With temperatures climbing (especially on a certain section of I-85) and flowers blooming, it’s time for spring football on the Flats. The Yellow Jackets will need to replace a number of key starters on both offense and defense heading into the 2017 season. Here are the key positions to watch for in this year’s spring game (Friday, April 21st at 7:00 P.M.).
Georgia Tech lost an electric playmaker in Justin Thomas and replacing him will be a tall order. The three-year starter was adept at running Paul Johnson’s scheme and brought tremendous athleticism to the position. As Thomas looks to prove his mettle at defensive back in the NFL, a few players are battling for the vacated starting QB position.
The current front runner for the job looks to be redshirt junior Matthew Jordan. At 6’2″, 208 lbs, Jordan is more of a downhill runner than Thomas was. While he isn’t as quick, he proved that he is capable of executing the option in a start against Virginia Tech last year. He only completed 2 passes for 34 yards, but he carried the ball 32 times to the tune of 121 yards and 2 scores.
Jordan’s competition comes in the form of junior TaQuon Marshall and redshirt freshmen Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones. Marshall is closer to Justin Thomas in size at 5’10”, 185, and started as an A-back in Johnson’s offense. Johnson and Jones are interesting young options at quarterback, as well. Jones was a three-star prospect coming out of high school in Alabama and brings plenty of athleticism to the table. He is slightly undersized at 175 lbs, but makes up for it with his legs. Johnson has the highest upside as a passer among this group and is the biggest at 6’3″.
I envision seeing Matthew Jordan atop the depth chart come September, but at least one of the others will likely be given some run throughout the season.
Tech lost 3 starters along the defensive line last year in Francis Kallon, Rod Rook-Chungong, and Patrick Gamble. Senior KeShun Freeman returns at defensive end, but the rest of the line is essentially wide open. Antonio Simmons will probably slot in on the other side of the line. Simmons was a productive pass rusher last season and brings some heat off the edge. 6’3″, 247-pound Anree Saint-Amour is another option at defensive end. Saint-Amour collected 4 sacks last year and should see time as a situational pass-rusher, at the very least.
The Jackets will have to find starters at both defensive tackle positions and look to have three players who will feature heavily in the rotation. Kyle Cerge-Henderson brings some size to the interior line at 295 lbs. He should slot in as the starter on early downs and brings some run-stuffing ability to the middle of the defense. The team also has two smaller options in Brentavious Glanton and Desmond Branch, who both hover around 270 pounds. They provide versatility in their ability to kick out to end on early downs and rush the QB from the middle on passing downs. The three players will hopefully improve Tech’s 64th-ranked rushing defense.
The team lost one of the best centers in the ACC in Freddie Burden and will need to replace the three-year starter. Sophomore Kenny Cooper played in 5 games last year and has the best chance at filling the vacancy left by Burden. Cooper is a tremendous athlete and looks like a quality option for Tech’s zone-heavy offense that emphasizes making blocks in space. Despite the loss of Burden, the Yellow Jackets are bringing back a number of players who started games last year, so they should pick up right where last year’s line left off.
Georgia Tech has another stalwart player to replace in linebacker PJ Davis. Davis leaves a massive hole at strong-side linebacker following a 50-game career in Atlanta. The team returns starters David Curry and Brant Mitchell at the other two spots, leaving one of senior Terrell Lewis or junior Victor Alexander to man Davis’ old position. Lewis brings 36 games of experience to the defense and Alexander has gotten his fair share of playing time, as well, meaning Tech isn’t lacking in experienced defenders to ameliorate the loss of Davis.
College football is an inherently fluid sport and teams are constantly replacing departed starters. This offseason is no different for Georgia Tech. They are, however, still stocked with a large portion of the talent that made them TaxSlayer Bowl champions in December. They return all five starters in the secondary and plenty of talent at the two running back positions as well as both starting wide receivers. Paul Johnson generally fields a competitive team in the ACC and this year’s spring game will provide an early look at how the team will fare this fall and who will be starting for the Yellow Jackets.