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100 Days to Kickoff: The Case for Desmond Branch at Defensive Tackle

His Georgia Tech career may have started late but his potential impact in 2017 is as big as anyone’s.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Once a New Mexico Lobo, defensive tackle Desmond Branch announced his transfer from community college to Georgia Tech back in the offseason of 2015. His arrival came at an opportune time for Paul Johnson and the Tech coaching staff, which saw a depleted and ineffective defensive line contribute to the atrocities of the 2015 season. He helped to shore up those issues as a reserve in 2016, but his best seasons are likely still ahead of him.

Impact during the 2016 season

The brother of current New England Patriots lineman Alan Branch, Desmond played relatively sparingly last season. He saw action in 9 games, tallying 5 total tackles with 2 additional quarterback hurries and a pass deflection which came in Tech’s Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate victory. Those are not world-beating numbers, but it’s certainly a nice stat sheet to build on. Branch is an imposing figure at 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, a nice height/weight combination that allows for a good balance of strength and explosiveness. A nice example of that can be seen in his pass deflection:

Georgia’s offensive line was hardly a strong point last season, but make no mistake about it: Isaiah Wynn is a fine player, one who will start at tackle in 2017 for UGA, and it takes quite an athlete to make all 300 pounds of him look that silly with a bull rush. The fact that Branch had the strength to knock him almost all the way into Jacob Eason plus the awareness to look up and get a hand in the way of the pass bodes incredibly well for his shot at winning more snaps in 2017.

Below you’ll see the more finesse-oriented part of his game in a nice play against Vanderbilt. It’s worth noting that the starters were not in the game at this point, but Branch is still able to use a quick sidestep to beat the right guard in what can only be described as #SECSpeed.

Don’t quote me on it, but I believe that’s the play for which Branch was credited with a QB hurry. It didn’t end with a sack, but the center had to step over and intervene just to keep Branch on the ground and off of his quarterback — a good outcome for any play. You can see the quarterback’s head tilted in Branch’s general direction just before firing an incompletion downfield.

What to expect in 2017

With the departure of Patrick Gamble and Francis Kallon, there are plenty of holes to be filled along Tech’s defensive line. Not only is Desmond Branch among the most experienced of defensive line coach Mike Pelton’s options, but he also brings one of the best passrushing tools of the group to hopefully complement the run-stuffing abilities of big Brandon Adams at nose tackle and Kyle Cerge-Henderson on the other side.

Whether or not he will be a runaway starter remains to be seen, but I fully expect an uptick in playing time this season. Perhaps he’ll share duties with someone like Brentavious Glanton considering that Kyle Cerge-Henderson played more than any returning lineman last season and figures to have an upper hand at a starting job. At the same time, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Branch win the starting assignment -- if not from week one then perhaps a bit later on. The strength of Georgia Tech’s 2017 defense figures to be in the secondary, but a strong performance from the defensive line would go a long way to showcase the talents of A.J. Gray, Step Durham, and others. Hopefully Desmond Branch can be a big part of that.

The 2017 season will be Desmond’s penultimate opportunity to prove whether he’s more Alan Branch or olive branch as a football player. It’s much too early to say for sure, but the safe money very well could be on the former.