, Johnson's first season, the Yellow Jackets finished 9-4 and tied for the Coastal Division lead, despite critics who said his spread option offense wouldn't work at the BCS level. He has since won an ACC title and has proved it can.
The next challenge is to do it again.
Strongest position: B back
Key returnees: Anthony Allen, Preston Lyons, Lucas Cox
Key departures: Jonathan Dwyer
The skinny: Allen is penciled in to take over for Dwyer and was the team's third-leading rusher last year. Cox moves from A back, making this an even deeper group despite the fact Lyons will miss spring drills after surgery. Richard Watson, who was a third-string B back last year, returns, and the staff likes the potential of true freshman Charles Perkins, who’s already in school. With sophomore Daniel Drummond, the Jackets go five-deep at the position.
Weakest position: Wide receiver
Key returnees: Stephen Hill, Tyler Melton
Key departures: Demaryius Thomas
The skinny: Hill has potential before he graduates to be as good as Thomas, but Melton is the returning starter. Georgia Tech last year completed a total of 78 passes, and 46 were caught by Thomas; 20 other receptions were caught by A backs and B backs. Hill, Melton, Daniel McKayhan and Quentin Sims combined to catch 12 passes last year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Anytime you see more than two players listed with an "illness" you have to wonder these days if its the Swine Flu. I'm checking on it. As the headline indicates, here are the injury reports for Thursday night's game between Georgia Tech and Miami:
Jaybo Shaw, So., QB (broken collarbone)
Kyle Jackson, r-So., LB (foot)
Tyler Melton, So., WR (knee)
Preston Lyons, r-Jr., BB (shoulder)
Richard Watson, r-Fr., BB (hamstring)
DE Eric Moncur -- lower extremity
WR Aldarius Johnson -- lower extremity
OL Ben Jones -- illness
RB Damien Berry -- illness
DE Adewale Ojomo -- jaw
OL Cory White -- lower extremity
LB Levi Paalua -- upper extremity
DB DeMarcus Van Dyke -- head
DB JoJo Nicolas -- illness
Surgery/Out for Season
DE Gavin Hardin -- upper extremity
LB Shayon Green -- lower extremity
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
There's not one name on Clemson's injury report for Thursday night's game, and as of Tuesday evening, everyone was ready to play -- including C.J. Spiller, who left the Middle Tennessee game early with hamstring and foot injuries. The Tigers will need him to go four quarters on Thursday against Georgia Tech.
Better yet, they'll need him to play like he did in 2006, when both teams were ranked among the top 15 and Clemson's offense was, well, stunning. The Tigers racked up 321 yards on just 38 carries against a Georgia Tech team that entered the game seventh in the nation against the run.
Spiller had 116 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown that day. He also had a 50-yard touchdown run and a 50-yard touchdown catch. On third-and-four in the fourth quarter, Spiller took a swing pass on the right side, escaped two defenders and sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown. Coach Dabo Swinney still remembers it, as Spiller became the first Tiger to have a 50-yard touchdown run and a 50-yard touchdown catch in the same game.
"That was a great play," Swinney said. "We just had a simple curl play called. I still don't know why we threw to him because it was Cover 2 and they had a corner that had him and it should have been a tackle for no gain or a 2-yard gain. He just does what he does. He beat the corner and then made another guy miss and then just ran away from everybody. He is an explosive layer. I was happy to see him start the season the way he did Saturday. It is hard to start off your senior year any better with your very first touch of the season going 96 yards."
Of course, Georgia Tech will answer with Jonathan Dwyer, but it will be a great battle of the backs on Thursday night if Spiller can stay on the field.
Here is Georgia Tech's injury report:
- Preston Lyons, Jr., BB (shoulder)
- Richard Watson, r-Fr., BB (hamstring)
Georgia Tech B-back Preston Lyons grew up in Atlanta just three or four exits up the highway from Georgia Tech. In fact, he was closer to the Jackets' campus than he was his own high school, the Marist School. Lyons, a redshirt sophomore who had been going to Tech games his whole life, was offered a spot on the roster as a preferred walk-on, but he chose to try something new and went to Colgate for a year, where he was a walk-on in 2007.
Now he's back, and he's one of about a dozen running backs competing for playing time this summer.
Georgia Tech fans know who Jonathan Dwyer is, but not even the coaching staff knows right now who his backup will be, or how the depth chart will shake out at A-back. Two of the players who are in the mix for playing time -- Lyons and Anthony Allen -- are transfers who sat out last season and are eager to get back on the field.
