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Ken SugiuraKen Sugiura

Which Tech incoming freshmen could play right away?

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Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson shed some light Tuesday on a favorite topic of the offseason – which incoming freshmen might play this fall.

“The opportunity’s always there if they’re going to play,” Johnson said at the Pigskin Preview in Macon at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. “I can see some guys on the offensive line, at least in backup roles. I can see some guys in the secondary. Maybe running back.”

Early enrollees Step Durham (cornerback) and KeShun Freeman (defensive end) already look like they’ll be playing; they participated in spring practice (Freeman particularly played well) and were on the recently released two-deep depth chart.

The opportunity on the line results from having three starters, Ray Beno, Jay Finch and Will Jackson, graduate, as well as Morgan Bailey, who decided to not return for his senior season. Of the 10 spots on the depth chart for the offensive line, three players (tackle Chris Griffin, guard Shamire Devine and center Freddie Burden) have no playing experience, and tackle Errin Joe and center Thomas O’Reilly haven’t played much, which means less of a barrier to overcome for freshmen.

There are six freshman offensive linemen coming in – Gary Brown, Trey Klock, Andrew Marshall, Michael Preddy, Jake Stickler and Jake Whitley. Offensive line is not easy to play as a true freshman for a variety of reasons, and the fact that only one Tech lineman (Shaquille Mason) has done it in the past five years attests to it. But the lack of experienced depth and the high volume of incoming freshmen makes it more likely.

In the secondary, Durham and fellow signees Lance and Lawrence Austin and Jalen Johnson are possibilities, although Johnson tore his ACL in the preseason of his senior year and would seem a logical candidate to redshirt. The Austins, in particular, could be candidates to be impact players on special teams this season. (If you’re wondering, Qua Searcy, a teammate of the Austins at Lamar County, will begin at wide receiver.) Defensive back is the position that has had the most true freshmen play in the past five years, eight.

As for the running back spot, highly-touted prospect Myles Autry would certainly seem a candidate at A-back. C.J. Leggett will be competing for playing time at B-back.

It will be decided by a few things – the need at a particular position, ability to contribute on special teams and the preparedness of the player. The special-teams factor is a large part of why more than half of the true freshmen to play in the past five years have been defensive backs or linebackers. But whether or not the player is ready is as important as any, obviously. Paul Davis, for instance, came in from the start last preseason showing that he was ready to play at the college level. I don’t know that anyone was necessarily expecting or predicting it, but he seized the opportunity. Guard Shamire Devine could well have played last year as a true freshman, but injuries and weight issues set him back, and by the time he was ready to contribute, it was too far into the season.

Below, a list of the Tech players to play as true freshmen, and a position breakdown.

DB – 8

LB – 7

WR – 4

K/P – 3

DL – 2

LS – 2

RB – 2

OL – 1

2013 (3)

K Harrison Butker

LB Paul Davis

LS Trevor Stroebel (walk-on)

2012 (4)

WR Anthony Autry

DT Adam Gotsis

P Ryan Rodwell

CB D.J. White

2011 (10)

WR Corey Dennis

DB Jamal Golden

WR Jeff Greene

DB Zach Laskey (switched to running back after the season)

G Shaquille Mason

LB Tremayne McNair

LB Nick Menocal (now a defensive end)

LS Sean Tobin

LB Kyle Travis

WR Darren Waller

2010 (6)

LB Jeremiah Attaochu (moved to defensive end)

AB B.J. Bostic

S Fred Holton

S Isaiah Johnson

K Justin Moore

CB Louis Young

2009 (6)

LB Julian Burnett

DE Izaan Cross

WR Stephen Hill

AB Orwin Smith

CB Rod Sweeting

DB Jemea Thomas

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