Georgia Tech will hold its first preseason practice this afternoon, beginning its preparations for the season opener Aug. 30 against Wofford and the whole of the regular season. Plenty figures to be revealed over the course of the preseason, including answers to the following questions.
Q: Who will emerge out of the defensive line group to earn a spot in the rotation?
A: Defensive tackle Adam Gotsis is a given. Coaches are hopeful about nose tackle Shawn Green, who was a leader in summer workouts and said Thursday his goal is “to show what I’m fully capable of.” End KeShun Freeman was impressive in spring practice and fellow end Kenderius Whitehead, a junior college All-American last fall, could make a splash.
Beyond that, and perhaps even beyond Green, or maybe just beyond Gotsis, there’s questions as there is such little experience to bank on. Green said that Roderick Rook-Chungong, Nick Menocal and Francis Kallon made strides in the summer.
Said Green of Kallon, “I think he’s ready. He can really, really help us.”
Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble would seem strong candidates to make a push for playing time, but it would seem a pretty open race.
Q: What shape will the offense take?
A: Coach Paul Johnson has made little secret of his desire to go back to the basics with the offense following last year’s dabbling with the diamond formation and a deeper foray into the passing game.
“It didn’t work out so well,” Johnson said. “We had our worst completion percentage since I’ve been here (45.3 percent). Rather than trying to tweak things to what we thought we had, we’re going to go back to what we do. It’s exciting because our guys that are playing, they’ve embraced what we do, and it’s fun to coach ’em.”
Expect a lot of triple option, which the team actually didn’t run as much last year as in years past. Another question is how much the offense will use no-huddle, which could take some pressure off quarterbacks Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly, as Johnson could have the option to make checks from the sideline.
Also, the competition between Thomas and Byerly plays out bears watching, as it may help determine what sort of role Byerly earns during the season.
Q: Is there an A-back or wide receiver ready to be a consistent playmaker?
A: Wide receiver DeAndre Smelter proved himself last year, leading the receivers with 21 catches and four touchdowns. Behind him are a slew of candidates who have some, little or no experience trying to get in the mix. Micheal Summers is a returning starter who showed flashes. Darren Waller is now a senior, trying in one final season to make good on his potential. He’ll be suspended for the first two games, however.
“I think Darren’s got unlimited potential,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, his senior year will be his best year. He seems to have worked hard this summer. Hopefully he’ll be able to carry that over.”
Behind them, Corey Dennis also returns, Ricky Jeune and Antonio Messick will be redshirt freshmen and Qua Searcy is an incoming freshman. From seven-on-seven workouts in the summer, safety Jamal Golden said that Searcy has “got it” and is capable of making plays if he can get the ball.
“Speed, ball skills, ball judgment,” Golden said. “He’s got it. Good route runner, too.”
On the A-back side, seniors B.J. Bostic, Synjyn Days, Deon Hill, Charles Perkins and Tony Zenon will be part of a deep crew that is diverse in skills but without a pack leader.
“We all have different types of skillsets, and I feel like us putting them all together is going to be set up for greatness, because we’re already coaches on the field because we all have experience,” Days said.
Dennis Andrews and Broderick Snoddy, the only non-senior returnees, have playmaking potential but have not made significant impacts. Clinton Lynch is an incoming freshman who has already impressed Days with his work ethic.
Q: Can Tech make it through healthy?
A: It’s almost a certainty that someone will get dinged up before the opener against Wofford. The question is who, and for how long. Given the lack of experience at various positions and the general roster shortage, there are certain players on the roster whom the Jackets can ill afford to lose to injury for long periods of time.
Q: Which true freshmen will step forward?
A: It’s invariably the most tempting question of any preseason. With the aforementioned shortage of scholarship players, there’s plenty of opportunity for the incoming freshmen to earn their way onto the field this season. Early favorites include Lance and Lawrence Austin, whom Golden also touted.
“They come out, they listen, they learn, they play fast and they pick up on things really well,” he said. “They’re showing some really good potential.”
Offensive line, with six incoming freshmen, could be another place a freshman could break through, although it’s typically a tough spot to do so. Tackle Trey Klock is among the possibilities there.
Freeman seems almost a given at defensive end, and cornerback Step Durham likewise has a leg up after enrolling early.