"I've got some good guys in this group with me," said Allen, who transferred from Louisville. "There's 12 of us, and we go balls to the wall every play, we try to be the 12 toughest guys on the field, so the competition is real intense, but I hope I come out on top."
When asked how bad he wanted to get back on the field after sitting out 2008 because of NCAA transfer rules, Allen said: "It's like they're holding a piece of meat over my head. They've got me chained to the ground, and I'm trying to get it."
The good problem for the Jackets is he's not the only one.
"It's real exciting," said Lyons, who is competing with Richard Watson to backup Dwyer. "We've got a bunch of good guys in our backfield, and I haven't played in a while, so I'm definitely hungry and excited to get back out there and start playing again."
Lyons was on the scout team last year, so this was his first spring going through the offense while competing for a spot on the two-deep. Considering Dwyer has so much talent around him, it's possible he actually gets more time to rest and less carries this year, which leads Lyons to believe Dwyer's backup would have a "pretty realistic" shot at seeing some playing time.
There's no better player to learn from than the ACC's reigning player of the year.
"He's really helpful to me," Lyons said of Dwyer. "He's been helping me with different schemes and techniques. It's really nice being able to watch such a good player like him."
At the A-back position, there are about five or six players competing for two spots. Roddy Jones, who made a name for himself last season with 311 rushing yards over the last two regular-season games, will probably be listed as questionable for the season opener after dislocating his wrist lifting weights in June. He's been limited to non-contact this whole month, but it's possible he might finally get his cast off this week.
In addition to Jones and Allen, Lucas Cox, Embry Peeples, Marcus Wright and Orwin Smith are all still competing for starting jobs.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," said Allen. "I'm light years ahead of where I was at the beginning of spring. I'm feeling pretty confident right now in my reads, my counts and my ability on the field right now. Hopefully it carries over to game time."
Regardless of how much he plays, Lyons wants to win, and he said he's in the right offense to do that.
"I think this is home for me," Lyons said. "I think I found a spot and I'm definitely satisfied with where I am. I'm happy."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
I made a small mistake during my recent interview with Georgia Tech running back Anthony Allen, who also happens to have a black belt in taekwondo. I confessed I was having a hard time deciding who would have the best backfield in the ACC this fall -- Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech.
"You say what?!" he asked, incredulously.
"It's a toss-up."
"A toss-up? How are you gonna talk to me on the phone and say it's a toss-up?"
"Well, gimme a reason."
"I'll give you one reason for one player," he said. "We have the ACC Player of the Year right now. Then we have a guy who holds records at another Division I college."
(Allen set the single-game rushing record when he was at Louisville, and ACC Player of the Year Jonathan Dwyer led the ACC with 107.3 rushing yards per game last year).
Allen and Dwyer, not to mention Lucas Cox, Roddy Jones, Josh Nesbitt and Richard Watson make six good reasons why Georgia Tech will have the best backfield in the ACC next season. Virginia Tech will make a strong case with the return of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Darren Evans and rookie Ryan Williams. Despite much of the hype, though, Williams is still unproven, and there is a lot of experience returning elsewhere in the ACC.
With so much experience returning, the running game appears to be an early strength of the ACC -- Duke included. As of right now, though, it's hard to argue against Allen -- Georgia Tech looks the strongest.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Georgia Tech had the No. 4 rushing offense in the country last year, the leading rusher in the ACC, and led the conference in both rushing yardage and total offense.
And yet Louisville transfer Anthony Allen said the Yellow Jackets were nowhere as near as good as they could be in their second season in Paul Johnson's offense.
"It didn't run smoothly," said Allen, who spent most of his time in the film room since NCAA transfer rules kept him out of games last year. "If you were in the meeting rooms after games, you'd see we have to make a lot of progress, but I'm very excited about the possibilities."
The possibility of Allen and B-back Jonathan Dwyer on the field at the same time could mean even greater headaches for ACC defenses. In two seasons at Louisville, Allen, who is listed as an A-back, rushed for 1,167 yards and scored 23 touchdowns (20 rushing, three receiving). In 2007, Allen set Louisville's single-game rushing record in the second game of the season with 275 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries.
With quarterback Josh Nesbitt and A-back Roddy Jones returning, and Allen and Richard Watson in the lineup, Georgia Tech will have one of the deepest, most experienced backfields in the ACC. It's possible Dwyer could see some time at A-back, which is more like a slot back. Allen said he has learned every position, just in case.
