For this week's roundtable, a question was submitted via email that I thought was a great one, and one that deserves its own article. The question was this:
Is Tech feeling the affects of the losing so many in our 2013 recruiting classes, leading us to rely on a great potential but young 14 class?
-- Chad Sims
This is something I hit on in a comment a couple of weeks back, but is probably something that's worth covering by itself in a bit more depth.
A lot of concerns surround this team's lack of depth at A-Back (and B-Back, for that matter), and they've surrounded it ever since we came to the realization that Broderick Snoddy was the only returning scholarship A-Back who had any carries on last year's team. So, how did those depth issues come to be? Many want to point at irresponsible recruiting, but it's not quite that simple. To better explain, let's quickly run through the recruiting classes that got us to this point.
2011 Recruiting Class
Running Backs: Zach Laskey, Broderick Snoddy
Zach Laskey played B-Back for the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons. He was pretty darn good. He's now on the St. Louis Rams' practice squad.
Broderick Snoddy has spent time at B-Back on the Flats, but ultimately has settled in as an A-Back. Also an occasional participant on Georgia Tech's track team, he struggles to block, but is excellent with the ball in the open field. He missed the North Carolina game with a hand injury that might keep him out for an extended time.
2012 Recruiting Class
Running Backs: Marcus Allen, Dennis Andrews
Dennis Andrews was one of the best A-Backs on the team in 2014, and likely would have been the single best returning A-Back on the team in 2015. He was announced to have been kicked off the team back in June for a "violation of team rules".
Marcus Allen, meanwhile, spent minimal time at B-Back before moving to linebacker, where he was buried on the depth chart for a few years. They tried him at wide receiver in spring practice before moving him to B-Back, needing a fill-in for injured B-Backs C.J. Leggett and Quaide Weimerskirch. He's struggled to stay on the field for significant stretches so far this season.
2013 Recruiting Class
Running Backs: Travis Custis, Donovan Wilson, Ty Griffin
Travis Custis was a prized B-Back recruit who was unable to enroll for the fall of 2013 due to NCAA Clearinghouse (academic eligibility) issues, before ultimately being ruled academically ineligible for the 2014 season and electing to transfer out of Georgia Tech.
Donovan Wilson saw time in practice at both A-Back and B-Back, and elected to transfer out prior to the 2014 season after only a single season on the Flats (which he spent redshirting). (If you check the comments of the linked article, you'll see some reasonable speculation that Wilson wasn't going to play much anyways.)
Ty Griffin came to Georgia Tech as a quarterback, but would have almost assuredly ended up at A-Back. Griffin did a nice job at QB in the 2014 spring game and displayed athleticism that would have made him a nice A-Back, and then only a few weeks later elected to transfer to Oregon, where his brother Taj was headed and is now a true freshman. There was some related speculation that the move was also partially to avoid being kicked off the team.
2014 Recruiting Class
Running Backs: C.J. Leggett, Qua Searcy, Clinton Lynch, Myles Autry
Myles Autry, brother of former Yellow Jacket Anthony Autry, was set to be possibly the most gifted athlete on the team not named "Thomas". Myles was unable to enroll with the rest of his signing class during the summer due to academic shortcomings, but was due to enroll that fall and still be eligible immediately. About 6 weeks before the season, Anthony was dismissed from the team alongside defensive linemen Darius Commissiong and Travin Henry. Two days later, we learned that Myles had requested to be released from his scholarship, and was granted as much by Coach Johnson. From there, he went to the Georgia Prep Sports Academy, where he "parted from the football team for personal reasons."
C.J. Leggett was a redshirt freshman and first on the depth chart all through spring practice, before tearing his ACL shortly before the spring game. He should be back for the 2016 season.
Qua Searcy was perhaps the team's best A-Back, showing a spark in the running game along with the passing game, before suffering an injury on a broken play against Notre Dame. He reportedly suffered a broken ankle and "isn't likely to return any time soon."
