Georgia Tech football is facing an interesting challenge this year for filling their linebacker spots. I have already done articles on Quez Jackson and Ayinde Eley discussing how talented they are and where they are both stepping in to be the leaders on defense. These guys are definitely the 2 most talented linebackers on the team and barring any injuries will likely be the starters for the entire season. There is a possibility that Charlie Thomas also takes a starting spot, although depth chart projections, at the moment, have him as a backup.
As for everyone else… well there’s your problem. Georgia Tech’s remaining linebacker staff consists of freshmen or redshirt players who have limited to no college experience. Now, this does not mean that these guys are lacking talent, but it does make my job of projecting who will play and who will put up stats much more difficult. That being said, Ben Tankersly has chained me to the radiator until I finish this article, so I will do my best. Just take everything I say in this article with a grain of salt given that we are going off mostly high school stats.
David Curry graduated last year. David was the team leader at linebacker and had the most tackles on the team last year. David is the biggest loss at linebacker given his experience as both a player and a field marshal. Quez Jackson will be looking to step up and fill the big shoes that David left behind.
Demetrius Knight spent the last 2 seasons at linebacker, but this year he will be switching back to the QB position as a backup. Interesting in the sense that Demetrius is not technically lost, and could theoretically fill in at linebacker in the future. For all intents and purposes though Demetrius will be focusing on the offensive side of the ball.
Chico Bennett also spent the past two years at Georgia Tech, but has transferred to UVA for the 2021 season.
Jerry Howard also graduated. Jerry played both linebacker and running back as backups in both positions. I’m not really sure how to categorize his open spot since Jerry fit into so many different backup roles as needed.
The loss of these 4 players should provide 1 starter spot, and at least 2 backup spots that need to be filled for the 2021 season.
The Three We Know
Quez Jackson #4 – 6’1” 225 lbs
Ayinde Eley #10 – 6’3” 240 lbs
Charlie Thomas #25 – 6’2” 210 lbs
I’m frustrated to repeat this, seeing how I wrote and linked the earlier articles; if you gain nothing else from this article you should know that Quez Jackson and Ayinde Eley are both very talented linebackers. Quez had the second most tackles on the Georgia Tech defense last year with 80 tackles, and he is likely to be the leader on defense. Ayinde will have to live up to the hype as a transfer but has proven himself in the past, in his last full season he put up 79 tackles at Maryland.
The default defense that Georgia Tech runs is a 4-2-5 (2 linebackers). With Quez and Ayinde having the most experience it is fair to expect them to be the two linebackers who will take the majority of the play time when the Georgia Tech defense is on the field. But since humans aren’t machines (although I am sure there are some Georgia Tech engineers looking into how to make humans machines) Quez and Ayinde will probably need rest and might get injured. So, who steps in for Quez and Ayinde when the time comes?
I will add, I am probably disrespecting Charlie Thomas a bit by not projecting him as a starter. In 2019 He put up some impressive stats, recording 65 total tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 9.5 tackles for a loss. Unfortunately, he did not get as much playing time in 2020 due to “undisclosed reasons”. In 2020 Charlie Thomas only recorded 18 tackles over 7 games. Assuming Charlie is healthy and available he could bounce back this year and become a starter down the stretch. Charlie is good at getting in the backfield, which I am a big fan of, but hard to say how missing a large chunk of last year will impact his development.
The Seven You Should Get to Know
Ok, so here are all the other linebackers on the roster. Let’s take a brief look at each player on the list:
Tyson Meiguez #33 - 6’2” 215 lbs: Tyson is a Freshman this year (he was also a freshman last year, COVID Rules are confusing). Tyson was a 3-star prospect, ranked as the #59 Outside Linebacker in the nation. He went to Creekside Highschool in Fairburn Georgia along with Khatavian Franks (who we will discuss later) where they both earned the label “The Twin Towers”. What impressed me when watching Tyson’s Highschool highlights was how quickly he is able to understand the offensive play calls. He always finds a way to get between the ball and the receiver when the QB wants to make a short pass. He can also quickly sniff out runs on an option play and determine where he needs to be on the field. Tyson did get 2 tackles over 2 games last year with Georgia Tech, but nothing of serious note. I think Tyson should get some play time, especially in zone coverage schemes where he could interfere with passing lanes and work to contain the QB.
Edit: I am not good at research. Tyson Meiguez tore his ACL in spring training. So he will not be playing this year. That is unfortunate but I look forward to seeing him in 2022.
Khatavian Franks #34 – 6’2” 215 lbs: Everything we just said about Tyson can also apply to Khatavian (aside from the ACL tear); 3-star prospect, who carved out a fantastic career at Creekside Highschool. Khatavian is sneaky skilled. Watching his High school highlights was unique for me because, compared to most linebackers I have watched, he feels more like a running back in many ways. Khatavian has a way of slipping past blocks and getting to the QB. When he gets to a player he hits like a truck, and when he gets a hold of the ball he moves like a serpent and is hard to pin down. He is fun to watch because of that playstyle. I expect Khatavian to get play time this year.
