It's been an interesting turn of events this week, as Junior FS/KR/PR Jamal Golden started out saying he'd play against Virginia Tech (backed up by Coach Johnson, I believe), and then was ruled out for the game, and now has been ruled out for the season. This is a major loss for the Jackets on defense, but especially on special teams.
Golden will be replaced at Free Safety by redshirt sophomore Domonique Noble, who was a serviceable backup against UNC and VPI and is undoubtedly hungry for playing time. It should be noted that Noble is the third-string FS for Georgia Tech's defense, behind Golden and the senior Isaiah Johnson. However, you won't see much of a drop in service from Noble, who might be the greatest third-string safety in the conference.
Special Teams will be the area where Golden's absence is felt hardest. He's replaced at punt returner by Tony Zenon, who, God love him, has the heart of a lion, but also looks like a lost puppy as he waits on the ball to come down. Zenon is far from a natural punt returner a la Golden or Jemea Thomas. On the other side of returns, Golden is replaced at kick returner for the Miami game by David Sims and DeAndre Smelter, an interesting combo to say the least. Kick returning isn't an art requiring the guts and clutch instinct that punt returning demands, but there's going to be a considerable dropoff from Golden's 28 yards per return career average.
As an aside, honestly, it's a little disappointing that a senior B-Back and a guy who's on the gridiron for the first time in three years are your best options at kick returner. How is it that our crew of A-Backs (Bostic, Days, Andrews) has nobody more qualified, and how is it that guys like Micheal Summers aren't any good at this? I've got almost no football experience in my life so I won't guarantee you I have an idea what I'm talking about, but it blows my mind that Sims and Smelter are the best candidates at this point to run back kickoffs. If it makes sense to you, I'd love an explanation.
How costly will the loss of Golden be to this team? Will we see it more on defense or special teams?