Aug. 27, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
With one week left before toe finally meets leather for real, there are several questions still facing Georgia Tech’s football team yet strong indications that in the defensive line, the Yellow Jackets will be able to answer with multiple choices.
With fifth-year tackle Jabari Hunt-Days and end Kenderius Whitehead academically eligible to play in games and the addition of six freshmen up front, defensive line coach Mike Pelton is awash in options like never before.
“It’s good to have depth so nobody gets hammered and beat down,” he said. “We were down . . . because we lost so many in the summer [of 2014]. This is the first time since I’ve been here we’ve been fully staffed, 17 guys in the room, 15 scholarships, and it’s been a pleasure. The pleasure is competition.”
Pelton and defensive coordinator Ted Roof did not have all the answers before Thursday’s scrimmage, where head coach Paul Johnson said the Jackets will work to make sure everybody, “knows where to go,” with some coaches on the field and others upstairs.
While players are off Friday and Saturday, however, coaches will flesh out player rotations for Thursday’s opener against Alcorn State.
The known: Sophomore KeShun Freeman, who led all defensive linemen last season with 54 combined tackles and assists and all Jackets with 9.5 tackles for lost yardage and 4.5 sacks on the way to multiple freshman All-America honors, will start at rush end, and senior Adam Gotsis – the Jackets’ lone preseason All-ACC first team pick – will start at tackle.
From there, Roof, Pelton and the Jackets are still sorting.
Fourth-year junior Pat Gamble (6-feet-5, 282 pounds) began camp penciled in as a starting tackle. He also played last season at end, where fourth-year junior Rod Rook-Chungong started six times in 2014. Gamble could again play both spots, and it’s TBD where he will start if he starts.
“It’s still up in the air,” Pelton said. “We’re working him at both spots, and in the end coach Roof is going to make a decision. I think he’s prepared to play both, and I don’t think we can go wrong.”
Beyond those questions, where Hunt-Days seems a candidate inside, there are more regarding how coaches will shake out their new-found depth.
Among returnees, fourth-year junior Francis Kallon is a candidate inside after playing in six games last season. Sophomores Antonio Simmons and Tyler Meriweather and fourth-year junior Tyler Stargel bring experience to end.
Saint-Amour (6-3, 240) has impressed coaches and teammates at end, particularly at Freeman’s “rush” spot, and Cerge-Henderson (6-1, 290) and Glanton (6-2, 285) have made marks inside.
“Having more guys we can work more things, and [where] last year we were trying to teach a lot of guys this year we have more guys who can help teach,” Freeman said. “We can do more.
Whitehead, who transferred from Georgia Military College last year and N.C. State before that, is battling to break into the rotation.
“I told the young man, I’m for him,” Pelton said. “I think he’s responded and has the right attitude. You keep coaching him because I want him to keep fighting.”
Freeman feels better about the defensive line and himself.
“Last year, going into the season I was learning a lot more, and in the season as well. This year, I’m one of the veteran guys and I feel like my game is more mature,” he explained. “I have a better understanding of things, and I know how to move around better.
“We’ve got depth, everybody doing their job and that’s going to make us good.”
In one week, answers will start rolling in to determine that.
Hunt-Days earned positive reviews aplenty from coaches and teammates last year while working on the scout team after transitioning from linebacker in ’14 only to encounter academic issues. He’s earned preseason honors from various publications without playing tackle in a game yet.
At 6-3, 292, he may be the Jackets’ most interesting question up front.
Pelton said the sorting process will continue through the Alcorn State game and beyond, and Hunt-Days’ role and those of other players may continue evolving.
“He’s still learning and the thing that you’ve got to work with him is everybody is giving him the title before the match,” Pelton said. “He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself to live up to expectations, where I’m trying to put him in a comfort zone and let him play while realizing he’s going to make mistakes.
“He’s not where anyone is putting him now. In due time, that will come. It’s hard when preseason this, preseason that, NFL this, when the kid just needs to realize . . . he’s just got to play. It’s hard to say where he’s going to be because . . . bottom line, he’s just got to get reps.”
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