March 25, 2016
THE FLATS – Football is back! Spring practice begins Monday afternoon as Georgia Tech prepares for the 2016 season, which kicks off in Ireland against Boston College on September 3.
The Yellow Jackets will practice 15 times over the next four weeks, finishing with their annual Spring Game on Saturday, April 23 at noon (ESPN3). All practices prior to the Spring Game are closed to the public and media.
Three-time ACC Coach of the Year Paul Johnson enters his ninth season at Georgia Tech with an experienced roster, which includes 34 juniors and seniors.
Senior quarterback Justin Thomas is one of nine returning starters on offense, leading a backfield cast that accounted for 2,481 rushing yards last season (81% of team total). As a true freshman, B-back Marcus Marshall led the team in rushing with 654 yards, while A-back Clinton Lynch emerged as a formidable rushing and receiving threat with eight touchdowns.
Redshirt junior Ricky Jeune established himself as the team’s top wideout with 24 receptions and four touchdowns last season, and he’s joined in the receiving corps by Brad Stewart (13.3 yards per catch), Antonio Messick and a pair of redshirt freshmen in Harland Howell and Christian Philpott.
The defense returns five starters as defensive coordinator Ted Roof looks to replace all-ACC defensive tackle Adam Gotsis, as well as four graduating seniors in the secondary. Defensive ends KeShun Freeman and Rod Rook-Chungong plus defensive tackle Pat Gamble provide veteran experience up front. The linebackers are led by senior PJ Davis, the team’s leading tackler last season, and Brant Mitchell, who worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman and recorded two interceptions.
“I know the players and coaches are excited to get back out on the field, and we’ll have strong competition at a lot of positions,” said Johnson. “The offseason workouts have gone well, and we’re looking forward to having most everyone healthy and ready to go. Spring practice is a valuable opportunity to improve every day, and we don’t want to waste a minute of it.”
Season tickets for the 2016 season are now on sale for as low as $35 per game. For more information, visit TogetherWeSwarm.com or call 1-888-TECH-TIX.
— April 21: International Student Clinic
— April 23: Spring Game, noon
— September 3: Season Opener vs Boston College (Dublin, Ireland)
REHAB & RECOVERY
The Jackets suffered a staggering number of injuries in 2015. From the current roster, nine players missed an equivalent of 62 total games. Three players who missed the entire season — B-backs CJ Leggett and Quaide Weimerskirch, offensive lineman Chris Griffin — are on track to return to the field this spring, along with four others who were sidelined at least one game last fall. At this point, center Freddie Burden and A-back Nathan Cottrell are expected to sit out spring while recovering from off-season surgery.
The team welcomed a pair of early enrollees this January with linebacker Emmanuel Bridges (Newnan High School) and B-back Dedrick Mills (Ware County High School). Last season, offensive lineman Will Bryan and defensive tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson both saw considerable playing time after enrolling early.
Defensive end Desmond Branch also joined the team this semester after transferring from Trinity Valley Community College following a redshirt freshman season at New Mexico. He’s eligible to play immediately.
Two transfers who sat out last season per NCAA rules are eligible in 2016. A-back JJ Green transferred from Georgia and will have two years of eligibility. Cornerback Lamont Simmons transferred from Southern California and will have three seasons of eligibility.
RATLIFFE JOINS TEAM
After suffering serious injuries in an accident that ended his high school football career nearly two years ago, quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe is now at Georgia Tech. A member of the 2015 signing class, the North Carolina native waited until January to enroll while continuing his rehabilitation. He recently learned that he won’t be medically cleared to play and will instead be part of the team as a student coach.
Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com wrote this week about his journey to Georgia Tech.
DEAN OF ACC
As he begins his ninth season at Georgia Tech, Johnson and Duke’s David Cutcliffe are the longest-tenured coaches in the ACC (Johnson was hired one week before Cutcliffe in December 2007). There have been 13 (permanent) coaching changes in the Coastal division during that span, including three this offseason.
Just the 12th full-time coach in school history, Johnson ranks fourth in years of service on The Flats behind William Alexander (25 seasons), Bobby Dodd (22 seasons) and John Heisman (16 seasons).
WEST JOINS STAFF
Johnson hired Ron West to the staff in mid-January as co-offensive line coach. A native of nearby East Point, he brings 36 years of coaching experience, including stints in the ACC at Clemson and North Carolina. West will work alongside Mike Sewak.