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Georgia Tech Football: Position Previews - Offensive Line

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Georgia Tech has a lot of options but still a lot of question marks on the offensive line

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Boston College Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The conventional wisdom says that this will be the year that Georgia Tech’s offensive line takes the proverbial step forward. I’d love to see it, but I’m not convinced. The talent infusion that Georgia Tech’s roster has experienced at several positions since the arrival of Coach Collins has largely not happened along the offensive line.

Last year, Pro Football Focus graded Georgia Tech’s offensive line as the second worst Power 5 unit in the country, and this year they project the line to be 14th out of 14 in the ACC. The football data nerds in Cincinnati share my skepticism.

In our look at the offense during January’s advanced stats season review, we highlighted Eric Eager’s theory that offensive line is an “And” position, where one of the most important factors is having no weak links along the front. The Georgia Tech staff, particularly OL coach Brent Key, continues to work towards that goal. I’m just not sure we have arrived.

Who’s gone?

Jack Defoor

After transferring into the program from Ole Miss, Defoor started most of the last two seasons, appearing in 21 games primarily at left guard. He was a beloved teammate but an inconsistent presence on the line. Before spring practice, he chose to move on from the team and pursue other opportunities, and we wish him well.

Zach Quinney

The three year starter at left tackle also decided to leave eligibility on the table when he opted to pursue a business career this spring. He battled injuries and saw promise with an opportunity with Norfolk Southern that he couldn’t turn down. He takes experience with him, but his presumed replacement brings significant experience and an expected talent upgrade.

Charlie Clark

The third offensive lineman from the CPJ era who chose to forego remaining eligibility was Charlie Clark. He appeared in 8 games over three years, starting in 1. He graduated this spring and likewise chose to pursue business opportunities instead of sticking with football.

Who’s back?

Jordan Williams - 6-6, 330 lbs., Freshman

The true freshman from Gainesville HS started every game in 2020. He flashed potential but also made his share of freshman mistakes. He’ll be challenged for snaps by Kenneth Kirby, and if he holds Kirby off, it bodes well for the development he’s been able to make from year one to year two.

ATL? Yes

Mikey Minihan - 6-3, 307 lbs., RS Junior

The veteran Minihan has appeared in 20 games over the past three seasons, starting in 16 of them at left guard, center, and right guard. He left the spring as the presumed starter at center for the coming season. He’ll need to keep improving to hold off younger competitors.

ATL? Yes

Ryan Johnson - 6-6, 325 lbs., RS Senior

The Tennessee transfer won the starting right guard job last season and then elected to use his COVID year of eligibility to run it back one more time. Clearly, Johnson has earned high regard from his coaches and teammates. He made a significant jump from the first half of the season to the second, and it would go a long way for this team if he can make one more jump this fall.

ATL? Yes

Kenny Cooper - 6-3, 325 lbs., RS Senior

Kenny Cooper was the starter in Georgia Tech’s stunning win in Blacksburg in 2016. He returns for his sixth and final season after suffering through two consecutive injury plagued seasons. He will get a shot to compete at Center and Left Guard, but the physical toll of the past two years seems to have really cost him his top end ability. It’s good to have him back for one more ride, and I hope he will have a moment that can rival his 2016 debut this season.

ATL? No

William Lay III - 6-2, 305 lbs., RS Junior

After taking over as the starter at center during the 2019 season, Lay saw spot action behind Mikey Minihan in 2020. If injuries pile up once again along the offensive line, he’ll be a known quantity who can step in, but he’s unlikely to compete for starting reps this year.

ATL? Yes

Austin Smith - 6-3, 310 lbs., RS Sophomore

Smith appeared in 5 games as a redshirt freshman in 2019 and was ATL throughout 2020. During the spring, he got starting reps at both left guard and center, and he seems to have cemented his position above the line, even though he is unlikely to end up starting this fall.

ATL? Yes

Michael Maye - 6-3, 320 lbs., RS Sophomore

Maye appeared consistently as a reserve in 2019 and was ATL throughout 2020 but did not receive many meaningful snaps. We’re yet to see him take the steps of development that would indicate anything much different this fall.

ATL? No

Paula Vaipulu - 6-3, 305 lbs., Freshman

Vaipulu is a mauler who continues to refine his technique to be able to engage with ACC quality defensive lineman. From all accounts, he impressed greatly on the developmental team in 2020, and he got some starting reps at LG during 2021 spring practice. He’s sure to get a shot this fall and has a high upside if Coach Key is able to continue bringing him along.

