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Ken SugiuraKen Sugiura

Questions surround Tech defensive line

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It may turn out that Georgia Tech’s defensive line will be a solid, dependable unit.

Defensive tackle Adam Gotsis returns as a starter. Gotsis was disruptive with 14.5 tackles for loss (second on the team behind Jeremiah Attaochu) and 5.5 sacks (also second behind Attaochu). Defensive tackle Shawn Green received glowing reviews from linebacker Quayshawn Nealy for his work in offseason conditioning, and coach Paul Johnson holds out hope for him.

“I think if he’s healthy, he can have a good year,” Johnson said of Green at the ACC Kickoff Monday.

Early-enrollee freshman KeShun Freeman made a significant impression in spring practice and Johnson went so far as to say Monday that “he could very easily end up being the Jeremiah Attaochu that we lost a year ago.”

The other end spot is unclear. Tyler Stargel and Nick Menocal were at the top of the depth chart coming out of spring practice. They had a combined two tackles last season.

While hopeful, perhaps the most significant words in Johnson’s evaluations of Green and Freeman were “could” and “if.”

Perhaps the bigger issue is, even if the first four can produce, who will back them up. Kenderius Whitehead, who is finishing up coursework at Georgia Military College in order to be able to transfer to Tech, appears to be a legitimate prospect. Other defensive end possibilities include true freshmen Antonio Simmons and Tyler Merriweather and Chaz Cheeks.

The top two candidates to back up at the tackle spots, Francis Kallon and Patrick Gamble, are unproven.

Depth was an issue last year, with starters Emmanuel Dieke, Euclid Cummings, Attaochu and Gotsis (all except Gotsis are in NFL camps this summer) logging heavy playing time as the productivity gap between them and the backups was so considerable. In an ideal world, defensive line coach Mike Pelton would have one or even two tackles and ends that he could substitute regularly to keep the starters fresh, but it’s an uncertainty.

“We feel like we have some young guys that can replace them, but until they do it on the field and in the games, you never really know,” Johnson said. “I think that that would be fair to say that’s a question mark going into the fall. Probably our defense as a whole is a question mark.”

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