March 27, 2006
SPRING PRACTICE DATES (Subject to change):Wednesday, Mar. 29, 4 p.m.Friday, Mar. 31, 4 p.m.Saturday, Apr. 1, 11 a.m.Monday, Apr. 3, 7:45 p.m.Wednesday, Apr. 5, 4 p.m.Friday, Apr. 7, 4 p.m.Saturday, Apr. 8, 11 a.m. (Scrimmage)Monday, Apr. 10, 7:45 p.m.Wednesday, Apr. 12, 4 p.m.Friday, Apr. 14, 4 p.m.Saturday, Apr. 15, 11 a.m. (Scrimmage/Spring Sports Day)Monday, Apr. 17, 7:45 p.m.Wednesday, Apr. 19, 4 p.m.Friday, Apr. 21, 4 p.m.Saturday, Apr. 22, 11 a.m. (Scrimmage)
Georgia Tech returns 15 starters from last year’s squad that earned Tech’s school-record ninth straight bowl game. The Yellow Jackets also posted a ninth consecutive winning season and a ninth straight year of at least seven victories.
In fact, Georgia Tech is one of just six schools in the nation to play in a bowl game each of the last nine years.
Headlining the Yellow Jackets next fall will be all-America wide receiver Calvin Johnson, one of the nation’s most talented and explosive players.
Johnson, the 6-4 junior, has caught 102 passes for 1,725 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He will again be catching passes from Reggie Ball, a three-year starter at quarterback. Ball enters his senior season as the third-leading passer in Tech history, but he has been hampered by inconsistency. He showed marked improvement in his decision-making last fall, and the Tech coaches looked from continued strides this spring.
Tech’s key loss on offense is tailback P.J. Daniels, who finished his career as the fourth-leading rusher in school history, but junior Tashard Choice is waiting in the wings. Choice will benefit from an offensive line that returns four starters while adding senior Mansfield Wrotto, who moves from the defensive line.
The Tech defense was outstanding last fall, ranking 13th in the nation against the run and in the Top 25 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense, interceptions, takeaways and turnover margin. From that unit, the Jackets must replace a trio of all-ACC performers in middle linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, safety Dawan Landry and defensive end Eric Henderson, as well as cornerback Dennis Davis and strong safety Chris Reis. Top returnees include linebackers KaMichael Hall and Philip Wheeler, defensive tackle Joe Anoai and cornerback Kenny Scott.
The strength of Tech’s defense this fall could be the front line, where starting end Adamm Oliver is also back, and tackle Darryl Richard returns after a missing the 2005 season with a knee injury. Position battles to watch this spring include both safety positions, cornerback and defensive end.
The Rambling Wreck special teams feature two-year starter and former all-ACC selection Travis Bell at placekicker.
If head coach Chan Gailey’s squad is to add to its nine-year run of consistent success, the Yellow Jackets must do so against a schedule that will again be among the nation’s toughest. Tech opens the season by hosting Notre Dame and ends at Georgia, both likely to be Top 10 teams, while the ACC slate includes road tests at Virginia Tech, Clemson, NC State and North Carolina along with home dates against Miami, Virginia, Maryland and Duke.
Tech opens spring practice March 29 and continues through April 22.
1 Starter, 3 Lettermen Returning
Three-year starter Reggie Ball enters his senior season with some impressive statistics. He is the third-leading passer in Georgia Tech history with 6,308 yards and 37 touchdown passes. One of just 11 quarterbacks in ACC annals to rush for over 1,000 yards, Ball has accounted for 7,406 yards of career total offense.
But the knock on Ball is the inconsistency that he has shown at times, evidenced by his 41 career interceptions.
He showed marked improvement in his decision-making last fall, lowering his interception total to 12 after throwing 18 the previous year, and allowing himself to be sacked just eight times, which led to his relatively low completion percentage (.480). Ball was at his best in leading Tech to impressive road wins over 15th-ranked Auburn and third-ranked Miami.
For the season, Ball passed for 2,165 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was also the Jackets’ third-leading rusher with 381 yards and four touchdowns, ranking third in the ACC in total offense at 231.5 yards per game.
“We’ll continue to try to get better at the quarterback position,” said Gailey. “Reggie has made small moves to the positive side each year. We’d like to see him make another move this spring and become the quarterback we all think he can be.
“If you wanted to point to one thing, it would be accuracy and making sure we complete more passes.
“Really it’s all on him,” continued Gailey. “How good does he want to be and how consistent does he want to be?”
Behind Ball is sophomore lefty Taylor Bennett, who started one game last year when Ball was ill and led the Jackets to a win over Connecticut. Also returning is sophomore Kyle Manley, who doubles as the holder, and promising redshirt freshman Jonathan Garner, another lefthander.
“Taylor is a solid No. 2 right now but nothing is etched in stone,” said Gailey. “Sometimes Jonathan doesn’t look pretty in practice but every time he gets in a scrimmage situation, he moves the team.”
