Countdown to Kickoff: 74 days
Some six months into the switch to a 3-4 defensive front under new coordinator Nate Woody, the defensive depth chart has yet to shake out. A few starting spots in the front seven seem to have been essentially locked up, but there’s plenty of room for players to work their way into the rotation.
That is especially true along the defensive line, which was one of Tech’s weakest units a year ago and struggled against both the run and the pass. Seniors Anree Saint-Amour and Desmond Branch have the inside track to start, but nothing is certain behind them, and anyone who can make an impact could easily earn playing time.
That sets up a nice opportunity for JaQuon Griffin (who goes by Quon on the official roster), a defensive lineman from Rome, Ga. and one-time LSU commit who profiles as an end in Tech’s three-man front. Griffin was not the biggest or highest-rated lineman in Tech’s 2018 class, but with regard to skillset, he was among the most polished prospects in the class. As he joins a group of linemen who are learning a new scheme and a new set of assignments, that skillset could be his ticket to seeing the field as a true freshman.
Griffin’s abilities are best illustrated through his film:
At a listed height of 6-foot-0, Griffin’s size could pose problems—it means he’ll constantly be going up against taller and longer linemen, and he won’t be able to knock down many passes at the line. He makes up for that, though, in three ways: by getting low to use his leverage whenever possible, by shooting gaps whenever the opportunity presents itself, and by using his well-rounded arsenal of moves to get around opposing linemen.
That latter bit is what really stands out. More often than not, talented high school defensive linemen are able to rely purely on power moves (read: just pushing the other guy back through sheer strength) and/or quickness to make an impact... and as a result, they end up running into a wall against more athletic college offensive linemen and have to learn more advanced techniques to succeed. Griffin, however, already shows a strong aptitude for some of these techniques. In several cases in his film, he initiates contact and then uses a spin or swim move to get around his man before he can react.
It’s also worth noting that Griffin wasn’t exactly going up against scrubs in his film. Many of those highlights come from the 2017 Georgia Class AAAAA state playoffs. Rome HS utterly outclassed its opponents in the playoffs, winning their five games by a combined score of 261-30, but they were still facing some of the best teams in the state’s second-biggest classification.
Over the long term, Griffin’s potential is a bit of a question mark. His moveset is advanced for a true freshman, and that’s not something that will go away, but his height, and thus his limited length, could give him trouble as he takes on bigger offensive linemen with greater reach. It will largely be a question of whether his ability is enough to put and keep him ahead of linemen with better size on the depth chart, particularly as those linemen develop the same techniques.
Griffin, of course, is a freshman who has plenty of room to grow himself. But in the short term, he’s as prepared to play immediately as anyone in the 2018 recruiting class, and he’ll be lining up at a position of need. It won’t be a surprise at all if he finds his way into the defensive end rotation this fall.