After taking a look last week at how the offensive depth chart stands following the close of spring practice, today we’re looking at how the defensive depth chart stands. As with the previous article, the following qualifying statements need to be made to begin with…
- This list does not include any players who have not yet enrolled and did not take part in spring practice.
- This list does not reflect who I think will start the season. It purely reflects where I think players stand at the current point in time.
- Some of these spots are populated by multiple players. That means I think they're either too close to call, or used situationally at this point.
- I'm only designating two strings for each position. If players aren't on here, they're buried pretty far down my depth chart.
|Position||First String||Second String|
Jabari Hunt-Days (R-Jr)
KeShun Freeman (Fr)
Chaz Cheeks (R-Jr)
Nick Menocal (Sr)
|DT||Patrick Gamble (R-So)||
Jimmie Kitchen (R-Jr)
Francis Kallon (R-So)
|NT||Adam Gotsis (Jr)||Shawn Green (R-Sr)|
|SDE||Tyler Stargel (R-So)||Roderick Rook-Chungong (R-So)|
This is going to be the most fluid group at this point, as Georgia Tech looks to replace three of its graduated starters at WDE, SDE, and DT. The spot that most media pundits are looking to discuss is the WDE spot, recently vacated by Jeremiah Attaochu - sure to be a top-75 pick in this weekend's NFL Draft. Right now, the leader in the clubhouse to fill in there is Jabari Hunt-Days, the recent convert from MLB. He's currently in a position battle with true freshman KeShun Freeman, who seems to have really impressed Coach Johnson in spring practice. I had previously thought size would be an issue for Freeman initially (he was listed at 6'2", 210lbs), but per Johnson's comments and Freeman's performance in the spring game it would appear that it won't be much of an issue at all. This position will become considerably more complicated when true freshman Antonio Simmons and JUCO transfer Kenderius Whitehead show up on campus, as each has impressive pass rush abilities. Any of these four guys could legitimately end up the starter, and chances are good that 3 of them see playing time in some capacity.
On the other side, at SDE, the Jackets look to replace the senior Emmanuel Dieke. With Kevin Robbins Jr. departed, the leader would appear to be Tyler Stargel, himself a convert from WDE (he backed up Attaochu last year). Stargel is a guy with a great motor that the coaches like a lot. Look for him to break out this fall as a major player on the Yellow Jacket defense. That said, he's being pushed by Roderick Rook-Chungong, who after redshirting had a solid spring and will likely also see time this fall. The final player here could be the incoming freshman Tyler Merriweather, but for now the tandem of Stargel and Chungong appears to be a solid core.
At defensive tackle, Adam Gotsis is the D-Line's only returning starter, and an absolute beast. (I love looking back, thinking how he was a 2-star recruit that we were mocked for taking. Guess that worked out OK.) For the other starter spot, vacated by the graduate Euclid Cummings, it's looking like Shawn Green will be the starter. Green has seen limited action over the past few years, but is a veteran who should add a lot, particularly to the pass rush. Behind them are Jimmie Kitchen and Patrick Gamble, both of whom are very capable contributors. Included there is Francis Kallon, although it still seems like he's not quite panning out. The potential is there, but playing football at this level is proving difficult with so little experience in his background.
One more name that's interesting here is Chaz Cheeks, the former OLB, who moved to DE in the 4-3, but played a number of snaps on the interior defensive line in the spring game. There's a chance coaches are doing anything possible to put him in a position where he can get onto the field, but there's also a chance that his OLB/WDE-esque skill set being used inside means Ted Roof is putting together a neat 3rd Down pass-rushing package. That's entirely speculation, but something I wouldn't put past him.
|Position||First String||Second String|
Anthony Harrell (R-Jr)
Tyler Marcordes (R-So)
Tremayne McNair (Sr)
Marcus Allen (R-So)
Tre Jackson (Fr)
|WLB||Quayshawn Nealy (R-Sr)||
Paul Davis (So)
Beau Hankins (R-So)
The #1 guy here will be the NFL prospect at OLB, Quayshawn Nealy. One of the defense's main leaders, Nealy has been a major producer over the past three years as a starter. He's backed up by Paul "P.J." Davis, who is still learning his assignments, but is an exciting player to watch who loves to hit. Outside of Davis, Beau Hankins could also work his way into the picture by earning some playing time. He's a guy we haven't seen much of as he enters his redshirt sophomore season, but a guy that could definitely be a contributor.
