Back Mills is Gone, What Now?

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Mills is Gone, What Now?

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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Yesterday afternoon it was announced that sophomore B-back Dedrick Mills had been dismissed from the team for a violation of athletic department rules that mandated such action.

“The rules, they kind of are what they are. If you have rules, you have to enforce them. Otherwise, you don’t have them.”
~Paul Johnson

Last week, on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network, former Florida All-American Ben Troupe said that if Antonio Callaway were a lesser player he would no longer be at Florida.

In an era of college football where that statement could apply to most situations at schools all over the country, it is commendable of Paul Johnson and the Georgia Tech Athletic Department to have parted ways with their best player.

Yesterday afternoon it was announced that sophomore B-back Dedrick Mills had been dismissed from the team for a violation of athletic department rules that mandated such action.

Perhaps this was strike three for Mills -- the first couple coming in the way of two separate suspensions last season, for breaking team rules.

Perhaps this particular infraction, whatever it was, warranted this sort of response on its own.

Those questions may never be answered, nor do they necessarily need to.

“It’s pretty much cut and dried,” Johnson stated at a press conference to address the news. “The rules, they kind of are what they are. If you have rules, you have to enforce them. Otherwise, you don’t have them.”

Cut and dried as Coach Johnson may believe it to be, that is not the prevailing thought process across the nation.

He went on to reaffirm his belief in Mills as a player and person, offering, "He's a good kid. I don't think there's a bad bone in his body. He's a hard worker. He loves to play football. He just made some poor choices."

Again, the Yellow Jackets' brass, Johnson especially, has handled this situation with the utmost class, doing what's best to uphold the integrity of the program, and ultimately, what will likely prove to be what's best for Dedrick Mills.

Whilst acknowledging the admirability of the decision, the loss of Mills will carry significant on-field ramifications.

Amongst returning ACC running backs, Mills would have been second in yards per game and touchdowns, despite playing in only nine contests. That, coupled with a full offseason's worth of experience, had everyone ready for a breakout campaign from the Ware County, Georgia native, not just in the ACC, but nationally, as denoted by his appearance on the preseason Doak Walker and Maxwell Award watchlists.

The void left behind at B-back has no clear answers. In the wake of a player of that caliber's departure, it will not be one man, rather a committee that must step up to replace his production.

It's not as if Paul Johnson's cupboard is totally bare in the backfield.

Incumbent signal caller Matthew Jordan is a great departure from the type of runner that Justin Thomas was.

Thomas, smaller, but faster and more elusive, was phenomenal as a sophomore, leading the Jackets to an 11-3 record and a final ranking in the top ten of both the AP and coaches poll.

However, the succeeding two years saw the offense take marked steps backwards, in part as a result of Thomas' clashing with the prototypical idea of what kind of quarterback Paul Johnson would usually want running his offense.

Jordan, less fleet of foot, more bruiser, harkens back to the Josh Nesbitt-esque field generals of yesteryear, in Atlanta.

A-back Clinton Lynch has proven himself to be one of the game's most dynamic big play threats. Of his 53 touches, last season, 54.7% went for ten or more yards. His eight plays of 40+ yards were also more than Lamar Jackson and Christian Kirk , and as many as Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey.

Fellow A-backs Qua Searcy and J.J. Green have also exhibited the ability to be solid contributors, although a handful of plays by the latter have fans questioning his grasp of the playbook, in spite of his undeniable talent.

However, none of the three have the build, nor the workload capacity to play B-back. Marcus Marshall would have been the obvious, and a more than serviceable, fill-in, had he not transferred, but without Marshall, and now without Mills, the position which receives nearly a third of the offense's play calls will be filled by an unknown commodity.

Redshirt sophomore KirVonte Benson would be the first choice. He played in each of the last seven games last season but didn't touch the ball once, and he's been dealing with injuries.

That would leave a true freshman, three-star prospect Jerry Howard from Rock Hill, SC, to take on the lionshare of the work.

So many questions...

Paul Johnson could trust an offensive line that returns essentially every contributor, aside from center Freddie Burden, and was already one of the better groups in the country, in 2016, to make up for the talent disparity between Mills and his successors. That mindset provides the path of least resistance, as far as gameplan alterations.

He could tailor the playcalling towards Clinton Lynch and the A-backs, although it could be argued that his efficacy was, at least in part, attributable to Mills' presence. This also runs the boom or bust risk that saw so much success in 2014, but equally as much failure in 2015, though.

He could commit to further developing the passing game, but this seems like a more pragmatic option had the dismissal happened a few months ago, as opposed to the middle of August.
In the end, he will probably end up somewhere in between the first two ideas.

All things being equal, the handling of this situation was the pinnacle of class and professionalism in college football, as well as the right thing to do. All things are not equal however, and whereas, yesterday morning, Georgia Tech should have been right in the mix to win a wide-open Coastal Division, today, it's left with more questions than answers.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP