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Mailbag 3/24

In which we discuss spring football.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

What are the most important developments you hope to see on the offensive side of the ball? The defensive side?

There are a couple of key spots on each side of the ball that we will learn a lot more about as we progress through the spring. On offense, that just happens to be virtually everywhere.

Starting with the obvious, we're probably going to see the majority of our backfield and how well they can perform. At B-back, Tech will have three guys playing: C.J. Leggett, Quaide Weimerskirch and Brady Swilling. I've never seen any of these guys play at this level, so I'm not really sure what to expect. I do think one will make himself stand out from the others and that these three will be our primary rotation at B-back this season.

The same can be said at A-back. Broderick Snoddy won't be participating, but Dennis Andrews, Isiah Willis, Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch will all get plenty of reps. Something else of note I've heard is that former walk-on kicker Roberto Hinojosa will also be taking reps at A-back.

At wide receiver, the guy I'm keeping an eye out for is Harland Howell. This kid is going to be a dynamite receiver, and if he shows a strong willingness to block, I think he will be one of the starters going into Fall practice.

Things should be interesting on the offensive line too, with a position battle at right guard. The main guys to watch for here are Shamire DeVine and Gary Brown. We should also get a look at some depth on the O-line since Andrew Marshall and Chris Griffin will both be out for the spring.

On defense, I'm  curious to see what Jabari Hunt-Days can do. He isn't officially back, but since CPJ is saving a scholarship for him, I take that to mean that he fully expects his return. Last I heard, he was up to near 300 pounds. As a defensive tackle with Adam Gotsis, he will wreak havoc.

I'm also interested to see how Tech replaces losses at linebacker and safety. Anthony Harrell and Tyler Marcordes will be the key players at linebacker, while Corey Griffin will likely be the guy at safety.

Can I safely assume that the kicking game is in fine shape going into the Spring?

Well they trust him enough to move his back-up to A-back. Hopefully, he will be able to figure out what is going on with his head on the kicks that fall between 30 and 39 yards. He can make just about anything else, no matter how difficult or tricky (need I remind you of The Kick?), yet if it comes in that nine-yard span, he just can't hit it. I have no idea what's messing him up, but I hope he figures it out. If he does, he'll be a very successful NFL kicker one day.

What is the status of Travis Custis? Is he still planning to attend college and play football and if so, where?

After leaving the team and the school last year, Custis elected to go to Hutchinson Community College where he was pretty successful (142 carries for 846 yards and eight touchdowns). Because HCC does not offer certain math classes which Custis would have needed to come back to Tech, he will not be coming back to Tech. He is free to sign anywhere he wants and we'll probably hear something about him before too much longer, but likely in the summer sometime after his graduation in May.

According to 247Sports, Custis has received offers from nine teams: Oklahoma State, Colorado State, Florida State, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon State, USC, Vanderbilt and Wisconsin.

Looking at those teams, I feel like I can go ahead and knock Vanderbilt off that list given his academic struggles at Tech, though I suppose anything is possible. I also hope he chooses not to attend Florida State or UNC as that would not bode well for Tech.

The Jackets barely avoided being swept. In fact, Tech never led for an instant all weekend except for the walk-off victory in the middle game. Now, with a trip to Louisville to face a very good team, this would seem to be a critical juncture. Finding out that Brandon Gold is mortal on the mound after all adds to the unease. As if that weren't enough, we have to face Auburn at home and uga in Athens in midweek games and travel to Blacksburg the weekend after Louisville. [And Kel Johnson's injury]. How worried should Jackets fans be?

Five letters: R-E-L-A-X

We lost two of three to a good team this past weekend. The Tarheels were No. 18 in the country for a reason. With that and Brandon Gold returning to earth, well both were expected to come about at some point. Does that mean we should just start freaking out? No. We still have a very good team; we just had a rough weekend. Kel Johnson should be fine.

Best "value" football game?

We're going to have some good games this year. But for me, there is no better game than the one at the end of the season: Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate. Because ticket prices haven't been released (at least to my knowledge), I didn't take that into account. But if you can only go to one game this year, make it this one unless you have some other tie to another team on the schedule.

What is up with Kenderius Whitehead?

He's in school getting ready for Spring practice. He'll be good to go this year.

Best away game in the schedule?

I'd go with Notre Dame. Mainly because South Bend is just a great place to go, even though I've never actually been there. If I had the funds and availability to go to any away game this season, it'd be that one. No question.

Any updates on Jabari?