Khaya Wright #37 – 6’3” 225 lbs: Khaya is a 3-star prospect coming out of South Miami Highschool. He was ranked as the #68 outside linebacker in the nation and was the captain on the South Miami squad for 3 years. Khaya is big and makes good use of his size when going up for interceptions or tearing through blockers. My favorite part about watching Khaya was that he always seemed to find new ways to tackle people. Sometimes Khaya would spin them around, sometimes he just straight overpowers them. I think one of his highlights has a guy just kind of fall over when Khaya touches him (either out of fear or respect). My concern for Khaya is that now that he is at the next level, he may not be able to use his natural talents to overpower the opponents the same way he did in high school. He is still young, but with good coaching I expect him to go far… just maybe not this year. Possible redshirt for Khaya to set him up for a showing in the 2022 season, when we do not have definite starters at linebacker.
Trenilyas Tatum #40 – 6’2” 215 lbs: Trenilyas is a 4-star prospect from Riverdale Georgia, Mount Zion High School specifically. Trenilyas was tabbed as the #18 inside linebacker in the nation by Rivals. Watching Trenilyas feels like watching a dive bomber. Once the play keys appear, he shoots straight at his target and cuts through everything in his way to strike at the ball. I felt like I was watching an angry hornet when Trenilyas came at people … clearly Georgia Tech is where he belongs. When Trenilyas hits he hits hard and wraps up his prey to take them down. Trenilyas is interesting because I could also imagine him bulking up and becoming an edge rusher with the speed and strength to contain the edge. I expect him to get a few opportunities this semester in blitz packages. Depending on how well he performs he could become a regular on defense, maybe even used at different positions.
Taylor McCawley #45 – 6’0” 230 lbs: Taylor is a redshirt freshman. Taylor appeared in 7 games last year but did not present any statistics in those appearances. Since Taylor did not put up any stats in the last 7 games I had to look up tape from his time at East Coweta Highschool. The highlights I found focus on Taylor’s exceptional speed. Taylor can quickly cover ground from across the field when chasing a ball carrier, or drop into coverage if he identifies a pass play. Taylor is a tough one for me. Sometimes you can have talent but still not necessarily be a regular contributor. Unfortunately, if Taylor did not put up any stats in the 7 games he played last year, I do not expect to see much from him this year. I am sure Taylor will get some field time since his redshirt year is over, so maybe he proves me wrong.
John Ross #51 – 5’11” 240 lbs: John Ross is a very frustrating person to research because there are so many darn John Rosses in football. The Georgia Tech John is a freshman hailing from Dalton Highschool. John seems to be good at stacking up blockers. John doesn’t necessarily rip through the offensive line as much as he pushes them around to fill what would normally be the holes the Running Back could get through. John could be a flex-player depending on how he is developed; possibly moving from linebacker to an edge rusher or defensive line position. John is slightly smaller in height, but he does seem to know how to leverage his weight which would be beneficial at all those positions. I would think that John will get redshirted this year while the coaching staff attempts to determine how to best develop his talents.
Deion Fisher #53 – 6’2” 220 lbs: Deion is a Freshman from Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy in McDonough Georgia. Deion came out of Eagle’s Landing with a 4.2 GPA. This to me shows that Deion has focus on setting himself up for a future career once he graduates Georgia Tech. Watching Deion’s highlights you can tell that he does not have the strength and speed of some of the other linebacker prospects on this list. What he does have is a great eye for where to put himself to make a play. When a run play gets stacked up with multiple linemen, Deion can see where the gap will open and puts himself in place to make a play on the running back. Deion is also not someone you want to test with a short pass up the middle, as he lays some great hits on receivers who come his way. Deion probably will not get much play time this year, and will more likely be redshirted. While Deion clearly has the mind to become a great player, I feel that he needs additional coaching and training before he can become a competitor at a college level.
Georgia Tech has plenty of up-and-coming talent at the linebacker spot. This is both a good and bad thing. Good in the sense that you always want to have talented players to fill roles in the future. Bad in the sense that Georgia Tech currently runs a 4-2-5 offense. As a result, most of those talented players will not be able to regularly contribute. I definitely expect to see playtime from Quez Jackson, Ayinde Eley, Charlie Thomas, and Taylor McCawley. For the remaining freshmen I definitely want to see Trenilyas Tatum get some play time, he is scary when he bares down on opponents. Khatavian Franks should take the field this year in some capacity as a backup. Regardless we have a bright future ahead at the linebacker position, hopefully Geoff Collins can find a way to make the most of the talent he has brought in at the linebacker position this year.