Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN Georgia Tech Preview
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2008 Georgia Tech
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What you need to know:
Bennett, last year’s starting quarterback, has already
transferred, making it a three-man race between Josh Nesbitt,
Bryce Dykes, and Calvin Booker to become Paul Johnson’s first
signal-caller at Tech. All three possess varying degrees of
athleticism to run the option attack, particularly Nesbitt who
ran for 339 yards as a true freshman and flashed the burst and
escapability that bode well for his future. The interior of the
offensive line must be rebuilt, and top RB Tashard Choice is
gone. His successor is likely to be new B-back Jonathan Dwyer,
who raced for 436 yards and nine scores as a rookie, and will be
a nice fit for the new ground-oriented offense.
Passing: Calvin Booker
11-21, 167 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Jonathan Dwyer
82 carries, 436 yds, 9 TD
Receiving: Greg Smith
37 catches, 588 yds, 2 TD
Star of the
Senior LT Andrew Gardner
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Josh
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Jonathan Dwyer
Best pro prospect: Gardner
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gardner, 2) Dwyer, 3) Sophomore
WR Demaryius Thomas
Strength of the offense: The running game, left side of the line
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, depth at
the skill positions
Projected Starter: With the installation of the spread
option attack, Georgia Tech will be seeking multi-dimensional
quarterbacks for as long as Paul Johnson is on the sidelines. By a
stroke of luck, Chan Gailey brought to the program in 2007 Josh
Nesbitt, a player who has many of the qualities Johnson seeks at the
position. Now a sophomore, his biggest assets are his speed and running
ability, taking direct snaps and rushing for 339 yards and a touchdown
in his debut. No one-trick player, the 6-1, 214-pounder has a strong arm
and played in a passing offense in high school. His ability to lock down
the job in August hinges on how quickly he picks up the nuances of the
offense and hones his decision-making skills.
Projected Top Reserves: The big surprise here in the spring
was the elevation of redshirt freshman Bryce Dykes into the No. 2
hole. A 6-1, 181-pound walk-on, he out played senior Calvin Booker,
showing a lot of heart and a better grasp of the offense. Johnson likes
his intensity and leadership, which might be enough to keep him within
one play of being at the controls.
The 6-4, 234-pound Booker hasn’t fulfilled expectations since
transferring from Auburn, and isn’t likely to do so in his final year.
He has the strongest arm of the three, but lacks the athleticism and
confidence running this offense to make a serious push for playing time.
He does bring a veteran presence to the huddle, which neither Nesbitt
nor Dykes can claim.
Watch Out For ... Nesbitt to get the nod and be predictably
unpredictable throughout his first season at the controls. He’ll make
plays on physical ability alone, but until he can make the reads like a
seasoned option quarterback, he’s going to struggle to locate
Strength: Athleticism. Johnson caught a huge break that
Nesbitt is so fluid moving with the ball in his hands. As a
change-of-pace last year, he was third on the team in rushing and now
could lead the way. Had the new staff inherited a bunch of lumbering
pocket passers, it might have had no choice but to use one of the two
incoming freshman, either Jaybo Shaw or Tevin Washington.
Weakness: Comfort in the system. None of the quarterbacks
looked especially cozy running the offense or making the right calls in
the spring. Sure, that’s what practice is designed to address, but even
a month in August might not be enough to get these guys running the
option as if it’s second nature.
Outlook: In the short term, everyone expects the
quarterbacks to adjust slowly to a system that’s so different than the
one it replaced. If he can flatten the learning curve over the summer,
this should be Nesbitt’s opportunity to show off his ability to beat ACC
defenses with his legs and his arm.
Projected Starters: Sophomore Jonathan Dwyer was
destined for big things no matter who was on the sidelines this fall.
With Johnson calling plays, however, Dwyer could be headed for stardom.
In this system, he’ll be the B-back, Tech’s version of a fullback lining
up directly behind the quarterback. One of the nation’s top recruits of
2007, he combines deceptive speed with a powerful 6-0, 228-pound frame.
As the backup to Tashard Choice, he debuted with 436 yards and nine
touchdowns on just 82 carries.
