Going into the 2014 season, expectations weren't particularly high for Georgia Tech's offense. They were looking to replace a lot of pieces, including the departed starting quarterback Vad Lee, three senior offensive linemen (Finch, Beno, and Jackson), and the incomparable Robert Godhigh. Here's an excerpt from last year's FTRS preview of Georgia Tech's offense:
The offense is in flux this year as it looks to replace six starters. It is yet to be seen how the replacement starters will perform relative to their predecessors...
A new quarterback is never comforting from that standpoint, but one that buys into the system more than Vad Lee did (and is better at running the option) may mean that the drop off is smaller than one would think.
The results were...pretty good. Like, most-efficient-offense-in-history good. To recap:
- Justin Thomas stayed healthy for the most part and showed himself to be an elite playmaker.
- The offensive line gelled like it's never done so before under Paul Johnson's tenure and steamrolled some highly-talented opposition.
- The senior playmakers surrounding Thomas supported and made Thomas's job easy.
Everything clicked in 2014, and that's why we'll remember the offense as a thing of legend. Moving into 2015, two of the three statements above should, hopefully, remain true. It's the third statement that might be the defining question of this group, though.
As with last year, Georgia Tech is looking to replace 6 starters on offense. What's different this year is the distribution of where those starters are being replaced. Instead of needing to replace a few offensive lineman, a quarterback, a single A-Back, and a single B-Back, they're replacing both starting wide receivers, almost the entire three-deep of A-Backs, and the entirety of the three-deep at B-Back, not to mention an All-American offensive lineman.
Put that way and it sounds pretty daunting, doesn't it?
Yes, on the outside, Georgia Tech will be replacing DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, both of whom should be playing on Sundays at some point this fall. Smelter was drafted in the fourth round of this year's NFL Draft by the 49ers, and Waller was taken in the sixth round by the Ravens. You can see below just how big of a role they played in the passing game below:
|Smelter & Waller
|Entire Rest of Team
|All Players Returning in 2015
In addition to Smelter and Waller, Georgia Tech looks to replace almost its entire lineup of A-Backs after the dismissal of Dennis Andrews and the graduation of Charles Perkins, Deon Hill, B.J. Bostic, and Tony Zenon. That's five of the top six A-Backs in the rotation last year, with the only one returning being Broderick Snoddy. Luckily, Snoddy was coming on strong as a potential starter at A-Back before breaking his leg in the Clemson game, and he'll need to step up as a leader and playmaker in his senior campaign this year.
Finally, there's the B-Back situation. Georgia Tech needs to replace every B-Back who had a carry last year (Days, Laskey, Connors -- all graduated), the heir apparent to the B-Back throne (Leggett -- ACL), and the early-enrolled true freshman who could've contributed (Weimerskirch -- foot). That's a ton of actual production from 2014, not to mention a lot of theoretical production from guys who currently have any practice experience in the role.
To top it all off, there's the All-American offensive guard, Shaquille Mason, who graduated and was drafted in the fourth round by the New England Patriots. His loss is not a small one, but could be a manageable one given who's stepping in to replace him.
There were a few key additions this offseason, via recruiting and otherwise, who could see playing time early in their time on the Flats.
At wide receiver, the Jackets signed three players, including Christian Philpott, Brad Stewart, and early enrollee Harland Howell II. Each of them will have a shot to come in and contribute immediately, although it's unlikely that all three will actually see playing time. All three players have a lot of upside and could contribute to the team in different ways.
