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Georgia Tech Football: 2015 Pre-Spring Practice Depth Chart - Defense & Special Teams

Luckily, the Yellow Jackets won't have many defensive starters to replace from last year's unit. There do, however, remain plenty of open battles for backup positions.

Could a potentially returning Jabari Hunt-Days make some noise on the Georgia Tech defensive line?
Could a potentially returning Jabari Hunt-Days make some noise on the Georgia Tech defensive line?
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

With less than a week left until the onset of spring practice, we're taking a look at what to expect to see on defense as the spring progresses.

Who's Gone

Luckily, not many. Georgia Tech only loses three starters on defense - DT Shawn Green, LB Quayshawn Nealy, and SS Isaiah Johnson. That's nice for the unit not only in that the number is small, but also that they're spread out across different units. Unfortunately, all three were major contributors and leaders at their groups on defense, and two (Nealy & Johnson) had been starting games since their freshman years.

The bad news is that's a lot of leadership and experience to have to replace. The good news? There's plenty of guys to do just that.

Projected Pre-Spring Depth Chart

For the record, this depth chart reflects only players that are currently on-campus. Players signed in the most recent recruiting class who have not yet reported will not be reflected on this version of our depth chart.

Defensive Line
Position First String Second String
SDE Rod Rook-Chungong (R-Jr) Tyler Merriweather (So)
NT Adam Gotsis (Sr) Francis Kallon (R-Jr)
DT Patrick Gamble (R-Jr) Kyle Henderson (Fr)
WDE KeShun Freeman (So) Antonio Simmons (So)

There's an obvious question here, so let's answer it right now. Jabari Hunt-Days is being left off of this depth chart until he has been fully reinstated. When (and if) he is reinstated, Hunt-Days will immediately be in competition for the starter spot beside Adam Gotsis. From reports and quotes by departed OG Shaquille Mason, I would expect him to win the job at that point, but I would also expect to see a lot of Patrick Gamble as the clear first guy off the bench. Gamble could probably play either slot and could sub in as necessary for packages or to give someone a breather.

At the strong side defensive end spot, I expect Rod Rook-Chungong to take over the full-time starter spot, and I expect him to continue to be backed up by Tyler Merriweather. Gamble showed last year that he has the versatility to play this spot as well, although he may focus more on the interior line now. Keep an eye out for Tyler Stargel, who began the season as the starter here last year. If the coaches want to give Merriweather a redshirt this season, Stargel would likely see a lot of time as the #2 guy here.

On the weak side, returning freshman All-American KeShun Freeman will retain his starter spot, backed by classmate Antonio Simmons to start with. Remember Kenderius Whitehead here though -- he could battle Simmons hard for the #2 slot at the position and a considerable amount of playing time. (Worth noting here is that Whitehead is listed on Georgia Tech's website at 6'5", 210lbs. He's rumored to have put on weight since the beginning of last season, which would be helpful for him.)

Position First String Second String
SLB Tyler Marcordes (R-Sr) Terrell Lewis (So)
MLB Anthony Harrell (R-Sr) Tre Jackson (R-Fr)
WLB Paul Davis (Jr) Beau Hankins (R-Jr)

This one's complicated given Ted Roof's professed desire to operate his defense with 2 linebackers as easily as he can operate it with 3, so let's start with what's easy. Paul Davis returns at WILL (weak side) linebacker, where he played extensively as a true freshman and started as a sophomore. He should be backed up by Beau Hankins, who will look to solidify his position before the three freshmen arrive on campus this summer.

The other two positions become a bit more complicated. Tyler Marcordes is the likely starter at the SAM (strong side) linebacker spot after a strong performance at the end of 2014, while a fully rehabilitated Anthony Harrell should start at MIKE (middle) linebacker in a three-linebacker set. When in a two-linebacker set, expect both to play, but with Marcordes starting and Harrell the first off the bench.

Backing up Marcordes at SAM to start the spring should be Terrell Lewis, who got plenty of experience on special teams last year. The other guy who could factor in there is Marcus Allen, who proved very talented in high school but has struggled to work his way up the depth chart in his first three years on campus.

Expect Harrell to be backed up by redshirt freshman Tre Jackson at MIKE to start the spring, but keep an eye on this spot. I wouldn't say either guy's job is safe, and I don't think the talented guys being brought in will improve that.