The favorites to flank Dwyer at A-back are junior Greg Smith and
redshirt freshman Roddy Jones. Basically a slot back, they’ll
either get option pitches or run pass patterns like a traditional
wideout. The 6-3, 195-pound Smith was elevated a notch after presumed
starter Jamaal Evans left the program. A garden variety wide receiver,
he actually led the team a year ago with 37 catches for 588 yards and
two touchdowns. He has a lot of work to do as a blocker, but the coaches
love his speed and playmaking ability.
Jones is a very different type of player, a shifty 5-9, 194-pounder who
can make people miss in the open field. He runs with good vision and
leverage, and if he gets outside the tackles, he has the wheels to go
untouched to the end zone.
Projected Top Reserves: The battle to back up Dwyer is
between sophomores Quincy Kelly and Lucas Cox. Kelly
backed up Cox’s brother, Mike, at fullback last year, mostly playing on
special teams in his first year. A rugged 6-0, 238-pounder, he rumbled
for 1,585 yards and nearly 10 yards a carry in his final season of high
The 6-0, 254-pound Cox is a bigger, stronger option at B-back, giving
Tech a physical presence, especially in short yardage situations. A
transfer from Connecticut, he’s a north-south runner who protects the
ball and rarely goes down on first contact.
An intriguing candidate at A-back is sophomore Austin Barrick, a
massive 6-3, 254-pounder who’ll be used more like an H-back than a
running back. A terrific lead blocker, he has the hands and the route
running skills of a former blue-chip tight end.
Watch Out For ... Dwyer to erupt into one of the ACC’s
more productive runners. He always had great size and the burst to pop
through a seam in the defense. Now he has an opportunity to be the
feature back in an offense that’ll lean heavily on the ground game.
Strength: Diversity. While the backfield isn’t where
Johnson expects it to be, he does have a stable of backs who complement
each other well. Dwyer is the complete back, Smith and Barrick are the
pass-catchers, Cox and Kelly are the pile drivers, and Jones can hit the
Weakness: Inexperience. After Dwyer, who’s only a true
sophomore, Tech isn’t very deep with experienced runners. A lot of faith
will be placed on players, such as Smith and Jones, who have little or
no experience running out of a college backfield.
Outlook: Until Johnson gets his type of recruits in place,
he’ll have a lot of spare parts that he’ll try to configure into a
well-oiled running attack. Although Dwyer is the one player on the
roster capable of becoming special, keep an eye on Cox. He has the
ingredients to be for Georgia Tech what Kyle Eckel was at Navy under
Projected Starters: It’s a good thing the wide receivers
are no longer a priority because Tech doesn’t have enough good ones to
fill out a depth chart. Already a marginal bunch that was going to rely
heavily on walk-ons, it took additional hits when Greg Smith was moved
to A-back and James Johnson and D.J. Conley left the program for
different reasons. The heavy favorites to be the main targets are
sophomores Demaryius Thomas and Correy Earls. Although his
numbers may not reflect it, Thomas has star qualities, including a 6-3,
229-pound frame and the ability to glide past defensive backs. Without
much help from the quarterback position, he debuted impressively with 35
receptions for 558 yards and four touchdowns.
The 6-0, 190-pound Earls overcame a frightening head injury in September
to make three starts and finish strong, ending his first season with 14
catches for 188 yards and a touchdown. One of the fastest players on the
entire team, the coaching staff will be looking for ways to get the ball
in his hands as a receiver and possibly taking handoffs.
Projected Top Reserves: Behind Thomas and Earls, the depth
chart figures to be a highly fluid situation throughout the year. At
least for the time being, the backups are redshirt freshman Zach
Fisher and true freshman Tyler Melton, who participated in
spring drills. The 6-2, 193-pound Fisher used his size and good hands to
move behind Thomas, going from walk-on to a possible contributor in a
short span of time.
Melton was a part of Paul Johnson’s first recruiting class, a 6-0,
199-pound rookie who’ll do most of his damage on short and intermediate
routes. While he won’t beat Earls in a foot race, he’s quick in space
and polished as an overall receiver.
Watch Out For ... Earls to be moved around a lot and used
liberally. Thomas has the NFL body, but Earls is a smaller, faster
player who fits better within the new scheme. He’ll catch passes, but
he’ll also be used on inside handoffs and end-arounds in order to get
him in space with the ball in his hands.
Strength: The starters. Forget the fact Georgia Tech will
lean less on the passing game, limiting the number of chances the
receivers get to compile numbers. Thomas and Earls are a pair of quality
front-line players who can stretch defenses and deliver big plays.
