2008 Georgia Tech Preview - Offense
Georgia Tech OL Andrew Gardner
Georgia Tech OL Andrew Gardner
Posted Apr 23, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Offense

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Preview 2008 - Offense

- 2008 CFN Georgia Tech Preview | 2008 Georgia Tech Offense
- 2008 Georgia Tech Defense |
2008 Georgia Tech Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Georgia Tech Preview |
2006 CFN Georgia Tech Preview 

What you need to know:
Taylor 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.

Returning Leaders
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 offense: Senior LT Andrew Gardner
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Josh Nesbitt
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 consistency.
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.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

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 school.

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 long ball.
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 Johnson.
Rating: 7.5


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 scholarship.   
Rating: 6

Offensive Line

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 spring.

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 program.
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.
Rating: 6.5