Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Preview 2009 - Offense
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What you need
to know: Can the triple-option work in a major
conference? So far, so good. Without all the right
parts in place, Georgia Tech finished fourth
nationally in rushing, led the league in total
offense, and produced the ACC Player of the Year, RB
Jonathan Dwyer. Still, there’s considerable room for
growth. The offense sputtered too often on third
down and in the red zone, which can be traced to
spotty play by the offensive line and
inconsistencies under center from Josh Nesbitt.
While that year in the system is expected to solve
some problems, the coaching staff is taking a more
proactive approach by adding new wrinkles into the
playbook. Oh, the option will still be the preferred
mode of transportation, but Paul Johnson hopes to
keep defenses honest by installing elements of the
run-and-shoot and sprinkling in a few more deep
routes to WR Demaryius Thomas.
Passing: Josh Nesbitt
54-123, 808 yds, 2 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Jonathan Dwyer
200 carries, 1,395 yds, 12 TD
Receiving: Demaryius Thomas
39 catches, 627 yds, 3 TD
Star of the offense:
Junior RB Jonathan Dwyer
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Josh Nesbitt
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore RB Roddy Jones
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Dwyer, 2) Senior OG Cord Howard, 3) Junior
WR Demaryius Thomas
Strength of the offense:
The ground game, running back depth
Weakness of the offense:
Passing efficiency, the offensive line, third-down
conversions, red-zone scoring
As he digested the new option offense, last year was
a bit of a blur for 6-1, 214-pound junior
He survived and grew, however, and should be much
better prepared this fall. Despite playing in a
passing offense in high school, he’s a real nice fit
for the system, combining great speed with the
ability to break tackles in the open field. While
banged up throughout 2008, he managed to rush for
693 yards and seven scores, while going 54-of-123
for 808 yards, two touchdowns, and five
interceptions through the air. His accuracy was a
disappointment and, along with gaining a better
comfort level running the show, a focus for
improvement in the offseason.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore
Jaybo Shaw gave glimpses of why he was recruited to the program,
rising to No. 2 on the depth chart just months his
high school graduation and playing in seven games. A
nifty 6-0, 190-pound athlete, he rushed for 200
yards and three scores on 63 carries, while
completing 15-of-24 passes for 321 yards, two
touchdowns and an interception.
While Shaw gained valuable experience in his first
season, 6-1, 205-pound
Washington redshirted and learned on the
practice squad. Another gifted athlete, with the
speed to perforate a seam in the defense, he’s also
an underrated passer, who can hurt defenses with his
accuracy and quick release. Although behind in
experience, he’s determined to narrow the divide on
Watch Out For ...
less thinking and
more reacting. Even for a quality athlete, like
Nesbitt, the learning curve was steep a year ago.
This season, however, things appear to be slowing
down for the junior, who looked more instinctive in
practice and was improving with his option reads.
Athleticism. Part by
design and part luck with the inheritance of
Nesbitt, Tech is home to three outstanding, who are
all improving at running the option. It took a year
with some poor fits on the roster, but the Yellow
Jackets now have the type of athletes they need to
make this offense purr.
Passing efficiency. Yeah, it’s the option, but don’t
think Tech doesn’t want to capitalize through the
air when the defense provides openings. It
absolutely does. In fact, Paul Johnson wants to
install a little run-and-shoot into the offense if
the quarterbacks cooperate. Nesbitt was erratic last
season, falling way short of the coach’s desire for
a 60% completion percentage.
Outlook: Although the quarterbacks
aren’t quite where Johnson needs them to be, they’re
light years better than this time last year. If
Georgia Tech is going to meet rising expectations,
it needs Nesbitt to stay healthy and turn the
corner, becoming a legit dual-threat behind center.
If he evolves, few teams will be able to stop this
Sometimes a player is a hand-in-glove fit with a
Jonathan Dwyer and the option is just such a marriage. The reigning
ACC Player of the Year, he emerged as one of the
nation’s premier backs, rushing for 1,395 yards and
a dozen scores on only 200 carries and catching
eight balls for 209 yards and another score. The
B-back, or feature runner in this offense, he’s
already built for a career at the next level,
combining the punishing skills of a fullback with
the 4.4 jets and cutback ability of a much smaller
tailback. With enough carries and support up front,
he’s a legitimate Heisman contender.
