In a Tuesday interview, Georgia Tech secondary coach Joe Speed gave observations about his position group and an update on position battles.
Competition at nickel
Lynn Griffin and Lawrence Austin are fighting for the starting nickel back job.
“That’s a good, healthy competition,” Speed said. “Both of them are dialed in and focused and competing. It’s tough, when you turn on the film, to find a loaf with either one of those guys running to the ball.”
A loaf is a demerit for not giving full effort on a play. Griffin, one of the best athletes on the team, backed up at cornerback last season as a sophomore and was moved to nickel in the spring to give him a better chance to get on the field. Demond Smith played last season as the nickel but was moved to strong safety after Isaiah Johnson’s graduation.
Other depth-chart competitions
The other four starting spots – Jamal Golden at free safety, Smith at strong safety and D.J. White and Chris Milton at the corners – are fairly decided. All started last season. There is competition behind them to get onto the second string. Step Durham and Lance Austin are vying to be the third corner.
Possible third safeties are Shaun Kagawa, Corey Griffin and John Marvin. Speed noted in particular that Marvin has been having a good camp. Incoming freshman A.J. Gray, named an All-American out of Washington County High, is “coming along,” Speed said. “The academic part football, he’s picking it up. Baby steps.”
The three first-year freshman cornerbacks – Meiko Dotson, Dorian Walker and Dante Wigley – are in the mix, Speed said. It sounds as though all three are facing the tall challenge of learning the playbook on the run.
“Nobody was born ready,” Speed said. “But they’re willing to put in the work. They’ve got a lot of pride in their work and they are upset when they make mistakes. So with that, as long as they humble themselves and know that they’re not play-now ready, they’ll be able to get better.”
Speed’s challenge to White, a third-year starter and a potential All-ACC selection, is to develop in his study of the game, which is already an area White stresses.
“Making sure that he knows tendencies, route combinations,” Speed said. “What they like to do on third down. What they like to do on first-and-10 with 21 personnel. All those things that he can cycle through so it can slow down the game for him and put him in a better position to continue to make plays for us.”
The secondary group has an unusual dynamic. Among scholarship players, there are six freshmen, six sophomores, one junior (Griffin) and four seniors. Speed has likened it to a group of big and little brothers.
“The big brothers, they’ve gone through the system, they’ve made some mistakes, they know what works and doesn’t work, so now hopefully they can set the young guys up for success,” Speed said. “Being in year three with coach (Ted) Roof, they know how coach Roof operates and what not in our system so they can hopefully set the young guys up for success.”