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Tech's offense breeding dual threats
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Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt looks downfield against Virginia in the first half last week at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta. - photo by Erik S. Lesser

Georgia Tech vs. Florida St.

When: 3:30 today

Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta

TV, radio: ABC (WSB-2), 1240-AM

Web site: www.ramblinwreck.com

On one occasion last today, a high fly drive was lifted deep downfield to the one-time outfielder.

As soon as he saw the ball spinning, flipping and tumbling high into the downtown Atlanta sky, the player turned his shoulders and got his body in position to make an all-important catch. But unlike all the other fly balls he has caught in his career of roving center fields, this time he didn’t throw the ball back. He took it and ran with it — for 29 yards and good football field position.

Making just his second punt return of the season against Virginia last week, Roddy Jones, a former Atlanta-area high school baseball standout, snagged his only punt of the game and carried it to the Cavaliers’ 45-yard line, where a promising Georgia Tech drive began.

"(Baseball) has helped me now that I’m returning punts," Jones said. "I kind of know how to approach balls from playing the outfield for all those years. I know how to go back on balls - how to flip my head down and just run either back or up to balls. The punt return aspect is kind of like playing center field a lot."

A 39th-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2007, the move to punt returner has been fairly easy for the redshirt freshman because of his knowledge of tracking fly baseballs. There are stark differences, however, Jones said.

"In center field, guys aren’t running at you trying to tackle you," he said, laughing.

Unfortunately for Jones, his return last week — coming in the third quarter of a 24-17 loss — became a wasted effort as the Yellow Jackets’ offense stalled, driving 40 yards to the Cavaliers’ 5-yard line. Trailing by a field goal, the Georgia Tech offense lost a fumble, abruptly ending a much-needed touchdown drive.

As Georgia Tech prepared for the ACC showdown last week, Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson announced that Jones would take over the team’s primary punt return duties, filling in for injured returner Tyler Melton.

A knee injury suffered two weeks ago kept Melton out of the game against Virginia, as well as today’s contest against Florida State. With two good defenses on display this afternoon at Bobby Dodd Stadium, the outcome could be decided by special teams.

But the other area of impact for the Yellow Jackets comes in the form of their offense, as Georgia Tech runs its option system against the Seminoles for the first time.

Florida State has had a difficult time preparing for the scheme this week, as the Seminoles have tried to get players to fill in as Georgia Tech’s quarterbacks, A-backs and B-backs. Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden knows that regardless what his fill-in players did this week, nothing will prepare them for the speed with which Georgia Tech runs its offensive system.

"It’s different, you have to prepare differently, and you better prepare correctly," Bowden said. "The hard thing in practice is to be able to get the scout team to impersonate that offense. It seems like when you first go out there and play it, they’ll run up and down the field on you, but then you begin to get the feel of it. In other words, they run it so much faster than you can practice it, and your (players) aren’t used to it that fast."

Jones was the game’s early offensive star last week, as the A-back caught Virginia by surprise with his speed, running for 42 yards on his first four carries. Each time he was given the ball on toss sweep packages in the first quarter, Jones rumbled through big holes and into Virginia’s secondary.

"We did a good job blocking on the perimeter and kept running it," Jones said. "Unfortunately, they started to defense it better."

As the game wore on, Virginia stopped the outside runs, limiting Jones to just four second-half carries for 17 yards.

There are a few reasons why Jones’ style of play is conducive to the outside runs, Johnson said.

"He’s got good speed and quickness and can cut," Johnson said. "The thing we forget about those guys is just how young they are. He’s just a freshman, too. So he’s going to have a very good future for us."

Jones could have a good future for another Georgia Tech head coach soon, too.

The freshman ballcarrier said he’s considering finding a way to work out with the Georgia Tech baseball team. He said it’s just a thought he entertained some before the season, adding that he hasn’t thought too much about it lately since he has been focused on football.

But in the offseason, Jones said he may sit down with Johnson and baseball head coach Danny Hall to see what the coaches may be able to work out.

"I do still try to pick up a baseball from time to time and throw a little bit and hit some, just in case the opportunity were to arrive somewhere down the line," Jones said.

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