Perhaps one of the biggest departures from the 2014 team was Linebacker Quayshawn Nealy. A 4 year starter and 2014 team captain, Nealy will be missed on the field and in the locker room. In 2014, he was 2nd in tackles, 2nd in Interceptions, and 1st in defensive TDs scored. That kind of production will be difficult for anyone to replicate, and it will likely take a team effort to fill the gaping hole Nealy's departure left in the defense.
While Nealy's loss was a big one, he was supposed to be the only departure from the linebacking corps this season. However, Nealy's presumed preplacement, Anthony Harrell, announced that he would be transferring to Florida to play out his final season. With Harrell's departure, Tech has little game experience at Middle Linebacker. Ted Roof's propensity to play in a 4-2-5 set will mitigate the lack of a proven MLB somewhat but the problem remains, especially against run-heavy offenses. Beau Hankins, Tre Jackson, and a couple of promising freshmen will vie for the starting spot in the wake of Harrell's early exit.
Georgia Tech signed 3 LB prospects in the 2015 class, including 2 MLBs and one OLB. Each brings something different to the team, and will complement each other nicely.
The OLB, Tyler Cooksey of Greater Atlanta Christian, was a top 50 recruit in the state of Georgia according to Rivals, and touted a slew of offers from Power 5 programs. In high school, he showed great ability to pursue the play from sideline to sideline, as well as an excellent pass rush, traits that will help him to be the eventual replacement for Tyler Marcordes at Sam (Strong side) LB. At 6'3", 220 lb, Cooksey will have plenty of room to add more weight. In addition, his height will help tremendously in coverage, allowing him to take on opposing TEs. With Marcordes firmly entrenched as the starting Sam, Cooksey will likely take a redshirt this year, but will be in the mix with Terrell Lewis for the starting job next year.
At Mike (Middle LB), Brant Mitchell and Victor Alexander will be competing for playing time in a 4 player competition with Hankins and Jackson. Mitchell will come in as the heaviest Georgia Tech LB, weighing a whopping 250 lbs. Many recent Tech LBs have been a bit undersized, so Mitchell will provide a much needed plug in the run game. Don't expect him to see much action on passing downs or in a 4-2-5 defense, however. In fact, given his size and his frame, don't be surprised if Mitchell "pulls a Jabari" and grows into a Defensive Lineman. The other freshman, Victor Alexander, is simply....vicious. In high school he regularly put nasty hits on opposing players, and played with such strength and presence that it makes it hard to believe he's only 5'10". Alexander seems to always find the ball, be it in run support or in coverage, and always makes opponents pay for every yard gained. He possesses a certain "it factor" that has Tech fans(including myself) excited. If any of the true freshman LBs play this year, I expect it to be Victor Alexander. If you haven't seen his highlights yet, I encourage you to do so as they're quite entertaining.
Projected Depth Chart
|Position||First String||Second String|
|WILL||Paul Davis||Domonique Noble|
|MIKE||Beau Hankins||Victor Alexander
|SAM||Tyler Marcordes||Terrell Lewis|
Don't expect much movement on the depth chart at either of the OLB positions. Davis, the team's leading tackler last year, will hold on to his starting job with Marcordes as the starting Sam. The interesting competition will take place between Hankins, Alexander, and Tre Jackson. I'm giving Hankins the edge here due to his size and experience. I gave the 2nd string spot to Victor Alexander because of the previously mentioned "it factor" I see with him. In a way, his tenacity reminds me of Paul Davis when he first came to campus, and I think he could have the same kind of immediate impact. Plus, seeing Alexander blow up opponents while wearing number 9 is going to be one of my favorite things about this season!
What Should be Expected?
Given the continuity at the position, it would be reasonable to expect a performance similar to what was seen at the end of last year. However, there is also reason to expect significant improvement. Davis and Marcordes will both be seasoned veterans, and while experience is important, the real reason for improvement may be related to another position group entirely. With the return of Jabari Hunt-Days, big things are expected from the Georgia Tech Defensive Line. This will be welcome news for the LBs, who had to deal with opposing OLs in their faces for much of the season. If the DL can attract more attention and eat more double teams, Davis and Marcordes will be able to flow more freely to the ball. This will be especially important for Davis, who is a demon in pursuit but struggles when blockers get their hands on him.
Considering that Both Marcordes and Davis have a knack for rushing the passer, I'd expect Ted Roof to call a few more blitzes this year. The Tech pass rush was woefully inept last year, and was at times frustrating to watch. With a solid, experienced secondary behind him, I expect Davis to be brought on the blitz frequently in order to fix Tech's pass rushing woes. Davis was fantastic last year, finishing only a half sack behind team leader Keshun Freeman. Marcordes is no slouch either, finishing the year with 2 sacks of his own.
Defensive improvement will be key to Georgia Tech's success or failure this season, and the LBs should improve their production significantly this year. The 2015 defense should be a fun one to watch!