Weakness: Depth. Unless Greg Smith and Andrew
Smith are moved back here from A-back, depth and experience is
virtually non-existent beyond the two starters. With all due respect to
Fisher and Melton, on any other ACC program, they’d labor to get on the
field or earn a letter.
Outlook: There’s Thomas and Earls … and, well, that’s
about where it ends. The sophomores have tons of potential for when Tech
airs it out, but after them, the depth chart will be filled by a bunch
of unproven receivers, most of whom are playing without a
Projected Starters: Like everyone else on the offense, the
line is trying to digest new schemes, techniques, and terminology as
quickly as possible. The one constant on a unit looking to replace three
starters is 6-6, 297-pound senior Andrew Gardner, a First Team
All-ACC selection and one of the nation’s premier left tackles. A
terrific athlete with impeccable fundamentals, he’s a good drive blocker
and an even better pass protector. He’s adapting well to the changes and
will once again be the bedrock of this unit.
On the opposite side, 6-3, 271-pound senior David Brown has
settled in after bouncing around for much of his career. At times a
blocking tight end and a defensive lineman, he’s actually a nice fit for
what the offense does. Undersized, but athletically gifted, he shows the
explosion off the snap to fend off the freshmen tackles lurking in his
rear view mirror.
At center will be 6-4, 294-pound junior Dan Voss, who started the
final seven games of 2007 at left guard. A better match at one of the
guard spots, he has the head and the versatility to pull off the
transition without a hitch. Trey Dunmon was supposed to be the center of
the future, but he decided to transfer to Georgia Southern after the
Some interesting and close competitions are being engaged at both guard
spots. On the left side, 6-7, 299-pound senior A.J. Smith is
being challenged by 6-4, 299-pound junior Jason Hill. Smith is a
veteran with two letters, but has been injury prone, missing part of the
spring with an elbow injury. Although he’s built like a tackle and
started six games there in 2007, the new staff favors thick guards who
can pave the way for the fullback dive play.
While Hill is behind Smith in terms of experience, he has the drive and
lower body strength that Tech covets in its linemen. He took advantage
of Smith’s absence in April, getting reps with the first team and
impressing the coaches with his power and get-off.
Over at right guard, the race has shaped up as 6-5, 308-pound junior
Cord Howard versus 6-4, 288-pound redshirt freshman Joseph
Gilbert. Like Smith, Howard started six games at tackle last season
before making the shift inside to guard to make better use of his size
and raw power. For the second straight year, he sat out the spring to
recover from surgery, but will be 100% when summer camp begins.
Gilbert is a tough, no-nonsense blocker who has the athleticism to get
to the second level in a hurry. Precisely the type of blocker Tech wants
on the Flats, he’s a mauler at the point of contact, yet has the
footwork of a tackle. Whether or not he wins the job so early in his
career, he has a bright future with the program.
Projected Top Reserves: The future at tackle belongs to
redshirt freshmen Nick Claytor and Clyde Yandell, a pair
of big, physical blockers who are likely to earn their first letter as a
part of the rotation. Claytor, in particular, has the look of a future
star and the heir apparent to Gardner on the left side. Big and powerful
at 6-6 and 304 pounds, he packs a powerful punch, yet shows good
footwork and moves well laterally.
Whoever falls short in the guard battles between Hill and Smith and
Gilbert and Howard will fill out the two-deep and earn plenty of snaps
on a line that figures to rotate regularly. If nothing else, the tight
competition since the spring should make everyone a little better
prepared when game opportunities arise.
Watch Out For ... more power and less chicanery. The Tech
line which was so successful trapping and pulling in the past is putting
a premium on linemen who can drive forward as soon as the ball is
snapped. The faster the get-off, the more likely the backs can rip off
five or six yards a pop.
Strength: Gardner. In a sea of uncertainty, he’s a pillar
of consistency up front. He can do it all, including being a mentor for
an offensive line that’s flush with young and impressionable players.
Weakness: The right side. Sure, there’s potential at both
positions, but there are more question marks about Brown, Gilbert, and
Howard, none of whom have proven much during the regular season for the
Outlook: Considering how much is about to change for the
linemen, a steep learning curve is unavoidable. And losing three key
veterans to graduation doesn’t make things any easier. Getting the group
up to speed in a new offense is a lengthy process that might not begin
to really click until next season.