1 Starter, 4 Lettermen Returning
In his first season at Tech after transferring from Oklahoma, Choice was the Jackets’ second-leading rusher with 513 yards and a team-leading six touchdowns. He started Tech’s win at third-ranked Miami when Daniels was injured and had 84 yards and a touchdown.
He is backed up by junior Rashaun Grant, who was hampered by injuries last fall but gained 425 yards as a freshman.
Another option could be freshman Jamaal Evans, a member of Tech’s 2006 recruiting class who is enrolled this semester and will participate in spring practice. He is the all-time leading rusher in the city of Irving, Texas with more than 6,300 yards and 67 touchdowns in three seasons at Irving High.
“How much can he learn, how will he pick up the offense?” said Gailey. “We’ve got to see what he can do. We’ll be getting him in there as much as we can but at the same time realizing the other guys need work. “
“Mike is a very good fullback, and he has a chance to be a great fullback,” said Gailey. “He brings some great diversity because he can catch the ball, he can run routes, he can block, he can do a lot of things. He can even carry the ball in certain situations. We’ll just have to see how his role continues to expand.”
1 Starter, 5 Lettermen Returning
The presence of the spectacular Calvin Johnson alone makes this position strong.
The 6-4, 235-pound Johnson set Tech freshman records with 48 receptions for 837 yards and seven touchdowns, earning first-team all-ACC honors while running away with the league’s Rookie of the Year award. He should be one of the top offensive threats in the conference this season, as well as one of the nation’s top receivers.
“I think Calvin can get better,” said Gailey. “It’s a sad day in anyone’s life if they can’t get better. I know he will got out and work hard to get better at running routes and understanding the different places he has to be on the field in order to get open. You can’t just do traditional things with him because the defenses will twist and turn everything toward him.”
For the third year in a row, Tech will have a different starter opposite Calvin Johnson following the graduation of last year’s number two receiver, Damarius Bilbo. Sophomore James Johnson steps into the starting lineup after catching 14 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Beyond Johnson and Johnson, Tech has a pair of seniors in Chris Dunlap and Xavier McGuire, and a pair of promising redshirt freshmen in Martin Frierson and Greg Smith. Sophomore walk-on Andrew Smith continues to improve. The potential of Frierson and Smith allowed the Tech coaches to move junior Pat Clark, last year’s fourth-leading receiver to cornerback.
1 Starter, 3 Lettermen Returning
Cooper enters the spring as the starter after moving into the lineup for the second half of last spring. He caught seven passes over the final four games after catching just one in the first eight games to total eight catches for 92 yards on the season.
Matthews started for the first half of the season but struggled with injuries, catching four passes for 48 yards.
Peek, a 6-6, 260-pound sophomore, showed promise in limited duty as a third tight end.
Also in the mix is 6-4, 252-pound junior transfer Wayne Riles, if he can get healthy after missing the 2005 season.
“Right now Coop is number one, but that will be one of the most highly contested positions this spring,” said Gailey.
“He had a good last half of the year. He’s got a chance to be a good tight end, as do Michael Matthews and Colin Peek and even Wayne Riles if we can get him healthy. Michael continues to fight being a little heavy, until that gets under control he’s struggle with nagging injuries.”
4 Starters, 8 Lettermen Returning
Unlike last spring, when Tech had just one returning starter on the offensive line, this time around the Jackets welcome back four starters. And the fifth position will be filled by another veteran in Mansfield Wrotto, a three-year starter at defensive tackle who moves to offensive tackle.
Tech’s top returnee is sophomore left tackle Andrew Gardner, who earned Freshman All-America recognition last fall. The 6-6, 290-pounder is an excellent athlete who is still growing.
“I think Andrew will have another big jump from year two to year three.,” said Gailey. “He’s got an awful lot of talent, and we hope he can continue to add strength and size and push that 295-300 pound mark, which is where he needs to be.”
Also returning are junior guards Matt Rhodes, 6-3, 285, and Nate McManus, 6-3, 295, and junior center Kevin Tuminello, 6-4, 285. That quartet helped Tech rank third in the ACC in rushing fall while leading the league in fewest sacks allowed with 10.
Wrotto, Tech’s biggest lineman at 6-5 and 310 pounds, started 32 games on the defensive line over the last three seasons. He had actually moved to offense last spring, but injuries on the defensive line forced him to stay on that side of the ball for 2005. He steps in at the right tackle slot filled last season by seniors Brad Honeycutt and Salih Besirevic.
“Those four starters return, and then we moved Mansfield Wrotto from defense to offense and he’ll start at right tackle.,” said Gailey. “We’re going to end up playing the best five, whoever they are and wherever they are. If we have to move somebody around to get to the best five, we’ll do that.”
Among the backups, sophomore Jacob Lonowski saw the most action last season, when he worked at both guard and tackle. He could push for a starting berth this spring. Sophomore tackle A.J. Smith and junior guard LeShawn Newberry also saw limited duty.
“We’ve got a little bit of depth,” said Gailey. “Not a lot, but we’ve got guys who’ve at least been playing in our system for two-three years with LeShawn Newberry and Jacob Lonowski. We need for A.J. Smith to make a jump this spring, and then we need to take a look at all these freshmen.”
