Aug. 6, 2004
One of the priorities for the Georgia Tech football team this preseason is solidifying the offensive line, where the Jackets return three very solid starters but must break in two new players.
Returning starters Kyle Wallace at left tackle and Andy Tidwell-Neal and Brad Honeycutt at the guards anchor the line, but key will be the development of redshirt freshman Kevin Tuminello at center and the continued improvement of junior Salih Besirevic at right tackle.
The Jackets, who open the season Sept. 4 against Samford, held their second day of preseason drills Friday with another workout in just shorts and helmets, per NCAA guidelines. Preseason practice, which is open to the public, continues Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Rose Bowl Field.
After the graduation of all-Atlantic Coast Conference center Hugh Reilly, who is now in camp with the Tennessee Titans, Tech coaches elected to give Tuminello the nod at center, rather than moving the veteran Tidwell-Neal there.
“You are always making decisions about what’s best for the team,” said Gailey. “When we were going through spring practice, Leon [Robinson] was not there. We were saying, `are we better off with someone else at guard and Andy [Tidwell-Neal] at center? Or are we better with Andy at guard and Kevin [Tuminello] at center?’ We kept letting those guys play and seeing who performed, and the best performers and best unit ended up being Kevin at center and Andy at guard. You would like to have someone else with more experience to put in there, but we didn’t. That’s why our offensive line spot has been our biggest lack of depth spot over the past few years.”
The Tech coaching staff has confidence in Tuminello despite his youth and inexperience.
“He will have to rely on those two guys on either side of him (Tidwell-Neal and Honeycutt) to be successful this year,” said Gailey. “But he is a very intelligent football player. He understands the game. He comes from a football family. His brothers played center so he understands the game very well. I think he will be able to know what to do. The key is being physical enough to do it as a red-shirt freshman in the middle of the offensive line.”
Wallace, the two year-starter and preseason all-Atlantic Coast Conference choice at tackle, also had positive words for Tuminello.
“He’s really strong for how young he is,” said Wallace, who moved from right to left tackle in the spring, replacing Nat Dorsey, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. “He has tremendous upper body strength. I feel like that is definitely one of his strengths, how strong he is.”
Besirevic’s progress was a pleasant surprise in the spring, when he was one of Tech’s most improved players, putting himself in position to earn the starting berth at right tackle.
“The guy that made the biggest jump was Salih Besirevic,” said Gailey. “He really made a big jump in spring practice. He really changed tremendously. He worked very hard this off-season to be in a position to be a starter.
“We moved Kyle to left tackle because he has been our most consistent tackle.”