Countdown to Kickoff: 79 days
To this point, our Impact Player series has focused on the offensive side of the ball. Typically, a Paul Johnson lead team features a strong, consistent offense and a question mark on defense. Last year, that script was flipped. The offense sputtered while a senior laden defense kept the Yellow Jackets in games, even if it was rarely enough to pull out a win. With the departures of stars such as Jamal Golden, DJ White, and Adam Gotsis new faces will need to step up and produce to keep up the defensive performance. Today, we look at one such player.
DT Patrick Gamble, R-Senior
Gamble arrived on Tech campus as a 3-star prospect and was named the Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year in 2012, his redshirt season. Over the next two seasons, Gamble played all over the line. He was listed as a backup defensive end in 2013, when he saw limited game action, before settling into a bigger role in 2014, mostly as a substitute defensive tackle.
In 2015, Gamble was initially slated to start on the end of the line, as the interior was manned by Gotsis and senior Jabari Hunt. Gamble quickly moved inside to start next to Gotsis, with Hunt coming off the bench. Slowed by an injury that caused him to miss two games, Gamble had a lackluster start to the season, racking up only 11 tackles through the first 7 games of the season. His breakout came in the Florida State game, when he recorded the first sack of his career and blocked a field goal.
To be fully honest, while Gamble played well against Florida State and will go down in history for his role in The Miracle on Techwood Drive, he was overmatched most of the game. His true breakout came after the season-ending injury to Adam Gotsis on the first play from scrimmage the following week in Charlottesville. Left as the most experienced interior defensive lineman on the roster, Gamble slid over into the role previously held by Gotsis and really stepped up his play. Over the last four games of the season, Gamble totaled 25 tackles, including a career-high 9 tackles against Virginia.
Gamble was solid last year in Gotsis’s absence, but he still has a ways to go to prove he can match his former teammates’ performance. Gamble is not on the same level as Gotsis as a pass rusher, lacking the explosiveness and move set that made the former Jacket a second round NFL draft pick. Last year, he often seemed to be a split second slow off the ball, rarely breaking past his blocker on speed alone. At 6’ 5”, Gamble has the size and length to be a force attacking the quarterback, he just needs to improve his reactions and speed off the ball.
One area where Gamble shines is his relentlessness attacking the ball. There is rarely a play that Gamble gives up on, continuing to fight through his blocks to get at the ball carrier. He is also rarely completely blown up by opposing linemen. Even when slightly overmatched, he stays on his feet, engaged, preventing his blocker from moving onto the second level of the defense. While he didn’t produce the stats that Gotsis did last year, Gamble was unquestionably an effective and important player to the defense’s performance.
This season, Gamble will step into the spotlight as the unquestioned leader of the defensive front. On a line full of players who appear to be on the verge of breaking out, Gamble stands out as a known quantity. We know, at minimum, Gamble will provide solid play up the middle and bring experience to a young defense. If he can take that next step as either a run stopper or pass rusher, Gamble will be a centerpiece of the defense. If he can take the next step as both...well, watch out.