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Jackets report Wednesday

From staff reports

ATLANTA ? Georgia Tech's 2004 football season officially gets underway this week as the Yellow Jacket players report to campus Wednesday, exactly one month before Tech's Sept. 4 season opener against Samford. The Jackets' first practice is scheduled for Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

The entire Tech squad will check in Wednesday, including 23 scholarship freshmen who are reporting for the first time. Players will have administrative meetings, physicals and testing before hitting the Rose Bowl practice field for Thursday's workout in shorts and helmets.

Tech's first practice in full pads is Monday, Aug. 9.

Among the incoming freshmen to report are a pair of players with ties to the Southern Crescent. Former Jonesboro standouts Jamal Lewis, at defensive back, and Darrell Robertson, at defensive end, enter their first year on The Plains.

Preseason practices are open to the public, and the complete schedule is listed below. Tech's annual Fan Photo Day is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 15 from 1-3 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

The Yellow Jackets welcome back seven starters on offense and seven on defense, including a trio of all-conference performers in tailback P.J. Daniels, free safety James Butler and defensive end Eric Henderson, as they try to extend their school record streak of seven straight bowl games.

"Offensively, we've got a chance to be good," said Tech head coach Chan Gailey, who enters his third season on the Flats. "We've got a good group of receivers, we've got a tailback who led the ACC in rushing and a starting quarterback returning. The development of our offensive line and our tight end position will be the question marks for us."

Also returning for the Tech offense is sophomore quarterback Reggie Ball, who won the 2003 Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year award after starting every game as a true freshman.

"We do have higher expectations for Reggie (Ball) this year," said Gailey.

"He has some talent, which is obvious, but he has some improving to do. He has the opportunity to be a very good quarterback because he has talent, he knows the game and he's a great competitor. But he has to develop consistency and learn to pay attention to every detail, and that's when he'll make the next big jump as a quarterback."

Butler and Henderson headline a defense that returns much of the front line and secondary but must replace standout linebackers Daryl Smith and Keyaron Fox.

"The key to our defense will be how well our linebackers play," said Gailey. "We've got a strong defensive line returning and a strong secondary returning. At linebacker we've got new guys at all three spots. Chris Reis is moving from strong safety to the 'sam' linebacker and Gerris Wilkinson is moving to the 'mike' linebacker position from defensive end. And at 'will' it will be a young guy. If they can play well, we'll have a good defense."