At A-Back, the Jackets signed four players, although only three will be in uniform this fall. Omahri Jarrett, Nathan Cottrell, and TaQuon Marshall all have reported to school and it's likely that at least two of them will play this fall, while KirVonte Benson will sit out and enroll in January as he rehabs an injured knee. There's a good chance that Cottrell plays immediately given his flexibility to be used on special teams, and keep an eye on TaQuon Marshall -- his name has been discussed as a quarterback option as well. The other player added at A-Back is the transfer from Athens, JJ Green. He'll sit out 2015 and be eligible for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Perhaps the biggest addition of the offseason was that of Patrick Skov, a fifth-year transfer from Stanford. He played fullback in Palo Alto, and will provide a lot of power and strength at the B-Back position. He should see a considerable amount of playing time, and may even start. He'll be joined by true freshmen Marcus Marshall and Mikell Lands-Davis, at least one of whom are likely to see playing time this year. They signed in February along with Quaide Weimerskirch, who missed the end of spring practice and likely will miss most of the season with a foot injury. Also to be noted here is Marcus Allen, who started his career at B-Back, spent the last couple of years at linebacker, and now projects as the starting B-Back in the wake of all of Georgia Tech's losses. He isn't new to the team (or even the role), but he's relatively new.
The only other true freshman with a decent chance of seeing playing time is OL Will Bryan, who could play either guard or tackle and enrolled early as well. Chances are he'll stay at tackle, where the depth is a little more limited after the loss of Chris Griffin to a torn ACL.
Projected Depth Chart
|Justin Thomas (R-Jr)
|Tim Byerly (R-Sr)
Marcus Allen (R-Jr)
Patrick Skov (R-Sr)
|Mikell Lands-Davis (Fr)
Marcus Marshall (Fr)
|Broderick Snoddy (R-Sr)
Clinton Lynch (R-Fr)
Omahri Jarrett (Fr)
|Isaiah Willis (R-Jr)
|Qua Searcy (R-Fr)
Nathan Cottrell (Fr)
|Ricky Jeune (R-So)
|Antonio Messick (R-So)
|Micheal Summers (R-Jr)
|Christian Philpott (Fr)
|Bryan Chamberlain (R-Sr)
|Trey Klock (R-Fr)
|Trey Braun (R-Sr)
Eason Fromayan (R-So)
Jake Whitley (R-Fr)
|Freddie Burden (R-Jr)
|Andrew Marshall (So)
|Shamire Devine (R-So)
|Gary Brown (R-Fr)
|Errin Joe (R-Sr)
|Jake Stickler (R-Fr)
Will Bryan (Fr)
As I said before, there's a strong core here between the quarterback and offensive line. The questions are going to arise with the skill position slots. The biggest potential for a "by committee" approach is probably the B-Backs group. If neither Allen nor Skov can really lock down that role and force Coach Johnson to keep them in the game, it might be more of a rotation than we've gotten used to in recent years. In addition, the A-Backs typically function as a rotating group anyways, but expect that group the be pretty fluid until the coaches find something that really works.
Perhaps the most important player on the entire depth chart that currently is an 'unknown' for most fans is WR Ricky Jeune. He's got the physical gifts needed to be the next go-to, big-play wide receiver in this offense, which is surprisingly critical to its success. The question remains how he'll fare when put into that role, as well as how well he and Justin Thomas can get in sync.
What Should Be Expected?
You know what's interesting? This fall, Georgia Tech projects to have 37 players on scholarship on offense (including walk-on Isaiah Willis, who should have a scholarship by kickoff of the Alcorn State game). Of those, only 17 have any experience in a collegiate game -- that number drops to 16 if you remove J.J. Green, who will sit out. Over half of the scholarship players on offense will be either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. (Compare that to the defense, where 26 have experience and 15 are redshirt freshmen or true freshmen.)
To me, that means it's really hard to say for sure what should be expected. At the same time, there's a lot of seniority in the starting lineup that should provide consistency and leadership, hopefully as mentors for some of the younger players behind them.
Don't expect Georgia Tech's offense to be as good as it was last year, in any facet. They've got less experience with running the ball, blocking on the outside, and catching the ball. That's not to say we can't expect them to still be good, though. With an elite playmaker at the helms and a mostly-proven offensive line to work behind, Paul Johnson has shown that he can make the rest of the pieces work. There are likely to be some growing pains early on that you should be mentally prepared for, but this unit sets up to be a solid one once again.
Expect them to surprise you, for better and for worse, but expect them to be another solid Paul Johnson offense.
Are you feeling optimistic about the offense headed into the season? Will it be business as usual? Should there be any major concerns that need to be addressed before you feel better about things?