Tech’s most dynamic A-back is 5-9, 194-pound
sophomore Roddy Jones, who had a breakthrough year of his own, turning 81
carries and eight receptions into 845 yards of total
offense and five touchdowns. His 214-yard effort on
just 13 carries against Georgia will go down as one
of the greatest individual efforts in the long
history of the rivalry. A lightning-quick jackrabbit
in space, he dislocated his wrist in June, but is
expected back before the opener.
The newcomer to the backfield, and Jones’ partner at
A-back, will be 6-0, 225-pound junior
Anthony Allen, a heralded transfer from
Louisville. No ordinary import, he rushed for 1,102
yards and scored 23 touchdowns in a part-time role
with the Cardinals. A physical, between-the-tackles
runner, he has great hands as a receiver and the
previous experience to make a smooth transition into
Projected Top Reserves: Behind Allen
at one A-back spot is 6-0, 238-pound junior
a more traditional fullback in other offenses. A
starter for much of 2008, he rushed for 200 yards
and three scores on 26 carries, providing a bruising
change-of-pace for the ground game. He’s also the
backfield’s most physical blocker, tearing open
holes for the big-play runners.
Doing a pretty fair impression of Jones is 5-8,
an A-back reserve and one of the breakthrough
performers of the offseason. An absolute blur and
arguably the fastest Tech player, he’s going to
force the staff to find ways to get the ball in his
hands. He played sparingly as a true freshman, but
that won’t be the case this fall.
Watch Out For ... many more options.
Unlike last summer, the Yellow Jackets are loaded in
the backfield, sporting depth and talent at each of
the three starting spots. The addition of Allen and
emergence of Jones, Wright,
will help keep everyone fresh.
Diversity. Whatever the
need, this backfield has someone who can fill it.
Obviously, Dwyer is the complete back, but Jones and
Wright are the home run hitters, and Allen and Cox
are capable of moving the pile. With so many unique
options, Tech will be able to keep defenses guessing
all season long.
Support. The only way this backfield stalls is if
the offensive line doesn’t do its job or QB Josh
Nesbitt fails to grow as the point guard of the
attack. Neither can be ruled out. The line, in
particular, was spotty last year and needs to
replace All-ACC tackle Andrew Gardner.
Outlook: With all due respect
to Oklahoma and USC, Georgia Tech, too, belongs in
the discussion about the nation’s most talented
collection of running backs. Not only is Dwyer a
bona fide All-American candidate, but he’s now
surrounded by a terrific ensemble that’ll keep
defenses from focusing on stopping him. If opponents
commit too many resources to stopping the junior,
Jones, Allen, and Wright will make them pay.
Despite popular opinion, Georgia Tech will still
throw the ball on occasion. And when it does, 6-3,
Thomas is likely to be the target. Considering
the system he’s in, he did a magnificent job of
catching 39 balls for 627 yards and three
touchdowns, or five times as many catches as the
next closest receiver. A physical receiver, who can
get behind the secondary, he has also become an
asset as a downfield blocker.
Joining Thomas in the lineup is 6-0, 199-pound
sophomore Tyler Melton, who started the first seven games of his rookie year
before suffering a knee injury. He wound up with
five receptions for 53 yards, numbers he’ll have no
problem surpassing in his second year. More of a
possession receiver to the big-play Thomas, he’ll
work the short and intermediate routes.
Projected Top Reserves: Scaling the
depth chart to the No. 2 spot behind Thomas is 6-3,
190-pound redshirt freshman
Quentin Sims. While still raw and early in his development, he has
the right size and athleticism to eventually be a
playmaker on the outside.
Melton’s backup coming out of spring was 6-2,
a walk-on transfer from Shorter (Ga.) College.
Although he sat out last season, he was still able
to impress the coaching staff with his soft hands
and ability to spring backs with downfield blocks.
Watch Out For ...
