ATLANTA — Roddy Jones is used to the question — what position do you play? — and the inevitable follow-up when he tells someone that he's an A-back.
An A what?
"What's that? What do they do?" Jones said, repeating the most common queries. "I kind of have to explain to them that I'm a hybrid between a running back and a receiver."
Throw in blocker, too.
Jones and Anthony Allen play a crucial position in No. 14 Georgia Tech's unique spread-option offense, a run-oriented scheme that rekindles memories of the wishbone.
Some plays, they're called on to deliver the key block. Other times, they're sent out as a receiver. Quite often, they're the guys who come looping through the backfield from their slot position, ready to take a pitch from quarterback Josh Nesbitt or provide a decoy if he decides to run or pass.
"It's a fun position to play," Allen said. "You've really got to be three-dimensional when you play that position."
Last week, he broke off an 82-yard touchdown run on Georgia Tech's second play from scrimmage, taking a pitch from Nesbitt and getting a couple of key blocks — one of them delivered by Jones. Allen finished with 127 yards on just five carries.
Jones had that sort of game in the 2008 regular-season finale against rival Georgia, rushing for a career-best 214 yards and two touchdowns on a mere 13 carries. He averaged 8.5 yards for every handoff and pitch during the season.
"You get to run a lot on the perimeter," said Jones, who just had the cast removed from a dislocated wrist that caused him to miss the opener. "A lot of times you get the ball out in the open field, where you can make moves on some guys. You've got a chance to make plays."
While running back Jonathan Dwyer (the "B back" in coach Paul Johnson's lexicon) is the reigning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and gets the bulk of the carries, keep an eye on Jones and Allen when the Yellow Jackets (2-0, 1-0) travel to No. 20 Miami (1-0, 1-0) for a crucial early season game Thursday night.
If the Hurricanes try to focus their defense on stopping Dwyer, as Clemson did a week ago with some success, they could get burned by the A-backs.
"Everybody knows the option," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "With that, they run some plays where it looks like option but it's closer to a lead (to Dwyer). That's what you get confused with. You say 'It's option,' but they bring the guy inside, you're not aware of it and they hit you for a big one because they've lulled you to sleep.
When Nesbitt makes the right decision on the option, and the linemen get a shoulder on their assigned man, Allen or Jones can usually scoot past the front seven defenders with relative ease. That makes it imperative for the defensive backs to make sure tackles, no small feat in the open field.
"The secondary's got to step up," Miami cornerback Brandon Harris said. "If you don't tackle them, they'll just kill you."
The A-backs usually line up in the slot, just outside a tackle on one side and the tight end on the other. Most times, Dwyer is the only true running back.
"It's just a term we use for the guys in the slot," explained Johnson, who calls the plays for his signature offense. "They're really a tailback-slash-slot back. They're a hybrid. You can really define 'em any way you want. If you consider the B-back to be tailback, then they're like fullbacks. A-back is just the designation we put on 'em so we'll know who they are."
Whatever name they go by, they're vitally important to the offense. It's hard to find a good one, too, since they must be versatile enough to handle what is essentially several positions.
Allen and Jones were both high school running backs. Allen, in fact, held down that position his first two years of college at Louisville, rushing for 275 yards in one game. He transferred to Georgia Tech, where he hoped to compete for a lead role in the backfield after sitting out a season.
But Dwyer had his breakout year. Hello, A-back.
While it may not have been his first choice, Allen could be thankful for the move if he makes it to the NFL.
"A lot of these kids want to transition to the next level," Johnson said. "Well, they better be good receivers and they better be able to block. If you watch the NFL, a lot of the third backs are just what our slot guys are. They have to be receivers, slot guys, those kind of guys."
Then there's Jones, who's only 5-foot-9 and didn't have a lot of schools lining up to sign him as a running back. His size isn't an issue at A-back.
"If you take a 185-pound tailback from high school, he's not really fired up to run between 300-pound tackles all day long," Johnson said. "He wants to get out on the perimeter."
Clearly, it's a position that Jones and Allen have thrived at, even if it takes a little extra explanation away from the field.
"I usually just say I'm a running back," Allen joked, "so I don't have to answer any questions."