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Gridders Begin Spring Drills Friday

March 18, 2002

ATLANTA – The Chan Gailey era of Georgia Tech football begins as the Yellow Jackets open spring practice Friday, the first of 15 sessions that will conclude with the annual Springfest on April 20.

Friday’s first practice is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Rose Bowl Field, and the Jackets will also work out Saturday at 10 a.m. Due to the renovation of Bobby Dodd Stadium/Grant Field, Springfest will be held at Marist School in suburban Atlanta, beginning at 11 a.m. on April 20.

Named Georgia Tech’s 11th head coach on Dec. 29, 2001, Gailey inherits a program that has been to five straight bowl games, winning 42 games during that stretch. The native Georgian returns to his home state to take the reins of a team that returns nine starters on defense and five on offense as well as three outstanding specialists.

“I think there are programs that hope to win and there are programs that expect to win,” said Gailey, “and we fall into the category of programs that expect to win.

“The players in this program understand hard work and they understand discipline, and those are two big hurdles to get over in order to develop a championship team. I think we are ahead of the curve in those two areas, but we have a lot of football ahead of us. Especially with new coaches in here and a new defense to learn this spring.”

The Tech defense boasts one of the nation’s top players in all-America defensive end Greg Gathers (LaPlace, La.) and also features all-star performers in linebackers Recardo Wimbush (Blakely, Ga.) and Daryl Smith (Albany, Ga.) and safety Jeremy Muyres (Stone Mountain, Ga.).

While the Jackets lack size at certain positions, the calling card of the Tech defense is speed.

“There is no question that the speed on defense is what is exciting to watch,” said Gailey, who lured former North Carolina and Ohio State defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta to run the Tech defense. “I think we will swarm to the football with the best of them.

“Even though it’s a new defense, we’ve got good football players so we expect good things out of our defense this year.”

The Tech offense was harder hit by graduation, particularly at quarterback, but features a trio of very productive receivers in Will Glover (Tampa, Fla.), Kerry Watkins (LaPlace, La.) and Jonathan Smith (Argyle, Ga.), as well as three returning starters on the offensive line, including a potential star in left tackle Nat Dorsey (New Orleans, La.). Bill O’Brien returns as Tech’s offensive coordinator after fashioning one of the nation’s most productive units a year ago, averaging 31.8 points per game.

“The good thing about our offensive scheme is that we take advantage of what we have,” said Gailey. “With our offense being as multiple as it is, we’re able to take advantage of the good players that are available and move the football.”

On special teams, placekicker Luke Manget (Conyers, Ga.) is one of the nation’s best, punter Dan Dyke (Winter Springs, Fla.) is a three-time first-team academic all-America, and all-conference punt return specialist Kelley Rhino (Smyrna, Ga.) is one of the ACC’s most exciting players. Manget hit 19 of 28 field goals last fall and has made an ACC-record 131 consecutive PAT. Dyke averaged 41.2 yards per kick in 2001, while Rhino set an ACC record with 515 punt return yards.

“We have two of the best kickers in the league in our punter and placekicker, and I think we’re all excited about that,” said Gailey.

All eyes will be on the quarterback position as the Jackets seek to replace two-year starter George Godsey, who was one of the most productive and efficient signal-callers in Tech and ACC history.

“That is certainly one position that is definitely open at this point,” said Gailey. “We’ll give them all a shot to go out on the field, be a leader, and win the job.

“We’ll probably rotate them through on a daily basis as to who starts with the first team. With only 15 practices, that might stop after the first rotation or two, or when someone starts to jump out, but we’ll see.”

The candidates include last year’s backup in junior Andy Hall (Cheraw, S.C.), transfer A.J. Suggs (Powder Springs, Ga.), a former starter at Tennessee, and a pair of athletic redshirt freshmen in Damarius Bilbo (Moss Point, Miss.) and Dawan Landry (Ama, La.). Junior Brian Camp (Dublin, Ohio) returns to quarterback after playing fullback last fall.

Hall completed 15 of 27 passes for 262 yards and one touchdown last fall, while Suggs played in seven games for the Volunteers in 2000, including four starts, and threw for 785 yards and five touchdowns.

“It will be an open competition, and it will be a good competition,” said Gailey. “There are good athletes sitting there right now.”

Because of the importance of the task and the quality of the candidates on hand, Gailey and his staff are not about to make a hasty decision.

“I would think that it would go through the fall practice before we could settle on one, and I wouldn’t rule out us playing a couple of quarterbacks during the season,” said Gailey.

Another position that will be highly contested this spring is tailback, where the Jackets must replace the fourth-leading rusher in school history in Joe Burns.

“It’s another job that’s wide open and will be watched closely, just like the quarterback job,” said Gailey. “There’s some good talent there and that’s the exciting part about it.”

