Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
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Coach and Program | Quarterbacks | Running backs | Wide receivers/tight ends | Offensive Line | Kickers | Defensive Line | Linebackers | Defensive backs | Punters | Special teams | Recruiting Class | Blue Ribbon analysis
COACH AND PROGRAM
For a team that won eight games last year, there sure was a feeling around the Georgia Tech program that the Yellow Jackets had lost something.
Maybe it was their status as the perennial challenger to Florida States Atlantic Coast Conference dominance. Techs fourth-place ACC finish was the lowest for the Jackets since 1996, and it possibly only added insult to injury that long-time Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, in his first year at Maryland, was the one to finally unseat the Seminoles.
And before Tech regrouped and roughed up Stanford in the Seattle Bowl, coach George OLeary was gone, too. Off to the college dream job at Notre Dame. It turned into a nightmare for OLeary and everyone involved at Notre Dame, and even at Tech with a little guilt by association.
The only beneficiaries were new Irish coach Tyrone Willingham and Kinkos, doing bang-up business in coaches revised resumes.
Oh yeah, and a down home, home-grown coach from Americus, Ga. Hello, Chan Gailey, and that is one heck of a football resume youve got going there. Fourteen years as coach in the NFL, including two years as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, and 12 years in college, including a national championship at I-AA Troy State in 1984.
The Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator jumped at the chance to take over a program like Georgia Techs, one that has been to five consecutive bowl games and won 42 games over that span. And with all that experience on the college level to go with that pro pedigree, Gailey knows just what hes getting into.
"I think there are programs that hope to win and there are programs that expect to win," he said this spring. "And we fall into the category of programs that expect to win."
Gaileys track record as a head coach certainly indicates he knows a thing or two about winning. He was 24-11 in three years as head man at Troy State and Samford, and he was 18-14 in the NFL, guiding the Cowboys to two playoff appearances that look pretty good in retrospect.
His calling card has been on offense, something they know a thing or two about in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets were the top passing team in the ACC last year and ranked third in the league in scoring, averaging 31.8 points per game. Graduated quarterback George Godsey set school records for completions and yardage in offensive coordinator Bill OBriens scheme, and Gailey retained OBrien to again lead the perennially powerful Tech attack.
The Jackets are missing Godsey and top runner Joe Burns from last year but Gailey has faced bigger challenges in his career, coaxing competitive offensive results in imaginative ways at several NFL stops, including Denver, Pittsburgh, Dallas and Miami.
Little-used junior A.J. Suggs or red-shirt freshman Damarius Bilbo will take the reins at quarterback and both are talented prospects. Tech is deep at wide receiver and has a hive of Yellow Jackets buzzing around the running back jobs. Gailey and OBrien will piece a ground game together behind a solid offensive line. Count on it.
All-conference specialists, kicker Luke Manget , punter Dan Dyke and return man Kelly Rhino , all are back so the special teams have a chance to be genuinely special.
It is defense, though, under new coordinator Jon Tenuta, that can move this team back up to the top of the league within shouting distance of the heavily favored Seminoles. Tech returns nine starters, including All-America defensive end Greg Gathers , all three linebackers and two-time All-ACC safety Jeremy Muyres . They are experienced and fast, and they will set the stage for a team that has a chance to be pretty darn good.
With Godsey gone and Gailey putting his mark on the offense, the Georgia Tech attack will have a different look this season. For one, a more mobile and athletic quarterback will replace the record-setting Godsey and the unit should take on a new personality.
Tennessee transfer Suggs (6-4, 220) is a junior eligible with the most experience of the candidates, but he didnt open a lead in spring workouts over often-spectacular red-shirt freshman Bilbo (6-3, 220). Bilbo had moved to third on the depth chart last season before a recurring thumb injury sidelined him for the year.
Those two did move past junior Andy Hall, Godseys backup the last two years, and the demotion prompted Hall to leave the team. Hall completed 15-of-27 passes for 262 yards in three games last year but his absence has been negated by the emergence of Bilbo.
Suggs was 8-of-18 for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the Georgia Tech spring game, leading the Gold team to a 31-10 victory over Bilbos White team. He had a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Smith , among a couple of long plays, and also had a 9-yard scoring pass to Will Glover .
Bilbo was just 3-for-6 passing for 13 yards, but he wasnt without big plays, too. He had a 1-yard touchdown run and tore off on a 31-yard scramble that ended with the flashy freshman bowling over veteran cornerback Marvious Hester . All spring, Bilbo displayed the ability to make things happen on the option or on a scramble, and by no means has he taken a backseat to Suggs.
