2014 Ga Tech Preview: What You Need To Know
Georgia Tech LB Quayshawn Nealy
Georgia Tech LB Quayshawn Nealy
Posted Aug 1, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Georgia Tech (Getty Images)

2014 Georgia Tech Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Georgia Tech Preview  
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The Yellow Jackets are starting from scratch in the backfield, a precarious situation for a team that operates out of a triple-option. Starting QB Vad Lee has transferred to the FCS, last year’s top three rushers are also gone and emerging rookie RB Travis Custis has been declared ineligible. Making matters worse, three starting O-linemen have graduated, leaving All-American candidate Shaq Mason as the pillar of a rebuilding front wall. Lee’s successor will likely be Justin Thomas, who’ll be busy this summer trying to fend off the challenge of Middle Tennessee transfer Tim Byerly. Since the attack is predicated on the running game, Tech will need someone other than north-south bruiser Zach Laskey to emerge from the backfield. While Laskey is going to be an important part of the system in 2014, it’ll be incumbent upon the A-backs, Synjyn Days, Deon Hill, B.J. Bostic, Charles Perkins, Tony Zenon and Dennis Andrews, to inject some big-play pop into the offense.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Tech improved on defense under Ted Roof in 2013. Now the veteran coordinator is tinkering with new ideas to keep the momentum going. After shepherding the Yellow Jackets to a 4-3 alignment, Roof is now installing a 4-2-5 base that leverages the unit’s depth in the secondary. The defensive backfield not only returns athletic corners Jamal Golden and D.J. White, but is also welcoming back hard-hitting S Isaiah Johnson who missed all of 2013 to a knee injury. While Tech expects to improve upon a porous pass defense, the front six sticks out as a glaring concern. Three D-line starters, including All-American DE Jeremiah Attaochu, are gone, as is second-leading tackler Brandon Watts. Oh, and Jabari Hunt-Days, who was slated to supplant Attaochu, was declared ineligible in May. Roof and the rest of his assistants will spend the summer searching for playmakers capable of rushing the passer and stuffing the run. Quayshawn Nealy and Adam Gotsis are already proven commodities. But some of the younger linemen, like rookie KeShun Freeman and NC State transfer Kenderius Whitehead, will have to play as if this isn’t their first season of action with the team.

Players You Need To Know

1. OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
Mason enters his third season as a starter with a chance to vie for All-American recognition. He began to put everything together in 2013, playing through nagging injuries to earn a spot on the All-ACC First Team. What the 6-1, 311-pound Mason lacks in ideal size he more than compensates for with his toughness, know-how and penchant for burying opposing linemen on running plays. He is the unheralded star of the Georgia Tech triple-option.

2. NT Adam Gotsis, Jr.
Gotsis delivered an auspicious debut as a member of the starting lineup, quickly becoming one of the emotional and physical leaders of the defense. He helped bolster the interior of the D with his long arms, athleticism and non-stop motor. Gotsis set the table for the second-half of his career by making 38 stops, 14.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. The 6-5, 285-pound former rugby and Aussie Rules Football star will continue to improve as he plays more games in the states.

3. FS Isaiah Johnson, Sr.
The Yellow Jackets didn’t just lose a starter when Johnson was unable to fully recover from an ACL tear suffered at the end of 2012. They were forced to play without one of their inspirational, high-effort defensive sparkplugs. The 6-2, 213-pound Johnson led Tech with 87 tackles as a junior, but he hasn’t suited up since the 2012 ACC Championship Game. He’s itching to get back in the huddle now that he’s had well over a year to completely rehab his hobbled knee.

4. LB Quayshawn Nealy, Sr.
Nealy is Tech’s premier linebacker and on the short list of its most important defenders. The three-year starter has played inside and outside, showcasing the same range and knack for the ball at either position. A year ago, he opened all but a single game, making 66 tackles, 3.5 stops behind the line, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Nealy is a solid 6-1, 236-pounder, with the speed to impact both pass defense and the pass rush.

5. CB/KR/PR Jamal Golden, Sr.
The Yellow Jackets are eager to welcome back Golden, who missed the final 10 games of 2013 with a shoulder injury. When the senior was injured, Tech lost not only an important defensive back, but also one of the most explosive return men in the country. In 2012, Golden returned two punts for touchdowns, while ranking third in ACC punt returns and kick returns. He’s hoping to become more than just a big-play athlete by making a successful shift from safety to corner.

6. RB Zach Laskey, Sr.
Laskey is Mr. Dependability for a Georgia Tech running game that’s looking for stability and sure-things in 2014. The 6-1, 217-pound former defensive back is the prototypical B-back in this system, a north-south bruiser who won’t make mistakes. Over the past two seasons, he’s barreled his way to 1,182 yards and eight touchdowns on 217 carries. He’ll spend the offseason trying to hold off a young and motivated collection of backs that are itching to steal carries this fall.

7. WR DeAndre Smelter, Sr.
Tech is excited about a corps of receivers that’ll be spearheaded by Smelter in 2014. The senior came to Atlanta on a baseball scholarship, and was chosen in the 2010 draft by the Minnesota Twins, before joining the football squad last summer. Smelter had an immediate impact for the Yellow Jackets by catching a team-best 21 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns. He’s still learning the position, but he’s also a fluid 6-3, 225-pounder, which will be attractive to NFL scouts and GMs.

8. QB Justin Thomas, Soph.
Ready or not, here comes Thomas. The sophomore was slated to caddy again this season, but that was before incumbent Vad Lee transferred to James Madison. While Tech figured Thomas would someday start on the Flats, no one believed it would be this soon. The 5-11, 185-pound playmaker is made for the triple-option, blending open-field quickness with breakaway speed. He has good arm strength, too, though he tends to sail plenty of throws. Spelling Lee a year ago, Thomas rushed for 234 yards and two scores, while completing 9-of-17 passes for 131 yards, one touchdown and two picks.

9. CB D.J. White, Jr.
With the graduation of Jemea Thomas, White is in line to become the Yellow Jackets’ most reliable cornerback of 2014. After laying the groundwork as a true freshman, the athletic 5-11, 190-pounder emerged in 2013 with 50 tackles, a pick and five pass breakups. White performed well in sub packages, peaking with a career-best effort versus Ole Miss in the Music City Bowl. He’ll be even better positioned this fall to quiet opposing receivers.

10. PK Harrison Butker, Soph.
In Butker, the Yellow Jackets feel they have one of the top young placekickers in the ACC. He debuted as a touted recruit last season by leading the team with 83 points, including 10-of-14 field goal attempts. The 6-3, 201-pounder has a very strong leg, which allows him to connect from beyond 50 yards. Butker was kicking with more confidence as the 2013 campaign was coming to a close, a trend that figures to continue into this fall.

- 2014 Georgia Tech Preview