Geoff Collins knew he had a big job ahead of him when he took over as head coach at Georgia Tech. Transitioning from Paul Johnson's triple-option offense to a more conventional system would take some time. What he didn't know is that a global pandemic would make the development of the program even more challenging.
Still, this is now year three under Collins at Georgia Tech. After consecutive three-win seasons, the Yellow Jackets have to begin to climb the ladder in the ACC Coastal Division. With four games scheduled against teams that could be ranked in the preseason top 10, making a huge leap will be difficult. But challenging for a bowl appearance would be a nice progression.
The first step in the process begins this week when spring practice opens. Here are five things to focus on during the Jackets' spring drills.
5 Storylines to Watch During Georgia Tech's Spring Practices
1. Jeff Sims' development
When you start a true freshman at quarterback, you need to expect growing pains and those aches did occur with Sims in 2020. The Jacksonville, Florida, product completed under 55 percent of his throws, had the same number of interceptions as touchdowns (13), and his 7.3 yards per attempt was 11th in the ACC. But through it all, you could see the potential. Sims is a special athlete with a good arm that gained valuable experience in 2020. This spring will be his chance to take full control of the Georgia Tech offense.
2. Getting more out of the wide receivers
It won't be easy. Jalen Camp led the team in receiving with 27 grabs for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Those aren't primary target numbers and he has moved on. Malachi Carter and Adonicas Sanders are the top returning pass catchers, but more is needed from players that didn't make an impact last fall. Nate McCollum was the top receiver in the class of 2020 and he will get plenty of reps this spring. Also, Kyric McGowan comes in as a graduate transfer from Northwestern. He is a versatile performer that had 66 receptions for 773 yards during his time in Evanston. The receiver with the highest ceiling is probably true freshman James BlackStrain, but he will not enroll until this summer.
3. Rush defense
The Yellow Jackets were extremely inconsistent at defending the run last year. Late in the season, in consecutive games, Georgia Tech held Duke and NC State to under 90 rushing yards. But the Jackets closed the season by giving up 317 yards on the ground to a Pittsburgh team that finished 13th in the ACC with just 120 rushing yards per game. Also, earlier in the year, they allowed 264 rushing yards to Boston College, the nation's 118th-best running team. Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs will be even more dangerous as they gain more experience, but unless the defense is able to slow down opposing ground games, the Jackets will only improve so much.
4. Limiting turnovers
The 13 interceptions thrown by Sims was obviously a problem and hopefully that number will be cut down drastically in his second season. But the Jackets also lost 12 fumbles on the season. Duke was the only team in America to lose more possessions as a result of fumbles. The Blue Devils also were the only program with more than Georgia Tech's 25 total giveaways. Ball security has to be the number one priority for the Jackets over the next few weeks.
5. Can anyone kick?
Because no one could last year. The combination of Gavin Stewart and Jude Kelly missed three extra points and were 3-for-8 on field goal attempts with a long of 32 yards. Four of those misses were blocked, so the problems run deep. The good news is that help has seemingly arrived. Brent Cimaglia transferred in from Tennessee, where he made 74 percent of his field goals over four years and missed just one PAT. He may not be a Groza Award contender, but Cimagila should be a major upgrade for the Tech special teams. Along with the placekicking questions, the Yellow Jackets must also find a punter to replace All-American punter Pressley Harvin III.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Jeff Sims photo courtesy of ramblinwreck.com)