Clinton Lynch is the oldest scholarship player recruited to play running back who is still on the team and healthy. He's played in 5 career games.
2015 Recruiting Class
Running Backs: Mikell Lands-Davis, Marcus Marshall, Quaide Weimerskirch, Nathan Cottrell, KirVonte Benson, Omahri Jarrett, TaQuon Marshall
Oh, where to begin...
KirVonte Benson was an A-Back recruit who tore his ACL before the end of his senior year of high school, and originally planned to delay his enrollment until January 2016 so that he could rehab his knee without burning eligibility. Shortly before the season, those plans changed, and he decided to enroll for the fall semester, after all. He's out for the season, but still counts as one of Georgia Tech's allotment of 85 scholarships.
Nathan Cottrell was a speedy A-Back recruit with kick return abilities who was playing well in fall camp and likely to be in Georgia Tech's game plans for this fall. He then suffered a "significant knee injury" in practice, and is lost for the season.
Omahri Jarrett is an A-Back who is listed at 165 pounds. He's redshirting this season, although there's a chance we'll see him given all of the relevant injuries.
TaQuon Marshall is an A-Back who has seen action in several of Georgia Tech's games so far, adding a spark on the ground as well as through the air. He left Georgia Tech's game against Duke in the first quarter with a hand injury. He was listed as "Active" on the pre-North Carolina Injury Report, but was not inserted into the game at any point and may as well have been considered "Out". The Jackets are hopeful that he can return for their game against Clemson.
Quaide Weimerskirch was recruited as a B-Back and enrolled early in January. He participated in spring practice and was set to be the second string player before suffering a foot injury that ended his spring. He was recently cleared to play and is available. He has recently been practicing as an A-Back to supplement depth issues, although he has not seen action yet in favor of retaining his redshirt status. He may be used in future games, however.
Mikell Lands-Davis was recruited as a B-Back and began fall camp that way, before moving to A-Back following Nathan Cottrell's injury. He was held out of the first four games in favor of retaining his redshirt, but then played his first collegiate game against North Carolina. He had three carries for 18 yards along with two catches for 24 yards and a touchdown.
Marcus Marshall is a B-Back who played in the Jackets' first four games, leading the team with 184 yards and two touchdowns on only 8 carries against Alcorn State. In the following three games, he had a combined 12 carries for 51 yards and a 16-yard reception before not playing against North Carolina. He's an explosive player who has some ball security issues, which are likely the main reason he hasn't played more.
So, let's review. Here's a quicker look at all of the running backs recruited since 2011:
|2011||Broderick Snoddy||Out (Hand)|
|2013||Travis Custis||Academically Ineligible|
|2014||C.J. Leggett||Out for Season (Knee)|
|2014||Qua Searcy||Out (Ankle)|
|2015||KirVonte Benson||Out for Season (Knee)|
|2015||Nathan Cottrell||Out for Season (Knee)|
|2015||TaQuon Marshall||Out (Hand)|
In that time, Georgia Tech has recruited 18 running backs (an average of 3.6 per class). Of those 18 running backs, Laskey graduated, 5 are no longer on the team (due to academics or disciplinary reasons), 6 missed the North Carolina game due to injury, and only 6 were on the roster and healthy for the game. Of those healthy players, only 3 actually played, with Jarrett and Weimerskirch keeping their redshirts for now and Marcus Marshall struggling to fit in with the offense's identity right now.
In other words...stuff happens. Georgia Tech's A-Backs are really suffering right now from a long history of disciplinary issues, academic issues, and injuries. Only 1 of every 3 running backs recruited over the last five years is still on the team and healthy, and it's showing when you watch the play on the perimeter right now.
The good news? It gets better from here, although not necessarily in 2015. The players injured and returning are likely some of the best A-Backs that will have ever played at Georgia Tech, and certainly some of the best pure athletes to play the position. There's a bright future at the position. It just might take a while to get there.