Gailey and OBrien rotated the quarterbacks with the first team throughout the 15 spring practices, and its no doubt Gaileys plan all along was to groom both of them to be ready to take the reins in the fall. Like he used Stewart in a change of pace role in Pittsburgh, Gailey will find a way to utilize the talents of both signal-callers.
Here is the trouble spot. With Burns, his 1,165 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns gone, there is a big void to fill in the backfield. How valuable was the big tailback?
He carried 282 times last season, more than all the rest of the team combined. So desperate were the Jackets to find a replacement this spring, they moved two players from other positions to compete.
The most experienced returnee is senior Sidney Ford (5-9, 205). Ford has 129 carries for 605 yards (4.7 average) and four touchdowns in his career. He was second to Burns last year with 69 carries for 290 yards but he missed time this spring with cracked ribs.
An intriguing possibility at the position is the shift of junior safety Tony Hollings (5-10, 211) to running back. A former high school quarterback, Hollings picked up the position quickly and was a standout in the spring game. He led all rushers with 72 yards on 16 rushes and impressed the coaches all spring with his efforts. After an initial trial at fullback and at tailback, he settled in at the marquee spot.
Hollings rushed for more than 1,300 yards both his junior and senior season at Twiggs County High School in Jeffersonville, Ga. His hard-running style caught many spring observers by surprise. Hollings worked right into the mix, battling Ford, sophomore Jimmy Dixon (6-1, 211) and red-shirt junior Jermaine Hatch (6-2, 205).
Dixon played in three games and scored four touchdowns last year, accumulating 41 yards on 12 carries. He had three short touchdown runs in the rout of Navy but missed a lot of time in the spring with a sprained foot.
With the injuries in the backfield, senior Gordon Clinkscale (5-10, 192) used the opportunity to get work with the first and second units. He had 34 yards on eight carries in the spring game and his collegiate odyssey continued as he moves to tailback after a couple of years at wide receiver.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
All-time leading wide receiver Kelly Campbell is gone but that shouldnt slow the Jackets aerial attack. Three talented receivers, who combined for 136 receptions, 1,812 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, return. They will mix with some players already in the program and with some talented newcomers to make up one of the teams deepest positions.
Smith (5-10, 183), a junior, wasted little time stepping into Campbells big-play shoes this spring. The speedy Smith accounted for 185 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in the spring game, picking up where he left off last fall when he caught 53 passes for 590 yards and four touchdowns.
Glover (5-10, 180), a senior who also started in Techs three wide-out set, is another key returning weapon. He caught 42 balls for 546 yards and three scores and saved his best for last, improving as the season wore on. Thirty of his receptions came in the final four games. His 75 career receptions (for 882 yards and six touchdowns) ranks 14th on Techs all-time list.
Another senior returnee, Kerry Watkins (5-11, 186) had a 21-yard reception in the spring game and he usually does most of his work down the field. He was fourth on the team last year with 41 catches but led Tech in yards per catch (16.4) and touchdowns (5). His 17 career touchdown receptions are second in school history to Campbells 24.
Sophomores Nate Curry (5-10, 186) and Levon Thomas (6-0, 195) are also available to make this one of the squads deepest positions. Curry caught 22 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2000, but missed all of last season with a knee injury. A speedster, Curry was penciled in as a starter before tearing the ACL in his left knee in the preseason.
Gailey and receivers coach Tommie Robinson have a lot of talent on hand but hoped to add more size, a need they addressed in the incoming recruiting class. Xavier McGuire (6-4, 210) and LeKeldrick Bridges (6-2, 175) are both highly regarded Texas products, and one or the other could get a chance to play this fall.
"The two guys we signed are 6-4 and 6-2, so they obviously stand out on our practice field," Gailey said.
Last years primary starter at tight end, Russell Matvay, has graduated, so junior John Paul Foschi (6-4, 260) and senior Will Heller (6-6, 250) moved up the depth chart.
Tech lost a couple of starters off its always-reliable offensive line and Gailey and line coach Joe DAlessandris made one prominent move to shore up the unit for this season. Steady junior guard Hugh Reilly (6-4, 285) moved from right guard to center this spring, and he will become a fixture there.
Reilly started every game last year and has great size, strength and athletic ability. Sophomore Leon Robinson (6-4, 310) returns at left guard and senior veteran Raymond Roberts-Blake (6-2, 278), a former starter on the left, has moved over to Reillys old spot.
