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Position Previews: A-Backs

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Top talent returns, the search for depth begins.

NCAA Football: Virginia at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

There is good news and bad news for the Yellow Jacket A-backs, going into 2018. The good news is that 3 of the top 4 players from last season are returning and will play integral roles in the offense. The bad news is that A-back production was down last year as seen in Cade’s examination of multitude of reasons why A-back production fell last year in his preparing for the worst article .

But that is not what this article is about. This is the time for blind optimism about this fall. The Jackets only played four A-backs last season, a low number for the past few years. One interesting thing to remember is the change in the red-shirt rules this fall: players are now allowed to play in a maximum number of four games before becoming ineligible for a red-shirt, which means the freshmen will have a chance to earn some playing time. Let’s take a look at the players we have returning, as well as some guys who will have the opportunity to work themselves into the A-back rotation.

Returning Starters:

Clinton Lynch: 6’0, 190, RS-Senior. Lynch has played in 35 games since arriving on the Flats. After taking a red-shirt his freshman year, he averaged 9.5 yards a carry and 24.8 yards a catch in 2015. The 2016 season was a breakout year for Lynch, where he established himself as one of the top all-purpose players in the conference, averaging 11.2 yards per carry and 30.6 yards per catch. Unfortunately, he spent much of 2017 playing through injury with decreased production . A healthy Lynch will should be able to produce at a 2016 level and be the main weapon at A-Back.

Qua Searcy: 5’11, 174, R-Senior. Searcy has played in 27 games at Tech. He red-shirted in 2014, played sparingly in 2015, only appearing in 3 games, started 6 games in 2016, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 18.3 yards per catch. Last season, Searcy started all 11 games, averaging 6.0 yards per carry and 32.5 yards per catch. Searcy brings a lot of playing time and experience to the position, even if his production doesn’t show it.

Nate Cottrell: 5’11, 193, R-Junior. Cottrell was beginning to make a name for himself during fall camp in 2015, until an ACL tear cut short his freshman season. After rehabbing, he appeared in 11 games in 2016, primarily on special teams. He shone in 2017, leading the team in rushing yards from the A-back position and averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Cottrell was also the primary kickoff returner in 2017. Look for Cottrell to have a break out season as the first man up in the A-back rotation.

Returning Players:

Omahri Jarrett: 5’10, 174, R-Junior. Jarrett has played in 11 games in his Tech career, 10 of which came in 2017. He was the number two kick returner and 8 returns for 144 yards. He will have to work hard to show the coaches that he belongs in the rotations, as more than a special team’s player.

Xavier Gantt: 5’8, 167, R-Sophomore. Gantt has struggled with injuries since coming to Tech from Buford. If he can stay healthy, he will have the same chance as Jarrett to convince the coaches that he has a place in the A-back rotation.

Freshmen:

Check out Kieffer’s great write-up of the incoming freshman running backs.

Tijai Whatley: 6’2, 195. Tijai comes to Tech from the Darlington School in Rome. His size makes him the largest A-back on the roster and puts him in the Orwin Smith mold of larger A-backs that the Jackets have been trying to being in the past few seasons. He was rated as a 3 star ATH.

Dontae Smith: 5’11, 185. Dontae comes to Tech from Spring Hill HS in Columbia, TN. He was rated a 3 star and the number 21 all-purpose back in the country and the number 24 rated prospect in Tennessee. Tech has had a lot of success in recruiting Tennessee in the past few cycles and Smith will continue that trend. More of a traditional a-back, he brings good athleticism and speed to the position.

Christian Malloy: 5’10, 200. This is the second year in a row that Tech has signed a hybrid running back, a player that can play either A-back or B-back. Malloy comes to Tech from Parkview HS in Lilburn. He was a late add to class, committing just before signing day in February. He was rated as a 3 Star. Malloy struggled with injuries his senior season and as such schools backed off. He is a much better player on film than his rating suggests. Similar to Whatley he is a bigger player than Tech usually plays at A-back.

Wildcard:

Jordan Mason: 6’1, 205, R-Freshman. Mason is another hybrid running backs, as he’s big enough to play B-back, but athletic enough to play A-back. With Jerry Howard solidifying himself as the #2 option at B-back, I expect Mason to be given ample opportunity to work his way into the rotation at A-back, providing a big body that can both tote the rock and be physical in blocking at the point of attack.

Conclusion

After underwhelming in 2017 with a lineup marred by injuries, the A-backs return enough talent and experience to right the ship back to the levels of previous years. Expect to see Lynch, Searcy, and Cottrell start out as the main components of the rotation, but don’t be surprised if someone unexpected steps up to claim another spot.