Take a trip with me back to the 2007 Georgia Tech defense. It wasn't a terrific year in terms of final record, but what was good was the defensive line. The defense as a whole accounted for 47 sacks 111 tackles for loss. As a comparison, Tech only had 20 total sacks and 61 tackles for loss this year.
Now the purpose of this article is to look at the defensive line, so let's do that.
2007 Defensive Line
There were six defensive linemen who recorded sacks for Georgia Tech in the 2007 season. The unit as a whole accounted for 29 sacks and 60.5 tackles for loss.
Leading the way for the Jackets D-line was defensive tackle Vance Walker. Walker started all 13 games and was Tech's best lineman, finishing the season with 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
There were two more linemen who finished with double digit tackles for loss: defensive end Darrell Robertson, who finished the season with 6.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss, and defensive tackle Darryl Richard, who finished the season with 4.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss.
Next up is my personal favorite from that year, defensive end Adamm Oliver. He started 12 games that season and finished with a modest eight tackles for loss and four sacks.
Defensive ends Michael Johnson and Derrick Morgan, along with defensive tackle Elris Anyaibe were the top back-ups for the Tech defensive line. Johnson finished the season with six tackles for loss and four sacks. Morgan finished with no sacks, but did have 1.5 tackles for loss. Anyaibe finished the season with a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss.
This was an absolutely destructive defensive line. I didn't know this going in, but this defensive line had more sacks than Tech's entire defense this year and nearly matched the total tackles for loss. So how will Tech be able to replicate, and even surpass this 2007 defensive line? Depth.
2015 Defensive Line
What I really like about Tech's 07 line is that they proved you don't really need a superstar to have a good pass rush, because let's face it. They didn't have a superstar. Not yet, at least. Superstars certainly don't hurt, but they are far from necessary. We just need everybody to step up.
Now I'm going to break this up and look at our defensive ends and then the tackles to find out how we can surpass the 07 line.
So, looking at the post-spring depth chart, Tech has KeShun Freeman and Roderick Rook-Chungong lined up at end with Antonio Simmons and Kenderius Whitehead backing them up. Those four will certainly play. Adding to that, I'm going to say that Anree Saint-Amour and Pat Gamble will also get considerable playing time there.
We got our first taste of Freeman last season. He was a freshman All-American and led Tech in sacks last season with 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. As he is still growing into his body and still maturing in Ted Roof's defense, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Freeman will improve on his numbers. Out of all the players I listed at end, I think Freeman has the best shot to become a "superstar" this season; then again, I don't think we'll need him to be.
So we know that Freeman all but has one spot locked up. The other one, though, is still very up in the air in my mind. If Jabari Hunt-Days officially regains his eligibility, I think it's pretty safe to say that Pat Gamble will end up with the starting job there -- at least to begin the season.
Gamble did an excellent job setting the edge from the defensive end spot last season after being moved there from defensive tackle, even if his numbers don't show it. Gamble is by no means a pass rusher and I don't believe Ted Roof will be using him very much in those situations. But you have to remember that I also listed three other players who are better known for their pass rushing abilities.
Simmons, Whitehead and Saint-Amour are all pretty well-known, but not very tested. Simmons got a little bit of playing time last season and managed to produce 0.5 tackles for loss while getting fairly consistent pressure on the quarterback. He is still the guy that sacked high school quarterbacks 29 times his senior year. The biggest thing he needs to work on is his size. In the post-spring depth chart, Simmons was still listed at 228 pounds. I don't care how good you are, to play at this level, he will need to bulk up some. He will still produce, but if we could get him up to around 240-250 without losing a whole lot of his speed, he could be one of the best pass rushers in the country.
Whitehead is in the same boat with Simmons. He's a lightweight. He was listed at 209 pounds in the depth chart. That weight makes me question how much he'll actually play at defensive end, though I can see Ted Roof getting creative with him, using him from linebacker spots, or just from a two-point stance to maximize his abilities.
Saint-Amour is the real wildcard here. I feel he can be a good player, but he's got a few players in front of him at strongside defensive end -- which is where I see him playing -- with Gamble and Rook-Chungong ahead of him. Come the beginning of fall practices, Saint-Amour will really have to prove himself to Ted Roof and Mike Pelton.
At defensive tackle, I'm only going to be looking at three main guys that I think will be receiving the majority of the playing time: Adam Gotsis, Jabari Hunt-Days and Francis Kallon.
We know that we are going to get production from Adam Gotsis. Last year, his production decreased, though, and he finished the season with 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. The good thing about not having a "superstar" on the defensive line is that it means that the opposing offensive line has to be equally concerned about everybody on that defensive line. With the talent and experience we have on the defensive line this year, I see no reason to think that Gotsis can't match Vance Walker's production from 2007. He certainly has the talent, and there are also threats all around him.
Likely starting next to him -- assuming he fully regains eligibility -- will be Jabari Hunt-Days. He is another wildcard, because the last time he played, it was at middle linebacker and he was about 60 pounds lighter. From watching the spring game, it certainly looks like he hasn't lost a ton of speed while playing in the 290-300 pound range. If what Shaq Mason said about him is true, then we might actually have a "superstar" on our hands.
And then there is Francis Kallon. Kallon is a player that has intrigued many Tech fans since he first committed to play for Tech. The talent has always been there. The light just hasn't been on. He will likely be the first guy off the bench at defensive tackle this season, so I think that with the in-game experience, Kallon will be able to step up and be a viable substitution.
This prediction will definitely require some luck since it banks on a lot of questions -- Will Hunt-Days regain eligibility? Will the light come on for Kallon? Will the unproven players step up? -- but one thing is certain. The talent is there for this defensive line to be better than in 2007. They just have to prove it.
What are your thoughts Tech fans? Is this line talented enough to be better than the 2007 line?