Position First String Second String
CB D.J. White (Sr) Step Durham (So)
SS Domonique Noble (R-Sr) Corey Griffin (R-So)
FS Jamal Golden (R-Sr) Lawrence Austin (So)
Nickel Demond Smith (R-Sr) Lance Austin (So)
CB Chris Milton (R-Sr) Lynn Griffin (R-Jr)

Though experienced starter Isaiah Johnson has to be replaced at strong safety, the secondary returns its other three starters, and its full two-deep at those spots to boot. D.J. White will retain his starter job at one corner spot, and Chris Milton will certainly start the spring as the starter on the other side. Lynn Griffin will have plenty of ground to cover if he's to overtake that spot from Milton, but will see plenty of time as the first corner off the bench. Step Durham should continue to serve as the backup on the other side of the field as he's groomed to be the star over the next couple of years after White and Milton's departures.

Demond Smith will trade off time with Domonique Noble at strong safety in all likelihood, sliding down to the nickel spot when applicable. Those guys should be backed up at strong safety by Corey Griffin, although Shaun Kagawa and Jalen Johnson will both contend for playing time there. Kagawa and Lance Austin may also see some time at the nickel spot depending on formations. Jamal Golden returns as the starter at free safety, where he's likely to be backed by Lawrence Austin. John Marvin is another experienced guy who will be competing for playing time at either safety spot or the nickel spot.

Special Teams
Position First String Second String
K Harrison Butker (Jr) Roberto Hinojosa (R-Sr)
P Ryan Rodwell (R-Jr) Adam Gotsis (R-Sr)
LS Sean Tobin (R-Sr) Trevor Strobel (Jr)
Returner Jamal Golden (R-Sr) Dennis Andrews (R-Jr)

Georgia Tech returns both Harrison Butker and Ryan Rodwell as starters here, and there won't really be any drama with their starting positions this spring. (The backup listed behind Butker is a walk-on.) There is a preferred walk-on who can kick or punt who was in the 2015 recruiting class, but he won't be enrolling until this fall, and even then likely won't threaten either starter for their position. Sean Tobin should continue to be the starter at long snapper, backed up by Trevor Strobel.

At kick and punt returner, Jamal Golden should assume the full-time role again with DeAndre Smelter graduated. He's likely to be backed up by Dennis Andrews to start out after Andrews supported on kick returns at times in the past, but that role will be very open to competition as the spring and summer wear on. That's a position to keep an eye on moving forward.

Position Battles to Watch

Defensive Tackle

As mentioned above, Jabari Hunt-Days has not been listed above, and won't be included in our depth charts until he's been confirmed to be reinstated. If and when he is reinstated, though, he'll likely be in a battle with Patrick Gamble for the starter role at defensive tackle. That could also play out in spring practice, before Hunt-Days has a chance to be fully reinstated, so keep an eye on it.

Weakside Defensive End

As with quarterback in yesterday's article, the implication here is that KeShun Freeman will keep his starter role, and the main competition will be for the backup role. Antonio Simmons backed up Freeman last year as a true freshman and did an admirable job, but will have to compete now with newly-eligible Kenderius Whitehead. You'll remember that Whitehead transferred in last summer from Georgia Military College after beginning his college career at N.C. State, but was ineligible in 2014 after not completing his associate's degree prior to transferring. Whitehead was highly touted coming out of high school, and again as a transfer, and could push Simmons for the #2 spot at WDE.

Middle Linebacker (Nickel Set)

Tyler Marcordes goes into the spring leading this one over Anthony Harrell, but the competition for who starts at linebacker in the 4-2-5 besides Paul Davis could be one to watch. Harrell was highly-regarded and pushing for a shot as a starter in 2013 before his season-ending injury, but struggled to reattain that success in 2014. Keep an eye as Marcordes and Harrell go through the spring to see if there are any developments in who starts.

Kick/Punt Returner

Again, not the starting spot -- that's Jamal Golden's for as long as he wants it, as far as most are concerned. The number two spot is wide open though, and could go to any variety of players at skill positions on offense and defense. Dennis Andrews will certainly get a shot there, but so might the Austin twins, Qua Searcy, Micheal Summers, or even a walk-on. It's also hard to think that this spot will be locked down before the season starts -- a couple of true freshmen could also have something to say about it.

Which position battles will you be watching this spring? Who are you excited to see more of?