Last season, Georgia Tech’s secondary was its most experienced unit, which at times seemed like a pretty good thing. Playmakers like A.J. Gray and Step Durham had solid seasons, and while the Austin twins weren’t always great, they were still solid most of the time. And then there’s Corey “Almost had that pick” Griffin. Say what you want about him, he was also able to make some plays.
Fast-forward to this season. Every single one of those players is gone. Whether by graduation or injury, Tech will be starting new players at every single spot in the secondary.
This opens up a lot of opportunities for younger players, specifically the 6-foot-3 Niceville, Fl.-native, Juanyeh Thomas.
In high school, Thomas was a playmaker on defense and special teams, getting a pick-six in five consecutive games in high school as a sophomore and taking back two punts for touchdowns as a senior.
With the opportunity now opened up, Thomas is in prime position to earn playing time on defense. Thomas lists his position at safety on his Twitter account (he’s listed as a DB on GT’s website), and there’s a whole lot more uncertainty there.
Christian Campbell is the front-runner to get the spot vacated by Gray, but that other safety spot is wide open, and it’s a spot that Thomas could fit in quite nicely.
Watching his film, a couple things are evident. First and foremost, Thomas is a lot of fun to watch when he’s got the ball in his hands. You see that a lot in these clips as it’s mostly filled with punt returns or receiver highlights. He is able to quickly find holes in the defense to cut through, and once he cuts through, he’s gone.
In the few defensive highlights in this film, Thomas also does a good job of showing off good fundamental tackling. He’s able to square up the ball handler and keep him down. That, along with his closing speed, makes him really dangerous.
While it remains to be seen whether Thomas will see the field much on defense this year, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that he will make plenty of appearances on special teams. The spot he would fit best, I think, is as the punt returner.
The last couple years, Brad Stewart has served as the team’s punt returner, and while he’s done a good job of catching the ball — the main thing Paul Johnson wants in a return man — he hasn’t done much else, averaging just 8.5 yards per return in his career and just 6.6 yards per return last year.
Not having that threat in a return man means that the offense won’t get as good a starting position. Putting Thomas back there could give Tech its first legitimate return threat since Jamal Golden.
Regardless of if he plays this season, Thomas will be on the field soon enough, and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun to watch.
Days to Kickoff: 75