One of the first things that Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson brought up in his signing day news conference Wednesday was his excitement about the athleticism in the signing class, particularly on defense.
“I think we’ve got a lot of guys with length that can run, that can do some things,” he said. “It’ll be exciting to watch them mature and see where they actually end up. A lot of these guys may start out at safety but could end up being linebackers or outside linebackers or defensive ends as they grow and mature.”
Three signees who particularly fit that description are the three players tabbed as “athletes” in the class – Tariq Carpenter of Long County High in south Georgia, Kaleb Oliver from Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Avery Showell from Cartersville High. For those not familiar with recruiting parlance, an athlete is a category of prospect whose athletic ability is such that he can play multiple positions in college. Most notably, Justin Thomas was graded as an athlete coming out of Prattville (Ala.) High.
In high school, Carpenter, Oliver and Showell were played all over the field. Oliver, a safety, played up on the line as something of a rush linebacker and at deep safety. Likewise, Carpenter was played both as a deep safety and closer to the line and also played receiver. Showell was used as a rush linebacker, played with his hand on the ground as an end, tight end, slot receiver and kickoff returner. Their highlight videos suggest that they all have good ball skills, tackle well in the open field and appear to have something of a predilection for ragdolling quarterbacks.
Read more on Carpenter: Long County defensive back signs with Georgia Tech
They’re all of similar stature – Carpenter is 6-foot-2, 188 pounds, Oliver is 6-4, 198 and Showell is 6-1, 192.
“Who knows what he’s going to be,” Johnson said of Carpenter. “He’s probably going to start at safety but in a year he could be a linebacker. He’s athletic enough and long enough, he can play anywhere. He can play receiver. He’s just a good football player.”
That versatility is beneficial for at least a couple reasons. One, provided they demonstrate they’re equal to the task of college football, it gives them and the coaching staff flexibility to find a spot to get them on the field more quickly. Two, the fact that they are gifted and savvy enough to play multiple positions is an endorsement of the ability that they’re bringing to Tech. It’s difficult to say if there are players like that on the roster that could be so pliable from a position standpoint.
Read more on Carpenter: Tennessee safety and nickelback signs with Yellow Jackets
“Everybody’s got to have a slot where they fit, but you go recruit really good football players in a state like this, or in the South,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said, “that can run, that can hit, that run into people full speed, they don’t slow down to hit people. And you get guys like that, and then you have a scheme that’s flexible enough to fit whoever it is.”
Speaking broadly of the defensive signees, but certainly including these three, Roof described them as “guys that it’s still kind of to be determined where they’re going to line up, but you know that there’s something. But they’re long, athletic, aggressive, and those guys, you kind of wait until they get here and it sorts itself out. But we definitely got more athletic and increased our speed.”
Read more on Showell: Cartersville High defensive back signs with Georgia Tech
And, that, obviously, could be significant. The Tech defense has not lacked for effort, but has been short on players capable of making difference-making plays. There’s no telling what the future holds for these three – there’s no shortage of players for whom signing day turns out to be the highlight – but they offer hope to help transform Tech into a more impactful defense.
Tech ranked 123rd in “havoc rate” in 2015 and 2016, not the most encouraging coincidence. Havoc rate is defined as tackles for loss, passes defensed and forced fumbles divided by total plays, as calculated by the website Football Outsiders. The Jackets were 67th in 2014.
Perhaps these three – and other defensive signees such as cornerback Tre Swilling and linebackers Bruce Jordan-Swilling and Jaquan Henderson, among others – will join returnees such as safety A.J. Gray, linebacker Brant Mitchell and defensive end Anree Saint-Amour (all of whom have two years remaining) to be part of a change. Time will tell.
"All those guys will be great on special teams and it’ll be our job to find their niche,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to find where they fit and how they help you win but they’re all good players. So even though they’re listed as DB/athlete, they’re football players and they were the best players available and that kind of thing. So we’re excited about guys like that.”
More from signing day
Now that Georgia Tech’s 24 signees are in the fold, the next goal for the future Yellow Jackets and their coaches will be to get them on the field.
The two players most likely to play significant roles for Tech are kicker Brenton King from Mill Creek High and punter Pressley Harvin from Alcolu, S.C. With kicker Harrison Butker and punter Ryan Rodwell having graduated, there isn’t a scholarship player at either position, although they’ll be pushed by walk-ons.
It was 35 years ago, in 1982, that Pat Swilling and Ted Roof signed with Georgia Tech, forming what would become the core of the Yellow Jackets’ famed Black Watch defense. On Wednesday, two of Swilling’s sons and one of Roof’s signed with Tech.
Cornerback Tre Swilling and linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling bound themselves to Tech from New Orleans, where their father played his standout career with the Saints. Linebacker T.D. Roof starred at state powerhouse Buford High. All will play for the elder Roof, the defensive coordinator.
Georgia Tech’s signing day puts the Yellow Jackets a little heavy in the secondary. With seven signees expected to start out as defensive backs, the Tech roster has 18 scholarship players in the secondary.
The ease with which prospects can share their game video online has made the notion of the hidden gem a bit outdated in the recruiting world. However, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson believes he may have one in wide receiver Adonicas Sanders of North Charleston, S.C.
Sanders, who committed to Tech on Monday and was the last prospect added to the class, expected to accept a scholarship to Presbyterian, an FCS school, before Tech swooped in.
With kicker Harrison Butker and punter Ryan Rodwell graduating, Georgia Tech had the opportunity to bring in a pair of specialists together. Tech coaches hope that their kicking needs will be taken care of with the signing of kicker Brenton King from Mill Creek High and punter Pressley Harvin from Alcolu, S.C.