While Georgia Tech isn’t about to go
Tech on the rest of the ACC, it does believe there
are cracks in over pursuing defenses that can be
exposed through the air. That’ll mean more chances
for this receiving corps to make big plays,
especially on play-action.
Strength: Size. It all starts with
Thomas, a 6-3, 229-pound wide receiver in the body
of an H-back. All of the Yellow Jacket receivers can
out muscle defensive backs for the ball and hold
blocks on running plays, an underrated aspect of
their job description.
Weakness: Proven players after
Thomas. The junior had 39 receptions last season,
but the next closest wide receiver had only five.
That’s a problem, which isn’t likely to be resolved
this fall. With only one playmaker at the position,
he can expect constant attention until someone else
Thomas will again catch at least 30 balls for a
hefty average, but he could use some help from the
younger receivers. If Melton, in particular, can’t
do some damage underneath, Tech’s dream of a more
efficient passing game will be close to coming to
Although five players with starting experience are
back, the program still feels the line needs to
execute much better than a year ago. Leading the way
will be 6-5, 310-pound senior
a steady left guard and a reigning member of the
All-ACC second team. Very tough and physical at the
point of contact, he needs to stay healthy and make
another stride in his progression, especially with
the NFL beginning to pay attention.
Right guard will be manned by 6-4, 288-pound
sophomore Joseph Gilbert, who started a dozen games in his first season. A
tough, no-nonsense blocker, he has good footwork and
the ability to get to the second level in a hurry.
After spending much of last year learning on the
job, he should be more effective in Year 2 as a
Back for a third season at the pivot is 6-4,
294-pound Dan Voss. More steady than spectacular, he brings the know-how and
experience to be one of the line leaders, but like
the rest of the line, needs to elevate the level of
his play. Too often last year, he allowed
penetration, stalling plays before they were able to
Replacing all-star Andrew Gardner at left tackle is
6-6, 304-pound sophomore
who was forced into the lineup by injuries over the
last month of the season. Big, athletic, and nasty,
he was one of the program’s signature recruits from
the 2007. He does, however, have a bulging disc in
his back, leaving the staff cautiously optimistic
that he’ll have no complications this summer.
At right tackle, junior
Barrick is one of the best athletes on the line.
Of course, at 6-3 and 254 pounds, he should be. A
candidate to play
running back in 2008, he
slides effortlessly, but also got tossed around late
in the season, especially versus Georgia and LSU. He
gained some valuable experience after Gardner was
hurt, but now he has to gain some weight in order to
hold up in the trenches.
Projected Top Reserves: Ever so
gradually, the Yellow Jackets are building their
depth through a succession of strong recruiting
classes. At tackle, 6-5, 296-pound sophomore
should be ready to challenge for a starting job
after getting a taste of action in four games last
year. With time and experience, his size and
athleticism are going to translate into on-field
The guard of the future is 6-3, 291-pound redshirt
Omoregie Uzzi, one of the nation’s top lineman
recruits of 2008. He plays with power, quick feet,
and ideal pad level. In other words, he’s eventually
going to be exactly the type of pulling that this
offense craves. If Gilbert leaves an opening, it
could happen as early as this September.
Watch Out For ...
the injury reports.
Right now, this is an average offensive line.
However, if Claytor or Voss, who’s coming back from
a torn labrum, suffer any setbacks, the unit will
quickly degrade to somewhere south of average.
Strength: The interior of the line.
Tech’s strength, relatively speaking, is on the
inside, where Voss and the guards bring a
considerable amount of experience into the 2009
season. Howard has room to grow, but if he makes
those strides, could be an anchor on the left side.
Weakness: The point of contact. Too
often last season, the offensive line got bullied
off the line of scrimmage by tougher opponents.
Sure, it didn’t help that the old system of blocking
had been scrapped, but from a purely physical
standpoint, there’s a lot of work to be done before
this group makes the kind of progress that the
Outlook: Don’t be fooled by last
year’s gaudy rushing numbers. The backs and the
system, not the line, deserve most of the credit for
that output. This is a marginal unit that really
needs to turn the corner, or else the offense isn’t
going to reach all of its potential. The coaches are
encouraging a climate of competition, which could
make for some very interesting battles when summer