"There's three positions, really, that can touch the ball and run it," Allen said. "I was interested in learning all of them anyway. But I think, as much of a problem people think it will be for us, I think it's going to be more of a problem for teams we play because now they're not going to know what the hell's coming at them from where."
Allen said as long as Georgia Tech wins, he'll accept whatever role he's given, and that all of the running backs are content with sharing the spotlight.
"I just want to see how all of this is going to unfold," Allen said. "I think that's what everybody is waiting on. ... We're real excited about it because we know what can happen with this offense. Last year ... we were rusty running it. We were nothing like how Navy runs it. Once we get that crisp at running it, teams only run one or two defenses when they play against us. Us getting better over this offseason time is going to make us that much more effective and that much more dangerous."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and B-back Jonathan Dwyer were honored Wednesday morning at the state Capitol, where they visited the House and Senate chambers, and were commended for their 9-4 season in 2008.
It only took one season for Johnson to turn skeptics of his offense into believers (some of the congressmen are Georgia alumni).
|AP Photo/John Amis|
|Jonathan Dwyer has no problem with higher expectations heading into the 2009 season.|
The mystique surrounding Johnson's offense has been replaced by higher expectations, and Georgia Tech should earn a top 20 ranking heading into 2009. It's quite a turnaround from last season, when the Jackets were picked to finish fourth in the Coastal Division, and many outside the program didn't know what to expect from new offensive and defensive schemes and a new coaching staff. Dwyer said the increased expectations are a welcome change during winter conditioning as they prepare for 2009.
"All that does is motivate us," said Dwyer, who averaged 107.3 rushing yards per game and was named the ACC's Player of the Year. "We want to live up to the hype and realize the opportunity we have if we do what we're supposed to do and win games. I'm excited about how much respect now we're getting. We have to feed off that and just keep earning respect 'til we reach the top and realize the opportunity we have as a team going in if we're nationally ranked. All we have to do is win all of our games and maybe we'll have a shot to be in the national championship and win the ACC."
Georgia Tech had a shot to win the ACC in Johnson's first season as the Jackets finished in a tie for first place in the Coastal Division with Virginia Tech at 5-3. It was an extremely young team that returns the bulk of its offense in Dwyer, A-back Roddy Jones, B-back Lucas Cox and quarterbacks Josh Nesbitt and Jaybo Shaw.
"Everybody will know what's going on more and be under the same system from last year," Dwyer said. "They haven't changed anything, so I think we'll have a lot more leadership coming back. We lost some important leadership last year, but being young and starting early and everybody being real close as a family, and playing for each other, that will help us next year."
There is more depth at the running back position, which should allow Dwyer to take a few plays off. The incorporation of Anthony Allen and Richard Watson into the lineup could allow for Dwyer to have some company in the backfield. It's also possible he could see some time at the A-back position, which is more like a slot back instead of a fullback.
"It's something I experienced a little bit this year, and something I'm willing to do and willing to learn," Dwyer said. "It will probably make me more versatile and get everyone more playing time. If that's what they want me to play, that's what I'll have to adjust to and do my best to help my team win."
The Jackets relished their role as underdogs in 2008, but the accolades and attention the team received after beating rival Georgia and heading into the Chick-fil-A Bowl might have contributed to their flat performance in the 38-3 loss to LSU. Dwyer said that game was a very humbling experience.
"It changed what we thought about what we needed to do," Dwyer said. "I think it changed the whole program, us and the coaches, knowing what our strengths and what our weaknesses are, and knowing what we have to improve on going into next year."
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Georgia Tech's sports information office got creative and asked a few of the players where they were spending the holiday and what they hope to find under the tree. Some of them are funny, so I thought I'd share it:
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Sophomore quarterback Josh Nesbitt, senior offensive tackle Andrew Gardner and true freshman B-back Richard Watson all returned from injuries on Monday. The number of injured players missing practice is down to five -- the fewest since late July.
Backup cornerback Richard Taylor, who was taken by ambulance to Washington Adventist Hospital on Monday, was released late Monday afternoon. It was believed to be a combination of severe dehydration and a mild concussion, according to a school spokesman.
Taylor went home with his parents and did not attend Monday evening practice. They're not sure if he will practice today, but he should be fine.
Safety Anthony Reddick and linebacker Romeo Davis were held out of practice Monday. Senior defensive end Eric Moncur is going through drills at "half-speed to three-quarters speed right now."