Robinson has massive sophomore Nat Dorsey (6-6, 315) on his flank at left tackle to form an imposing wall, and Dorsey is a budding star.
Another sophomore, Kyle Wallace (6-5, 280) won the right tackle job this spring. He beat out red-shirt freshman Salih Besirevic (6-7, 263), a converted tight end, and junior John Bennett (6-5, 290). Bennett was a starter two years ago but a nagging knee injury limited him last season and again this spring.
"Kyle Wallace really solidified himself as the right tackle," Gailey said after spring practices. "He played well in the spring and will do nothing but improve."
Sophomore Andy Tidwell-Neal (6-4, 295) backs up Reilly at center. Tidwell-Neal played in three games last year as a freshman, backing veteran center David Schmidgall. Joseph Reardon (6-0, 235), a third-year walk-on, is also available.
Red-shirt freshman Gavin Tarquinio (6-3, 270), who is coming off a knee injury, and senior Beau Cleland (6-3, 280), who both also play center, are reserves at guard. Junior Clay Hartley (6-4, 288) and red-shirt freshman Brad Honeycutt ( 6-4, 290) are the first guards off the bench.
Two-time first team All-ACC kicker Luke Manget (5-9, 176) returns for his senior year, and he ranks as one of the Ramblin Wrecks most dangerous offensive weapons. Manget has made an ACC-record 131 consecutive extra points and has the highest career field-goal percentage in school history, making 42-of-60 attempts for a .700 percentage.
Manget averaged an ACC-high 8.1 points per game last season, hitting 19-of-28 field-goal attempts, including a long of 51 yards against Virginia. Manget is already third in career scoring at Tech with 257 points, and ranks 15th all-time in conference history.
He should push for All-America honors, as well as the Lou Groza Award.
Red-shirt junior Dan Burnett (6-2, 230), who was 5-for-5 on extra points in 2000, is Mangets backup. Senior Max DiPace (5-11, 215), junior Christian Schroeder (6-2, 257), and red-shirt freshman Stephen Pirkle (5-9, 200) are all walk-ons working with the team.
They will be joined in the fall by David Jordan (6-4, 195), a freshman kicker from Columbus, Ga. Jordan was first-team all-state and a member of PrepStars Top 100 Dream Team.
Georgia Techs defense begins with All-America end Gathers (6-1, 275), one of the most dominating players in the country. He was a second-team All-American and first team All-ACC choice last year. With a season to play, Gathers already ranks as the schools career leader with 30 sacks and 56 tackles for losses.
His 10 sacks led the ACC last season, and Gathers also chipped in 56 total tackles and 18 tackles for losses.
"[Gathers] is not prototype by size, but he plays the game with great leverage and has tremendous body lean," Tenuta said. "Hes always pressing, trying to make something happen."
Opposite Gathers, All-ACC Nick Rogers has graduated at the other end. Sophomore Tony Hargrove (6-4, 255) ended the spring slightly ahead of junior Hobie Holiday (6-3, 260) for the position but both will play. Hargrove, who seems to have a ton of potential, chipped in 21 tackles, including two sacks last year as a freshman. Holiday is a converted linebacker with good instincts.
Senior Gary Johnson (6-1, 275) and sophomore Alfred Malone (6-4, 290) return as the tackles, though defensive line coach Glenn Spencer will rotate several players in the middle. Johnson was solid last year in his first season as a starter, registering 48 tackles, four sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
Malone moved in as a starter midway through the year and finished with 16 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Junior Reggie Koon (6-4, 300) is Techs biggest lineman and he can clog the running lanes. Senior Casey Loesch (6-3, 275) played in six games last year and is one of the most experienced reserves.
Red-shirt freshmen Travis Parker (6-3, 254), Eric Henderson (6-3, 260) and Omar Billy (6-2, 265) could also push for time in the fall. Parker and Henderson are converted defensive ends.
Senior Fred Wright (6-4, 260) backs Gathers, but has also played tackle during his career. Red-shirt freshman LeRon Lee (6-2, 277) adds depth.
Linebacker is probably Georgia Techs strongest position, period.
Tech returns all three starters and they will be turned loose to wreak even more havoc in Tenutas aggressive schemes. Senior Recardo Wimbush (6-1, 218) and juniors Daryl Smith (6-2, 230) and Keyaron Fox (6-3, 220) make up as formidable a linebacker tandem as you will find in the ACC.
