As we move into the back half of the defense, we start with the linebackers. When talking about linebackers, one of the most important changes—at least in my opinion—is the coaching change. Prior to this year, Defensive Coordinator Andrew Thacker was leading the linebackers. After the coaching shuffle, Thacker is serving solely as the DC, and former assistant coach Jason Semore is back on the Flats to coach the linebackers after an impressive, albeit short, stint as Valdosta State’s defensive coordinator.
Semore will be working without a well-known name to Tech fans over the last couple years, as Quez Jackson graduated. Jackson was a stalwart at linebacker for the Yellow Jackets, serving as a starter for about two and a half years. He also led the way for the Yellow Jackets in tackles last year with 102 while adding 7.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, and a forced fumble.
The only other departure at linebacker for Georgia Tech is Khaya Wright, who elected to transfer this offseason. Wright played sparingly in his two years at Tech, but did not record any stats.
After spending the bulk of his career at Maryland, Eley graduated and transferred down to the Flats before last season. Serving as the primary starter at linebacker opposite Quez Jackson, Eley impressed, finishing second on the team in tackles with 88. He also added in 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks.
Having become a well-known name to the Tech faithful, Charlie Thomas is poised to truly shine this year. After having been shuffled around the defense, it seems like Thomas is at linebacker to stay, and he is in line to be one of the starters at the position. He led the Yellow Jackets in tackles for loss (10.0) and sacks (3.0) last year. Getting a boost in playing time could cause those numbers to improve.
As a true freshman last year, there were several among the staff who though Tatum had the potential to be a starter by the end of the season. While that did not happen, Tatum did get a fair amount of playing time throughout, collecting 12 tackles across six games.
Joining these three in returning are Tyson Meiguez, Khatavian Franks, Demetrius Knight (listed as an athlete, but has experience at linebacker), and Taylor McCawley. Of this group, I think Franks and Knight are the two to watch for in terms of receiving playing time.
The lone newbie at linebacker is the true freshman Kyle Efford out of Dacula, GA. In high school, Efford mostly served as an edge rusher, but he is listed at linebacker on the official roster. Let’s take a look at the film below.
Efford is a strong rusher, able to stand up to blockers of different size (OL, fullbacks, tight ends, etc.) and seems to be a sure tackler. While he isn’t the faster player on the block, he shows good quickness in tight spaces, which will help with the pass rush and containing running plays inside.
Who’s Above the Line?
I feel like I have already indicated who I think will be ATL, but let’s do it again! The obvious picks are Eley, Thomas, and Tatum, as they all started or had a good bit of playing time last season. In their base sets, Tech typically runs two linebackers out, so they don’t need a ton of linebackers ATL. They could probably get away with four or five, so I would be comfortable saying that Franks and Meiguez could easily be listed ATL this season.