March 17, 2009
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech football begins its second season under 2008 ACC Coach of the Year Paul Johnson when spring practice begins here Monday afternoon.
The Yellow Jackets, who finished 22nd in both major polls after posting a 9-4 record last season, will hold 14 practices prior to the April 18th T-Day Game.
Tech returns 17 starters – 18 when including junior kicker/punter Scott Blair – from a team that tied for the ACC Coastal Division title and played LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Johnson, who was also the CBS Sportsline National Coach of the Year, returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense. In all, 61 letterwinners return and Johnson will welcome 20 scholarship freshmen in August.
Despite the large number of returning players, the Yellow Jackets remain very much a young squad. Only six scholarship seniors are on the roster.
There are other concerns as well. Gone are three-fourths of the starting defensive line, a trio of players – tackles Darryl Richard and Vance Walker, and end Michael Johnson – who will likely be playing on Sundays in 2009. Johnson, Richard and Walker combined for 100 career starts and 100 tackles-for-loss. On the offensive line, the Jackets lose two starting senior tackles, All-ACC selection Andrew Gardner and David Brown. Tech also loses senior cornerback Jahi Word-Daniels and versatile linebacker Tony Clark.
Georgia Tech enters the spring with great potential on offense. Every skill position player returns, paced by junior B-back Jonathan Dwyer, the 2008 ACC Player of the Year. Dwyer led the ACC in rushing with 1,395 yards and 12 touchdowns. Also back is sophomore A-back Roddy Jones, who came on strong late last season, and junior A-back Lucas Cox. Embry Peeples and Marcus Wright saw spot duty last fall as true freshmen A-backs.
Junior Josh Nesbitt, one of the ACC’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, is back and healthy after nursing ankle and hamstring injuries for much of 2008. There is depth at QB this spring with sophomore Jaybo Shaw and redshirt freshman Tevin Washington.
Junior Demaryius Thomas, who had more than half of Tech’s receptions last season, returns as one of the ACC’s top wide receivers. Tyler Melton, who started at WR the first half of the season before suffering a knee injury, is healthy. Talented receivers Quentin Sims and Daniel McKayhan redshirted last fall and are ready to make an impact.
All five offensive linemen who started the final four games of the season return, paced by second team All-ACC guard Cord Howard. Senior center Dan Voss, who underwent off-season shoulder surgery, will not participate in spring drills. The offensive line should be considerably deeper this season as Johnson was able to redshirt four promising true freshmen last year.
The biggest question mark entering the spring is on the defensive line, but the cupboard is not bare. Junior defensive end Derrick Morgan, who had 9.5 TFLs, 7.0 sacks and four fumble recoveries as a sophomore, was an honorable mention All-ACC selection. Juniors Robert Hall and Anthony Egbuniwe, sophomore Jason Peters and redshirt freshman Antonio Wilson will compete for the other defensive end spot.
At linebacker, the Jackets return four players with starting experience, led by senior Sedric Griffin, arguably Tech’s most consistent LB in 2008. Also back are juniors Anthony Barnes and Brad Jefferson, both of whom were slowed by injuries in the ’08 season opener, and sophomore Kyle Jackson. Stephen Sylvester played last season as a true freshman and talented redshirt freshmen B.J. Machen and Malcolm Munroe provide depth.
Junior safety Morgan Burnett, a second team All-American with seven interceptions last season, headlines the secondary. Safety Cooper Taylor and cornerback Rashaad Reid both played key roles as true freshmen in 2008 and junior Mario Butler returns as a starter at cornerback.
Johnson would like to see improved play from his special teams in 2009. Junior Scott Blair, who handled all kicking and punting duties last season, is back.
Fourteen scholarship players who redshirted as true freshmen in 2008 will make their debut this season.
Four other additions should make an impact in 2009. Junior A-back Anthony Allen, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards in two seasons at Louisville, is eligible after sitting out last season as a transfer. Junior wide receiver Kevin Cone, a Shorter College transfer and the son of a former Yellow Jacket, is eligible in 2009, as is sophomore B-back Preston Lyons, a Colgate transfer.
Also back is sophomore defensive back Jerrard Tarrant, who sat out the entire 2008 season following a suspension. Last spring, Tarrant emerged as a possible starter at cornerback before the suspension.
Some players will be at new positions this spring. Junior Correy Earls, a part-time starter at wide receiver last season, moves to defensive back. Reserve offensive lineman Jason Hill moves over to the defensive line. Linebacker Osahon Tongo goes from linebacker to the defensive line.
Spring Practice Schedule(All weekday practices begin at approximately 3:30 p.m.; Saturday practice times TBA)March 23 Spring practice #1March 25 Spring practice #2March 27 Spring practice #3March 28 Spring practice #4March 30 Spring practice #5April 1 Spring practice #6April 3 Spring practice #7April 4 Spring practice #8April 6 Spring practice #9April 8 Spring practice #10April 10 Spring practice #11April 11 Spring practice #12April 13 Spring practice #13April 15 Spring practice #14April 18 T-Day Game (TBA)