Senior Sidney Ford (Lindale, Ga.) is Tech’s most experienced tailback with 605 career yards, but he will compete with sophomores Jimmy Dixon (Arlington, Texas), and Jermaine Hatch (Baton Rouge, La.), who returns from a 2001 knee injury, as well as junior Tony Hollings (Jeffersonville, Ga.), who moves from the secondary to give tailback a shot.

At wide receiver, Kelly Campbell graduated with virtually every Tech receiving record in tow, but the cupboard is anything but bare. Returnees Smith, Glover and Watkins combined for 136 receptions, 1,810 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Add Nate Curry (Miami, Fla.), who missed the 2001 season with a knee injury but had 22 catches for 298 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, and this position remains the strength of the offense.

“We expect our receivers to make big plays for us next year,” said Gailey. “We do have a good group returning. There’s good depth, speed, and quickness. We don’t have as much size as we would like, but that’s why we went out and recruited two big receivers this year.

“But, we do have some playmakers, and that position will be fun to watch.” On the line of scrimmage, Dorsey and Leon Robinson (Garden City, Ga.), both sophomores who weight over 300 pounds, form an imposing tandem on the left side at tackle and guard, respectively. The right side, however, is somewhat unsettled with the move of Hugh Reilly (Roswell, Ga.) from guard to center and the graduation of tackle Jason Kemble.

“The left side of our line is very solid with Leon Robinson and Nat Dorsey there,” said Gailey. “We’re going to move Hugh Reilly to center, which creates a little bit of a hole at right guard, but it certainly gives us a solid starter at the center position in a guy that’s very intelligent and a great leader for us. At right tackle, Kyle Wallace (Suwanee, Ga.) is back. We need to fill that right guard spot, so that will be another position that’s highly contested.”

On defense, the Jackets return their top four tacklers from a year ago and eight of the top 10. Gathers (56 tackles, 10 sacks), Wimbush (96 tackles, 9 TFL)and Muyres (85 tackles, 3 interceptions) are the senior leaders of the unit but by no means its only standouts.

“You start talking about our defense and if you aren’t careful, you are going to leave somebody out,” said Gailey. “There are a lot of very good players.

“Our entire linebacker corps is returning, Daryl Smith (59 tackles, 7 TFL) is an excellent middle linebacker. We’ve got Keyaron Fox (95 tackles, 8 TFL) and Recardo Wimbush on the outside and both can run well and get to the football.

Greg Gathers will be exciting again this year. He’s setting all sorts of sack records, and I think that will continue this coming year. In the secondary, we’ve got Jeremy Muyres, Cory Collins (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.) and Marvious Hester (Smyrna, Ga.), so that’s three out of four starters returning in that area.”

Tech will look to develop more productivity from the interior defensive line, where starters Gary Johnson (LaGrange, Ga.) and Alfred Malone (Frisco City, Ala.) return, and more consistency at the cornerback position.

“Depth is something that is important,” said Gailey. “We’ve got to make sure our tackling is clean and crisp. I’d like to see us create more takeaways. Those are probably the three areas that we will be talking about the most this spring.”

Gailey admitted that his first spring practice will be somewhat different in structure than those in the years to come.

“There are positions to be contested in spring practice, there are defenses to learn and get comfortable with, there are things on special teams that we want to accomplish,” he said. “Really it’s a getting-to-know-you period for the coaches and the players.”

That should make for a competitive environment at virtually every position.

“I think guys that started last year that are back have the upper hand,” said Gailey. “Can someone beat them out? Sure they can. But, a guy who started last year starts with that position in spring practice.

“Every job is open, but there are guys who have the upper hand, and those are the guys who started last year.”

But perhaps the most important thing that Gailey hopes will take shape this spring is attitude.

“You want to have an aggressive team. We will be aggressive on both sides of the ball, special teams in particular. A lot of movement and activity and energy on the field. That is what I hope to get this spring.”

SPRING PRACTICE DATES(March 22 - April 20, Subject to Change)Friday, Mar. 22, 4 p.m.Saturday Mar. 23, 10 a.m.Tuesday, Mar. 26, 4 p.m.Thursday, Mar. 28, 4 p.m.Tuesday, Apr. 2, 4 p.m.Wednesday, Apr. 3, 4 p.m.Friday Apr. 5,  4 p.m.Saturday, Apr. 6, 10 a.m.Tuesday, Apr. 9, 4 p.m.Wednesday, Apr. 10, 4 p.m.Friday Apr. 12, 4 p.m.Saturday, Apr. 13, 10 a.m.Tuesday, Apr. 16, 4 p.m.Friday Apr. 19, 4 p.mSPRINGFEST: Saturday, Apr. 20, 11 a.m., Marist School

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