Like Whitehead, he's getting ready for Spring practice. He's not yet eligible academically (or he would have played in the Orange Bowl), but the fact that CPJ is holding a spot for him tells me that he full expects him to be on the field in the Fall.

What's up and what's down next season?

Yards per game rushing: I'll say down for this one. We'll have a lot of inexperience at A- and B-backs, so we won't really be able to know for sure until we see them play.

Plays over 20 yards: Again, I'll say down and for the same reason. Though if Broderick Snoddy is healthy for the whole year and one of our B-backs shows a propensity for getting to the second and third levels of the defense often, I could see us eclipse this year's mark.

Turnovers lost: This one is a bit tricky since Justin Thomas will have a full year as a starter and be less prone to turnovers, so he won't be committing as many, but again with the inexperience, there will be some errors there. I'll say more at the beginning of the season, but we stay below last year's mark.

MVP not named JT: I'll say Freddie Burden. With the graduation of Shaq Mason, someone will need to step up as the leader of the offensive line, and I wouldn't choose anyone over Burden. He came on strong last season as the starting center and should only improve this season.

Star freshman starter: Harland Howell II. This one wasn't really hard for me. I've been high on him for a while and with him coming in for Spring practice, he'll get a jump on learning routes and blocking techniques. As I said earlier, I expect him to be a starter going into the Fall.

Defensive yards per game: This goes up. I honestly don't think we'll see much drop-off from Quayshawn Nealy's or Isaiah Johnson's replacements as we have some good players at both of those spots. Add in the fact that we get to add Jabari Hunt-Days (hopefully) and Kenderius Whitehead to our defensive line, along with the guys we redshirted last year, and it makes for a better defense.

Turnovers/takeaways: I think this number will be about the same as it was last year. We have a very opportunistic defense and you're not going to find anyone who will argue that. Sometimes that's not a good thing (see us vs. FSU in the ACCCG), but we'll get our turnovers.

Sacks: I fully expect this one to be higher because KeShun Freeman and Adam Gotsis will finally receive some help. Just imagine going up against this line on third downs: Kenderius Whitehead, Jabari Hunt-Days, Adam Gotsis, KeShun Freeman, and then Antonio Simmons could rush from a linebacker spot.

Interceptions: See above in my turnovers/takeaways section.

Defensive points per game: I'll say the number goes down because of pretty much everything I've already said. I think we see a pretty improved defense from Tech this season.

MVP of the defense: This is a tough one, but I'll say it goes to either D.J. White or KeShun Freeman. White is obviously the best player on the defense and Freeman will be our main pass rusher once again. It should be nice to see how those two perform and how others step up.

Star freshman starter on defense: There's really only one guy that I think might have a shot at this and that's A.J. Gray. If he can manage to beat out Corey Griffin for Isaiah Johnson's spot at strong safety, I think he'll have a strong season.

I think this is as good a year as any for Tech to win its next National Championship in football. What will be the sign to you that this is even a remote possibility and how soon will you see the sign?

I really hope you're right! That would be absolutely amazing and I think Tech is a legitimate darkhorse candidate for the College Football Playoff this season. The strength of schedule which Tech has this season will only help with that too. There are two main keys to them contending this season though: how the inexperience plays on offense and how the defense steps up this season. If we can have a mostly seamless transition with the inexperience and see good improvement from the defense, we should be right there in the thick of things.

What new position player, since we return little to no experience at any of the offensive skill positions, will have a breakout year and become a fan favorite? And will Freeman get double digit sacks and will the defensive line as a whole get 30+ sacks on the season?

Let's start with offensive skill positions. I would say the guy to watch for here is redshirt freshman B-back C.J. Leggett. The fact that he would have likely had his redshirt lifted last season if healthy speaks volumes to me. It's not a very common thing for CPJ to play a true freshman at the B-back position because of the difficulty of the quickness of that first read and the QB-BB mesh. But Johnson was willing to let Leggett play. And from all reports I've heard, this kid can play. I'm not worried about him losing the starting job, and with that, I also think he quickly becomes a fan favorite.

I've talked a lot in this mailbag about how I have high hopes for this defensive line this season, so do I think Freeman will get double digit sacks this season? Honestly, I really hope so, but I don't think he does. I think he ends up with about eight, but could very well lead the team with that number. But if we can have a few guys in that four-to-six sack range, I would say we were doing pretty good and could very well eclipse that 30-sack mark. We're just going to need that kind of production from the rest of the line. Freeman will get his sacks. Just need everybody else to show up.

Thanks for submitting questions!