ATL? Yes

Cade Kootsouradis - 6-4, 295 lbs., Freshman

Kootsouradis joined the rest of the 2020 class on campus late in the summer of 2020, just a few weeks before GT kicked off against FSU. He spent the season on the developmental squad and is likely to do the same this year, with the hopes of being a contributor later in his time on the Flats.

ATL? No

Ryan Spiers - 6-3, 298 lbs., Freshman

Like Koots, Spiers spent the year on the developmental squad and is almost certain to do the same in 2021. The Biloxi, MS native will continue to put on good weight and fine tune his technique with the aim of contributing more in 2022 and beyond.

ATL? No

Michael Rankins - 6-5, 295 lbs., Freshman

Another of the six offensive line commitments in the 2020 class, Rankins headed north to Atlanta from Ruskin, FL and spent the year developing his game. He’s got very promising physical tools and could push for LT reps in future years.

ATL? No

Wing Green - 6-7, 305 lbs.,

Green was the most raw of the 2020 offensive line additions, and he will continue working on his development this year. The Lee County product will see his HS teammate Jaron Willis join him on campus for the 2022 campaign, when Green will hope to begin pushing for playing time.

ATL? No

Who’s new?

Devin Cochran - 6-7, 320 lbs., RS Senior

Once thought to be an exciting addition to the 2020 GT roster, Devin Cochran committed to Tech as a grad transfer back on January 26th, 2020, but he will make his debut on the Flats this coming fall. Having started 32 games at Vanderbilt at both tackle positions, Cochran brings experience and physicality to Georgia Tech that are badly needed. Cochran has played and stood up to the best of the best. He’s almost assured to start this fall at left tackle for Georgia Tech, and his presence will go a long way in shoring up one of the weak links from 2020.

ATL? Yes

Nick Pendley - 6-4, 310 lbs., RS Freshman

Coming out of Creekview High School in Canton, GA, Pendley was recruited by Coach Collins and company right after they came on board at GT in the fall of 2018, but he was already committed to Mississippi State and chose to stick with them. He redshirted in 2019, and over the course of two seasons in Starkville, he saw playing time in 6 games. With the free year of eligibility in 2020, Pendley could play up to four years at GT. He was largely manning the LG position in the spring before an injury cut his spring practice short.

ATL? Yes

Jakiah Leftwich - 6-6, 310 lbs., Freshman

Leftiwch committed to GT over reported P5 offers from places like Arizona State, FSU, Indiana, Iowa State, Minnesota, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Tennessee. He’s got the prototypical tackle size and frame. His senior film shows how effectively he was able to use his physical dominance in opening holes in the run game and defending the quarterback’s blindside at Westlake. Especially with Devin Cochran arriving this fall, Leftwich has the perfect opportunity to redshift this year, work on his agility and technique, and make his case in 2022 to be the left tackle of the future for GT.

ATL? No

Kenneth Kirby - 6-5, 280 lbs., RS Senior

Kenneth Kirby comes to GT as a late grad transfer from Norfolk State. Kirby’s quick feet jump off of the tape, a trait that is sure to help Kirby make an impact in pass blocking and zone run blocking situations. Brent Key will continue to work with him on refining his technique and matching the physicality of ACC defensive linemen, but this seems like a pickup designed to help raise the floor for GT’s offensive line. Most likely, he will challenge Jordan Williams for the RT spot, and if Williams is able to hold him off, that is only good news for his development.

ATL? Yes

Weston Franklin - 6-4, 310 lbs., Freshman

His pledge to Georgia Tech was immediately notable because of the strong list of reported offers he held, and he’s the highest rated offensive lineman to commit to GT during the Collins era, arriving as a three star player rated at 5.7 on rivals, 87.8 in the 247 composite, and 87 on 247 Sports. Hailing from Wayne County High School in Jesup, GA, Franklin already has game-ready size. As an early enrollee, he got the chance to participate in offseason workouts and spring ball. He will have room to develop both mentally and physically to effectively block in the drop back passing game, and his early enrollment gave him a head start on that. I would not be surprised to see him in the guard rotation by the middle of the season.

ATL? Yes

Out of the 17 offensive lineman, who is projected to be ATL this fall? Our guess:

Jordan Williams

Mikey Minihan

Ryan Johnson

Austin Smith

Paula Vaipulu

Devin Cochran

Nick Pendley

Kenneth Kirby

Weston Franklin

William Lay

Here’s to hoping that this crew beats the expectations of myself and the Cincinnati football nerd department.