Countdown to Kickoff: 72 Days
This week, our “100 Days to Kickoff” series continues as we look at five players who are primed to have a bigger role and be invaluable to the team in 2016. There are players every year that seem to step up at the right time and make a difference. This week, we’ll be selecting players who have the ability to have those breakout performances that will take the team to the next level this fall.
The Georgia Tech defensive line is populated with promising, athletic players, any of whom could be on the verge of an out-of-nowhere monster season. Yesterday in this spot, we covered a player on the end of the line in Anree Saint-Amour. Today, we turn our attention to a breakout candidate on the interior of the line.
DT Kyle Cerge-Henderson
Kyle Cerge-Henderson wasn’t supposed to play last season. A highly recruited 3-star defensive tackle noted for his raw athleticism, Cerge-Henderson enrolled early but entered a crowded depth chart on the interior of the defensive line. He was expected to take a redshirt season to sit and learn the ropes from veteran linemen such as Adam Gotsis. Of course, as was often the case last season, things did not go quite as planned.
An injury to Patrick Gamble and a questionable targeting ejection for Gotsis threw Cerge-Henderson into the rotation in Week 5 against North Carolina, burning his redshirt. The freshman played sparingly over the next few weeks but off-field issues for Hunt and a season ending injury to Gotsis forced Cerge-Henderson into the starting lineup for the last three games of the season. Despite his lack of experience, he played fairly well, contributing to 10 tackles down the stretch.
In many ways, Cerge-Henderson is an atypical defensive tackle. Standing at just 6’-1”, he sometimes looks small playing in the trenches alongside and opposite massive linemen. Cerge-Henderson may be slightly undersized, but he still weighs in at 295 pounds, and he carries that weight impressively well. In high school, he would sometimes lineup at fullback and barrel downfield opening holes in the defense. Last year, he flashed speed and evasiveness that are not common traits for someone of his size.
Without question, Cerge-Henderson’s best asset is his speed. His best plays last season came when he was able to blow by opposing linemen on a quick first step. His speed also allowed coordinator Ted Roof to get creative with his play calling, putting Cerge-Henderson into various stunts to try and catch the opposing line off guard. When forced to rely on strength alone, Cerge-Henderson struggled to make an impact. This is obviously an area where a second offseason working with the strength and conditioning team should lead to a noticeable improvement.
In the three games he started last season, Cerge-Henderson lined up mostly as a 1-technique nose tackle. The lineman in this role is expected to command a double team, occupying both the center and a guard. If he remains in this role, don’t expect Cerge-Henderson to put up big numbers. The play of his fellow defensive linemates and the defense as a whole will be better indicators of his performance than tackles or sacks.
Given his skill set it would be interesting to see if Cerge-Henderson gets an opportunity at the 3-technique spot this season. The 3-technique’s job is to beat the guard not occupied by the nose tackle and get to the quarterback or ball carrier. This position tends to rely on speed and agility as much, if not more, than brute strength. Currently, Patrick Gamble is slated to start at this position with Cerge-Henderson at the 1-technique, but their skill sets may align better to the other’s role. Gamble, at 6’-5”, is longer then Cerge-Henderson, which may help him against double-teams. Cerge-Henderson, meanwhile, has a certain explosiveness that Gamble doesn’t and could be a revelation if given the opportunity at the 3-technique. Gamble did play very well last season when he shifted over to the 3-technique to replace Gotsis, so it may be 2017 before Cerge-Henderson is fully unleashed on opposing offenses. Regardless, he is sure to be a key cog in the Yellow Jacket defense this season.