3 Starters, 8 Lettermen Returning
The defensive line looks to be the deepest position on the Georgia Tech defense, led by senior tackle Joe Anoai.
Tech graduated three-time all-ACC defensive end Eric Henderson but starting end Adamm Oliver returns, as do top backups Darrell Robertson and Michael Johnson. And although the Jackets moved starting defensive tackle Mansfield Wrotto to offense, Tech welcomes the return of talented sophomore Darryl Richard, who missed the 2005 season with a knee injury.
Anoai, 6-3, 280, is Tech’s most experienced defensive lineman with 23 career starts. Although he was slowed by injuries last season, he collected 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Oliver, 6-4, 265, who has 15 career starts, collected 41 tackles with six tackles for loss and three sacks last fall.
Robertson, 6-5, 240, steps into the starting lineup opposite Oliver after starting four games last fall, when his highlight was an interception returned for a touchdown against Duke. Johnson, 6-7, is a talented young player who should push for playing time.
Richard, 6-4, 285, would have been a key performer on the Tech defense last fall before a spring knee injury. He came on strong as a freshman in 2004, starting three of the final four games and recording seven tackles for loss with four sacks.
“Probably the strongest area of our football team is our defensive line, with guys who have played quite a few plays,” said Gailey. “We have great expectations for Darryl Richard. With him and Joe Anoai, Vance Walker, Elris Anyaibe, David Brown, we’ve got some good people to choose from.
“Michael Johnson has improved tremendously in the offseason. We’re looking for big things from him this spring. He has a chance to be a really good player. The backup spots there, between Rogers, Sellers, Morrison we’ll have to see.”
2 Starters, 4 Lettermen Returning
Tech returns two outstanding linebackers in senior KaMichael Hall and junior Philip Wheeler, but the Jackets have a key vacancy to fill at middle linebacker following the graduation of two-time all-ACC selection Gerris Wilkinson.
A two-year starter, Hall led Tech last season with 14 tackles for loss, along with 64 tackles and two interceptions.
Starting for the first time last fall, Wheeler was tied for fourth in the ACC with four interceptions, along with 11.5 tackles for loss.
“Philip Wheeler has a great deal of potential,” said Gailey. “He started to realize a little bit of that last year, and now he’s got to make the next step. But he certainly has a ton of talent, with great range and great speed. If he can become a bigger, stronger linebacker, I think he’ll be a force the next two years.”
Junior Gary Guyton, Tech’s top backup last season, steps into the starting lineup as the third linebacker. He contributed 19 tackles with three tackles for loss.
While Hall, Wheeler and Guyton are set as the starters, Tech may experiment this spring by moving them around among the linebacker positions. Hall, however, will miss spring drills due to injury but will be ready for fall practice.
“We need to decided who’s going to play where,” said Gailey. “We’re not going to have KaMichael Hall for spring practice. He knows the game, and it’s going to give some other guys an opportunity to earn their stripes. It hurts our continuity not to have him in there, but the silver lining is that we get some other guys some work.”
0 Starters, 3 Lettermen Returning
Tech’s most experienced returnees and the starters heading into spring are junior Djay Jones and senior Joe Gaston. Both have played extensively on special teams and have seen action at times in the secondary.
“We have a great deal of confidence in Djay Jones,” said Gailey. “Joe Gaston is going into his senior year and has continued to get better every year. He’s never made that big jump to be a significant every-down player, but he has the capability to do that. After that it’s going to be a wide-open affair to see who ends up winning any jobs. “
1 Starter, 5 Lettermen Returning
Georgia Tech’s top returnee at cornerback is two-year starter Kenny Scott.
Scott made 56 tackles and two of Tech’s ACC-leading 21 interceptions last fall, including one that he returned for a score.
Opposite Scott will be junior Jamal Lewis, who moves into the lineup to replace graduated senior Dennis Davis. Lewis was a top backup last season who had one interception and has also played extensively on special teams.
“Kenny Scott is a very experienced player.,” said Gailey. “Jamal Lewis played a lot of snaps last year and we think he’s a guy who can make a nice move this spring. He has the most experience of anybody at the other corner position.
“I think we have high expectations for Pat (Clark). He’s been on the field, so he knows the speed of the game. I expect him to pick things up quickly and find a spot for himself on the defensive side of the ball. Jahi Word-Daniels has done some nice things at corner.”
1 Starter, 4 Lettermen Returning
One of Tech’s priorities this spring will be helping junior placekicker Travis Bell return to the form and accuracy he displayed as a freshman.
After hitting 20 of 22 field goals through his first 14 games, the 2004 all-ACC selection made just six of his last 15.
“We’re going to spend more time in the kicking game this spring,” said Gailey, who welcomes Charles Kelly to the staff as special teams coordinator.
“We’re breaking in a new snapper and a new punter and we need to get Travis Bell back on target. We’re going to spend a lot of time getting that down.
“Durant Brooks could be a tremendous weapon. I’m anxious to see how he responds with the pressure on him.”
The return jobs will be up for grabs, and those battles are likely to continue in the fall and could include incoming freshmen.