One of the more heavily-debated topics when it comes to football is what truly makes a run-based offense go. Is it the running back, who's actually carrying the ball and racking up the yards? Or is it the big men on the offensive line, who carve out the space in the defense for the backs to run through?
Georgia Tech's 2015 season might provide a great basis for taking sides in that argument, one way or the other.
While the Yellow Jackets are replacing their top three B-Backs (walk-on Matt Connors included), five of their top six A-Backs, and their top two wide receivers, the offensive line that drove last year's rushing attack brings back almost everyone. The loss of Shaquille Mason to graduation (and the NFL) will no doubt be a big one, but Georgia Tech fans can take comfort in knowing that the entire rest of the offensive line involved in last year's vaunted rushing attack will be back for 2015.
The main loss here is that of Shaquille Mason, the starting right guard for 39 of Georgia Tech's last 41 games, dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season. Mason was a highly-regarded lineman who got some pretty serious national recognition in 2014, before he was drafted by the New England Patriots in the 4th round of this year's NFL Draft. Mason was consistently the "go-to" offensive lineman on the Flats, if such a thing could be said about an offensive lineman. In short-yardage situations, he was regularly the guy that quarterbacks and B-Backs were getting behind as a devastating run blocker who could create a couple of yards of space regularly. His loss is not one to be taken lightly (on- or off-the-field), as he'll certainly be missed.
Prior to spring practice, Thomas O'Reilly was removed from the team prior to his fifth and final year of eligibility. O'Reilly transferred in from Auburn prior to the 2012 season and played as a backup in 2013 and 2014. In general, his contributions were relatively limited, and he won't be a major loss for the unit.
In addition, Nick Brigham and Michael Preddy both left the football team in the aftermath of spring practice. Brigham's decision was actually to end his playing career after a history with concussions, electing instead to focus on his studies and his degree. Preddy was buried on the depth chart at offensive tackle and likely wasn't going to see much playing time for a couple of years, and actually may have quit football altogether as well. He's headed back home to South Carolina, where he'll enroll at the College of Charleston. Brigham's loss would be the more significant of the two in terms of on-field production, but neither appeared to be much more than a career backup.
One other player that should be mentioned in this section is offensive tackle Chris Griffin, who tore his ACL playing pickup basketball in January after fighting through injuries last season. Griffin entered the 2014 season as the starting right tackle on offense before losing the job to Errin Joe, and figured to be the first tackle off the bench in this year's lineup. He'll probably miss the whole season, and return for 2016.
The Yellow Jackets added two offensive linemen in the 2015 recruiting class in Will Bryan and Brad Morgan.
Bryan was the first commitment in the class, committing prior to his junior season in August of 2013, and sported an impressive offer sheet by the time he officially signed with Georgia Tech. He enrolled early in January and will compete for playing time immediately, likely as an offensive tackle.
Brad Morgan committed late in July of 2014, alongside his twin brother Scott (who's on the defensive line). He sported a number of FBS offers, although Minnesota was the only other Power-5 school to offer him. Brad projects as an offensive guard, where there's a good chance he redshirts this fall behind Trey Braun, Shamire Devine, Gary Brown, and Jake Whitley.
Projected Depth Chart
|Position||First String||Second String|
|LT||Bryan Chamberlain (R-Sr)||Trey Klock (R-Fr)|
|LG||Trey Braun (R-Sr)||
Eason Fromayan (R-So)
Jake Whitley (R-Fr)
|C||Freddie Burden (R-Jr)||Andrew Marshall (So)|
|RG||Shamire Devine (R-So)||Gary Brown (R-Fr)|
|RT||Errin Joe (R-Sr)||
Jake Stickler (R-Fr)
Will Bryan (Fr)
There's a lot to like here, especially with 3 fifth-year seniors starting and the depth offered behind them. The unit sets up very nicely for 2015 and beyond.
What Should Be Expected?
This unit sets up to be very, very good again. They're not only a talented and experienced group of starters, but also very deep as a unit with a bright future. At every position there's a good starter and a strong backup, and nowhere in the group is there a clear "single point of failure" potential where an injury and replacement would completely derail things.
This should, by all means, be a very strong group after minimal turnover and the results of last season. Hence, combined with the turnover amongst the A-Backs and B-Backs, it'll provide a great case study on whether the offensive line or running backs are more crucial to the success of the running game.
Personally, I expect another strong output (although perhaps not as strong as that 2014 team's), and I like how the group sets up moving forward, even with three senior starters departing after the 2015 season. There's a lot of talent and depth here, and the Georgia Tech rushing attack is in good hands moving forward.
What are your expectations for this year's offensive line? If they're as good as last year, will the rushing attack be just as good?