Days to Kickoff: 63
Last season, interior defensive line was one of Georgia Tech’s most experienced positions. Fifth year seniors Patrick Gamble and Francis Kallon combined to make 17 starts at the defensive tackle positions and received the bulk of the playing time throughout the season. With their graduation and departure to the NFL the Yellow Jackets are left with just one defensive tackle who has made a start: junior Kyle Cerge-Henderson.
In his two seasons on the Flats, Cerge-Henderson has played in 19 games, making 10 starts. He was forced into service halfway through his freshmen season due to injuries and the mid-year departure of Jabari Hunt. Cerge-Henderson stepped into the nose tackle position and played admirably given his youth, allowing Patrick Gamble to slide over to the 3-technique tackle and make more plays on the interior of the line. Last season, Cerge-Henderson continued to play primarily at the 1-technique spot alongside Gamble. In his two seasons with the Yellow Jackets Cerge-Henderson has recorded 38 tackles, 1 sack, 1.5 TFL, and 1 blocked field goal.
Cerge-Henderson has shown himself to be a versatile player in his time at Tech. He has great speed and agility for someone of his size (currently listed at 6’-1”, 298 pounds, though weights won’t be official until the fall) and carries his weight well. Some of his most impressive plays came when he was able to get a quick first step off of the line and slip past the opposing offensive line before they knew what hit them. His speed is also an asset should a running back get past the defensive line and into the second level. Cerge-Henderson is pretty good at disengaging from blockers and getting after the ball carrier to help make a tackle.
While his speed and agility is a nice asset, Cerge-Henderson was inconsistent last year when he had to rely on brute strength to hold the line. He struggled at times against bigger lineman and with double teams. That’s problematic for a nose tackle, who is normally assigned with occupying the opposing center and a guard, freeing up the rest of the defensive line. Ideally, as Cerge-Henderson spends more time on The Flats and in the weight room he should continue to build his strength and better be able to hold his own in the trenches.
Right now I would expect Kyle Cerge-Henderson to be the starter at the 1-technique nose tackle spot when the Yellow Jackets kick off the season against Tennessee. That is the primary position he has played thus far for Georgia Tech and the coaches know what they will get out of him there. While he has struggled and been pushed around at times, his motor and conditioning are superb. He’s relentless and will, at minimum, be an experienced and capable pivot for the rest of the defensive line. If his strength has improved and he can more consistently occupy a double team, all the better for the rest of the defense.
I’m not sure how often we’ll see it outside of short yardage and goal line situations, but I think a defensive line with big Brandon Adams at the nose and Cerge-Henderson at the 3-technique could be really interesting. Putting both big guys in the middle of the line in 3rd and short situations provides obvious benefits but Cerge-Henderson has shown that he might have the burst, speed, agility, and rush moves to be effective as a pass rushing tackle on any down and distance. Regardless of which tackle position he ends up at, expect Kyle Cerge-Henderson to make a big impact on the 2017 Yellow Jacket defense.