A preview of Georgia Tech's position groups as the Yellow Jackets begin spring practice Monday.
Returning: Sophomore Kyle Cerge-Henderson, junior KeShun Freeman, senior Patrick Gamble, redshirt freshman Brentavious Glanton, senior Francis Kallon, sophomore Tyler Merriweather, redshirt freshman Scott Morgan, senior Rod Rook-Chungong, sophomore Anree Saint-Amour, redshirt freshman Trent Sellers, junior Antonio Simmons, senior Kenderius Whitehead.
Lost: Jabari Hunt-Days, Adam Gotsis
Incoming: sophomore Desmond Branch, freshman Chris Martin, freshman Jordan Woods
What was one of the thinnest position groups only two years ago is stocked. Defensive line coach Mike Pelton’s group goes 13 deep, with two more freshmen coming in in the summer.
As always, the challenge will be to develop a four-man pass rush, which coach Paul Johnson deemed “abysmal.” Tech had 14 sacks on 202 pass attempts, 59.9 percent of which were completed. That completion rate was tied for 85th in FBS. Johnson acknowledged that the Jackets faced a lot of offenses throwing out of three-step drops, which limits pass rush.
“Got to play better,” Johnson said. “I mean, certainly, we’ve got to get more production.”
Branch is a possibility to give the line a jump start. Saint-Amour, who finished the season strong, should benefit from a lot of reps in the spring, too.
Johnson said that Branch “looked really good in (offseason workout) drills. I’m anxious to watch him play.”
Freeman had two sacks last season after picking up 4.5 in 2014 as a freshman. Sacks aren’t always the most accurate gauge of pass-rush success, and Freeman likely had more pass-rush opportunities in 2014 as the team was playing with the lead more frequently.
“I thought he did O.K.,” Johnson said. “He’s a pretty consistent kid.”
The search will be on also to find players to take the spot of Gotsis, who was the Yellow Jackets' best and most consistent defensive player last season. Cerge-Henderson was a candidate to redshirt but due to Gotsis’ ejection against North Carolina and season-ending ACL tear, as well as Hunt-Days’ leaving the team, had the rather difficult assignment of playing and starting at tackle as a first-year freshman. He’ll compete with Kallon and Brentavious Glanton to move up the depth chart.
Gotsis’ graduation leaves a leadership void as well, one that Freeman, Gamble and Rook-Chungong seem capable of filling.
Kallon, the oft-discussed tackle, enters his final lap. He has shown flashes, but it was indicative that Cerge-Henderson took the starting job after Gotsis and Hunt-Days weren’t available at the end of the season.
Whitehead may not take part in spring practice. Johnson did not divulge much of the reason, but indicated it was a health matter, albeit not one that he foresaw ending in a medical scholarship.
“I think he’s going to get better,” Johnson said. “Just right now, he’s not.”
“He’s athletic for a big kid. He’s light on his feet.” – Johnson on Branch