Add to that mix junior Ather Brown (6-3, 220), who broke his foot midway through last season and wasnt back in time for spring drills. Brown started every game two years ago, making 48 tackles, and he can play on the outside or in the middle.
There is more depth, too, with senior Matthew Etheridge (6-0, 222), juniors Anthony Lawston (6-3, 230) and Sterling Green (6-2, 210), sophomores Tabugbo Anyansi (6-1, 215) and E.J. Kuale (6-2, 210) and red-shirt freshman Gerris Bowers-Wilkinson (6-3, 230).
Three of four starters return in the secondary, including two-time All-ACC honoree Muyres (6-3, 205) at free safety. Muyres has started 33 consecutive games and is All-ACC on the field and in the classroom.
The hard-hitting safety has seven career interceptions and 197 tackles, and is primed for a big senior season. Muyres will be a key as Tenuta looks for the defense to create more takeaways in 2002. A solid unit overall, Tech recovered just 11 fumbles and 11 interceptions last season.
Muyres benefits from another steady senior, Cory Collins (5-11, 199) returning at strong safety. He was the fourth leading tackler last year with 74 and had two interceptions. Collins has started the last 19 games.
Another senior, cornerback Hester (5-11, 180) is the other returnee. A three-year starter, Hester tied for the team lead with three interceptions, and added a team-high 12 pass breakups.
Jonathan Cox (5-10, 185) beat out fellow-junior Albert Poree (5-10, 190) at the other corner. Cox was a key reserve last year and played in five games as a freshman. Poree, a transfer from Notre Dame, was also a backup last year at Tech.
Red-shirt freshman Reuben Houston (6-0, 195) backs Hester. Houston has some athletic ability as demonstrated by his all-conference status in the triple jump during track season.
Senior Kelley Rhino (5-7, 179), the special teams standout, and another track man, speedy sophomore Dennis Davis (6-0, 180) are also available on the corners.
With the glut of seniors, help in the secondary was a focus in recruiting and Gailey and defensive backfield coach Curtis Modkins came away with four prospects. Chris Reis (6-1, 190) was one of the top prospects in Georgia, chosen to the Atlanta Journal-Constitutions Super Southern 100. He also played receiver and returned kicks at Roswell High School.
Senior Dan Dyke (5-11, 185) not only out-punts most foes but he could beat them in a written test, too. Dyke is a three-time Verizon Academic All-American and 2002 winner of the Anson Mount Scholar-Athlete Award. He also boasts a career 42.3 yards per kick punting average.
Last fall, he averaged 41.2 yards per punt and laid it inside the 20-yard line five times.
Dyke gets a push from senior Chris Morehouse (6-1, 200), who got off 13 punts last year for a 41.4 average, including a booming 71-yarder against Georgia. Senior Hal Higgins (5-10, 180) is also on hand, and he uses his hands more than his feet as Mangets holder on placements.
The Yellow Jackets field two of the ACCs finest specialists in Manget and Dyke. Theyre key with this seasons emphasis on defense. They will help Tech control field position and maximize scoring opportunities.
Higgins returns as holder and sophomore Andrew Economos (6-1, 213) is ready to step into the long-snapping job.
The small senior graduating class impacted the incoming recruits. The Yellow Jackets brought in only 15 recruits but they filled some primary needs for young talent in the secondary and on the defensive line, in particular.
"Theres not a lot of quantity in this signing class, but there is a lot quality," Gailey said. "We feel like we got three quality defensive linemen and a couple of defensive backs who are really exciting players. It will be interesting to see how quickly they can get on the field."
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
The question marks for this team are all on offense. The defense is championship caliber, barring injuries. The special teams are potentially spectacular.
Gailey is a proven commodity and a personable good ol boy who has fit right in on campus and in Atlanta, where his mentor, Dan Reeves, already works. Gailey cut his teeth on the offensive side of the ball and his schemes seem ideally suited to bring the best out of an offense that doesnt really have a big star other than left tackle Dorsey.
The recent history of the program has been that a quarterback will emerge and thrive in the hive, though it remains to be seen this year whether it will be Suggs or Bilbo. The sooner one of them emerges as the leader, the better. Ditto the tailback spot where Gailey may establish a running attack by committee.
Gailey, who got shown arguably too quick a door in Dallas as head coach, will bring his trademark tenacity to this head job and the Jackets just may move back up the ladder as the leading foil to Florida State.