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Georgia Tech Football: 2016 Position Previews - Offense

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The Yellow Jackets’ offense in 2016 will improve over its performance in 2015. The only question is -- how much?

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to Kickoff: 54 Days

For the first time in Paul Johnson’s tenure, it’s easy to say that the 2015 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets’ biggest problem was offense. After record-setting offensive potency in 2014, the script was flipped in 2015, with the Yellow Jackets scoring under 30 points per game for the first time since 2010. Their 5.27 yards per rushing attempt were the second-lowest in Johnson’s tenure, as were their 5.85 yards per play. Big plays dried up, turnovers abounded, and frustration mounted more and more the longer the season went on. Injuries and inexperience both played major roles in the season-long struggle, particularly at the skill positions.

In 2016, Johnson’s offense looks to return to form with better health, improved luck, and greater experience. Are they going to be able to?

Who’s Gone?

The nice part about last year’s offense being considered inexperienced is that they don’t lose a ton of players entering 2016. Of the players who have departed the Jackets, AB Broderick Snoddy takes a lot of experience with him, while Trey Braun, Bryan Chamberlain, and Errin Joe were all multi-year starters on the offensive line. Otherwise, QB Tim Byerly missed most of 2015 with an injury, BB Patrick Skov was a graduate transfer who only played a single year in Johnson’s system, and WR Micheal Summers left the team before the end of the season with only 29 career receptions over three years.

Of all of those departures, only Braun, Joe, and Skov were starters in the final game of the season, while Snoddy and Chamberlain lost starting roles to younger players at different points throughout the season.

Who’s Back?

Let’s make this easy and say, basically everyone.

Georgia Tech returns over 80% of its rushing yards from 2015, over 83% of its receiving yards, and over 98% of its passing yards. Not only that, but they return several players who missed much of the season due to injuries — that includes B-Backs C.J. Leggett and Quaide Weimerskirch, A-Backs Qua Searcy, Nathan Cottrell, and TaQuon Marshall (now at QB), and hopefully O-Linemen Chris Griffin and Jake Whitley.

The Yellow Jackets also unleash highly-talented transfer A-Back J.J. Green after a redshirt season, and bring back vaunted trigger-man Justin Thomas for his senior campaign. They return some of their best offensive linemen, including Freddie Burden, Will Bryan, Andrew Marshall, and Shamire Devine.

In 2015, inexperience was a big issue for Georgia Tech’s offense. In 2016, that won’t be the case.

Who’s New?

Georgia Tech’s 2016 recruiting class featured 10 players on offense, each of them bringing various levels of hype and ability. Of those, the ones most likely to make their college debut this fall are BB Dedrick Mills and OL Parker Braun. Mills enrolled early and participated in spring practice with the team, culminating in an impressive spring game performance that seemed to foreshadow his inclusion in the B-Back rotation this fall. He brings an impressive combo of physicality and pure athleticism that will fit perfectly at B-Back, and it seems likely that he’ll get an opportunity to play as a true freshman, even with the extensive depth around him. Braun, younger brother of the recent-graduate Trey, was one of the most heralded members of the 2016 Yellow Jackets recruiting class. He brings outstanding athleticism and motor, and could be one of Georgia Tech’s better offensive linemen by the season’s end. It’s unlikely that either player will start during the season (barring injuries), but I’d be surprised if we didn’t see either one of them on the field.

Other players who could see time this fall include WRs Jalen Camp and Steve Dolphus, and OL Kenny Cooper. It should also be noted here that Georgia Tech had a coaching change in the offseason, replacing Special Teams Coordinator/OL Coach Ray Rychleski with OL Coach Ron West.

Projected Depth Chart

First String Second String
QB Justin Thomas (R-Sr) Matthew Jordan (R-So)
TaQuon Marshall (So)
BB Marcus Marshall (So)
Marcus Allen (R-Sr)
C.J. Leggett (R-So)
Quaide Weimerskirch (R-Fr)
Dedrick Mills (Fr)
AB Qua Searcy (R-So) J.J. Green (R-Jr)
Nathan Cottrell (R-Fr)
AB Clinton Lynch (R-So) Lynn Griffin (R-Sr)
Isaiah Willis (R-Sr)
WR Ricky Jeune (R-Jr) Harland Howell II (R-Fr)
WR Brad Stewart (So) Christian Philpott (R-Fr)
Antonio Messick (R-Jr)
OT Trey Klock (R-So) Eason Fromayan (R-Jr)
OG Will Bryan (So) Jake Whitley (R-So)
C Freddie Burden (R-Sr) Andrew Marshall (Jr)
OG Shamire Devine (R-Jr) Brad Morgan (R-Fr)
Parker Braun (Fr)
OT Chris Griffin (R-Jr) Andrew Marshall (Jr)

I acknowledge that this might not be 100% consistent with what you’ve seen in positional previews.

What to Expect

The 2016 version of Georgia Tech’s offense will almost undoubtedly be better than the 2015 version, barring the return of unusually-rampant injury issues. Most of the issues that plagued the Yellow Jackets last year will be solved by time, as injuries heal and younger players get more reps. Instead of being forced to play freshmen this year, Paul Johnson and his coaching staff should have the luxury of playing freshmen only when they feel it would be beneficial. A quick look at the “first string” column on the depth chart above shows only players who have previously taken snaps at the college level in this offense, rather than players who will be learning on the fly. By all means, the offense this fall should look vastly improved from the one we saw last year.

That said, while the floor should be higher, there will be plenty of room between that floor and the offense’s actual ceiling. There are several unknowns still at play, including the health of key OL Griffin and Whitley, the effectiveness of the offensive line as a whole, the development of the wide receivers, and the recovery of Justin Thomas after a very physically and mentally taxing season. The key, ultimately, will be the offensive line, and specifically their ability to improve in pass protection. Last year, Justin Thomas was constantly running for his life on passing plays as the offensive line looked confused and totally ineffective, even against simple 4-man rushes. The broken passing game was the biggest undoing of the offense, and will be the biggest factor in the success the unit has in 2016.

The Yellow Jackets’ offense in 2016 will improve over its performance in 2015. The only question now is -- how much?