Opposite them, I have Tyler Marcordes and Anthony Harrell on the same line. I think either of them could start, and similar to Autry and Summers at WR, it may just come down to a pre-game coin flip. That said, as I mentioned before, I've still got a sour taste in my mouth over Marcordes - the last I remember of him was the 2012 Middle Tennessee State game (which may or may not have actually happened), where the offense was targeting him for a very poor tackling display. That said, by the time toe meets leather, that (alleged) game will have been nearly 2 full years ago, as well as two defensive coordinators ago (if you include Charles Kelly). Reports are that he's coming around in a big way in the new defensive scheme, so maybe there's reason for confidence after all. Meanwhile, if Harrell can stay healthy, he has a lot of potential and could have a pretty great season - but his health will definitely be something to monitor as he comes off of an injury during the 2013 season. Outside of them, there's a good chance you see Tremayne McNair in some sort of role at linebacker - the career backup is a veteran who can come in and contribute any time he's needed, though what capacity he'll get involved in is unclear.
This group is going to be very deep by default, as we're only one full season removed from having 4 linebackers on the field at one time, and now we're going to have half that many out there. There are lots of bodies available here (9, if I'm counting correctly, including Tre Jackson and Terrell Lewis, not including JHD or Travin Henry), and there's only so much playing time available for the group of them.
|Position||First String||Second String|
|CB||Lynn Griffin (R-So)||Step Durham (Fr)|
|CB||D.J. White (Jr)||Domonique Noble (R-Jr)|
|Nickel||Jamal Golden (R-Jr)||
Domonique Noble (R-Jr)
John Marvin (R-Fr)
|FS||Isaiah Johnson (R-Sr)||
Corey Griffin (R-Fr)
John Marvin (R-Fr)
|SS||Demond Smith (R-Jr)||Chris Milton (R-Jr)|
This is where the fun really begins. With the move from 3 linebackers to 2, the defense will also move from 4 defensive backs to 5. We'll look to post a better "X's and O's" article down the line, but for now, just know that the guy being added typically plays a hybrid CB/LB role, in towards the box, but responsible for running with receivers down field in passing situations. (It's almost like adding a second strong safety that's a little better in coverage.)
That role is likely to be filled by Jamal Golden, the dynamic playmaker who has experience both as a cornerback and a safety. Again, he'll be relied on to cover receivers, but he'll also be in good position to provide some solid run support. Joining him in that role will likely be Domonique Noble, the experienced DB who's never quite broken through. He's another guy with significant experience in both secondary roles, and so I expect him to be called on to back up Golden. I also can see John Marvin playing here -- a natural safety who's a good tackler with a lot of power. I'm not sure how solid he is in man-to-man coverage (which is a big deal from a corner spot), but he's absolutely got a lot to offer in run support.
The junior D.J. White will play the main corner role on one side, as he continues to develop into a solid coverage man. Lots of folks are torn on how good he is, but I'm here to vouch for him. He's still learning and growing, but last year was put up against some of the better receivers Tech's defense faced. This year, he's likely to be the #1 corner when considering match ups. He'll be complemented by Lynn Griffin, the high school safety who's had some learning to do on his mechanics as he's transitioned to playing cornerback, but is poised to be successful in that role. The first true cornerback off the bench could be Noble (depending on how coaches want to use him), or could be true freshman Step Durham. Durham will have to adjust to playing at the college level, but seems to be an immediate contributor as he's needed. There's also a chance that one (or both) of the Austin twins could end up seeing time here, depending on needs as they arise.
On the back end, Tech fans everywhere are thrilled at the return of Isaiah Johnson at safety. The 5th-year senior was sorely missed last year as he recovered from an ACL injury suffered in the 2012 Sun Bowl, and he'll be looking to establish himself as an NFL prospect this fall. He's likely to be backed up by Corey Griffin or John Marvin (depending on where coaches want to slot them) - both young guys with a lot of potential that the coaches like a lot. He'll be flanked by Demontevious "Demond" Smith, who beat out Chris Milton for the SS job last year. The two of them are likely to combine to see a large majority of the time at that spot on defense.
By my count, that's a LOT of experience in starting roles. KeShun Freeman is the only player listed on the first string who won't be entering at least his third year, and around half are entering years 4 or 5. Is that comforting to you? Will this unit benefit or suffer from the scheme change?