The special teams unit sometimes gets looked down upon as a place where younger, raw players can earn some playing time, but it can really change the flow of the game. I like to think of the kicking/punting unit as the “pre-defense” and the return unit as the “pre-offense.” Georgia Tech fared decently in kickoff returns last year at 59th with a 21 yard average. Punt returns were not good coming in at 110th in the nation with a 4.75 yard average. Fortunately, Georgia Tech returns everyone but Nathan Cottrell who made a return last year along with a deep pool of talented freshmen who could get some early playing time.
Seven players touched the ball on kickoffs last year six will be back this year. The main contributors though were Tobias Oliver, Juanyeh Thomas, and Dontae Smith. Tobias led the team with the most returns and yards (14 and 297) and will probably see his fair share this year as he is too athletic to leave on the sideline. Juanyeh performed well in 2018 with two returns for touchdowns but didn’t get many returns until the last three games this year. He will be more integral in the secondary this year so may see limited time on special teams with a deep group of young players in the secondary and at running back. Dontae Smith is one of those running backs and actually led with the highest average per return at 23 last year. Perhaps another name to look for is incoming freshman Jahmyr Gibbs who will fight a deep backfield for playing time but could use his explosiveness to establish good field position for the offense.
Georgia Tech only attempted to return 16 punts last year and did little to improve the field position from them. Ahmarean Brown returned 10 of those punts but only managed 34 yards for the effort. Brown has exceptional speed but was brought down a few times before he could get upfield. The rest of the attempts came from Josh Blancato and Jerry Howard. A new face who could improve punt returns is WR Nate McCollum. His senior highlights showed an athlete who can cut and weave throw traffic. His skillset along with some improved blocking by the return team would be a big lift for an offense in its second year of transition.