Last year’s ACC Champions aren’t resting on their accomplishments from last year hoping to defend their title this season.
The talent losses are heavy, but the Tech faithful are hopeful another year learning Paul Johnson’s system can carry them just as far again.
To get more insight on Georgia Tech, I contacted Barrel of Rum.
Q: Georgia Tech lost two first round draft picks and two other key players. How does the talent level this year compare to last year?
A: Overall the talent level under Paul Johnson, as a team, continues to increase. But will we be as talented on the field this year? Certainly not defensively.
We’ll miss Morgan Burnett & Derrick Morgan. But can we be worse defensively (we didn’t force a punt in five games last season)?
On the offensive side, losing 2009 ACC player-of-the-year Jon Dwyer is a non-factor; Anthony Allen is a terrific player who will emerge this year. Our biggest loss is Bay Bay Thomas at wide receiver. He was our “go to” guy on 3rd & 8 and we’ll miss him this year.
One area we’re clearly more talented this year is the offensive line. Even though we replace three starters, we have better talent coming in that better fits our scheme.
Q: What is this talk of Georgia Tech practicing out of the shotgun? Is Paul Johnson really going to use this?
A: We ran a fair amount of shotgun in spring ball and I expect to see some situational use this season. If we’re forced to throw (a good example is the end of last year’s UGA game) I expect to see some shotgun as it will help Nesbitt see the field and give him an extra bit of time to release the ball.
It won’t be part of any base package but it’s another wrinkle teams will have to prepare for this year.
Q: Anthony Allen is moving from A-Back to B-Back this season and Head Coach Paul Johnson said he would be shocked if Allen didn't get 1,000 yards. Compare Allen to Jonathan Dwyer who had back-to-back 1,300 yard seasons.
A: The only way Allen doesn’t get 1,000 yards is injury. Stylistically, Dwyer & Allen are very different: Allen is a flat-footed, upright runner while Dwyer is shorter & possesses better top end speed. But the results will be the same.
Both are physical & will get plenty of touches at B-back. Of all the positions in our offense B-back is the easiest to master as it simply requires learning the mesh with the quarterback & then hitting the hole as hard as possible.
Expect a big year from Allen, similar to Dwyer’s past numbers.
Q: I think the key to Tech's offensive success is not the running game, but the threat of the deep passing game added on. How much of Demaryius Thomas' production can be replaced?
A: That’s the big offensive question. Bay Bay was just so tough as both a blocker and receiver. True sophomore Stephen Hill has great potential but it will be tough for one guy to replace Thomas.
I expect Hill to be the primary target but I think we’ll throw to the A-backs more this year in hopes of spreading the ball around & being unpredictable.
It will be a team effort to replace Thomas as we don’t have one guy who can do it.
Q: Ga. Tech lost three starters on the offensive line from last season. How does the line look this year?
A: We’ll be much improved. Johnson finally has some guys he recruited specifically for this system ready to play on the offensive line. You can’t under estimate this.
Further, while we lost three starters, by the end of last year both Phil Smith and Omoregie Uzzi were playing more minutes than the guys starting in front of them. Watch out for Uzzi, he’s a beast, just a mauler in our run game.
Having All-ACC center Sean Bedford back at the line’s most critical position is a huge factor for us. What is concerning is we have NO depth. After the first five we’re very thin.
One other interesting note is that there are members of the coaching staff who think incoming freshman Morgan Bailey has a chance to play significant minutes for us this year. It’s rare to see a true freshman play on the offensive line for Johnson so this speaks volumes about his talent & our lack of depth.
Q: Georgia Tech had 67 plays of 20 yards or longer last year, but gave up 66 plays of the same length. In simple terms, what is new DC Al Groh bringing to the table to improve on that number.
A: What Groh brings immediately is accountability & knowledge. It seemed at times last year as if the front seven was playing one defense while the back four played an entirely different scheme. That all stops with Groh’s arrival.
But it’s talent that counts more than anything else and we will have to see how all the pieces fit. Will we be better defensively? I have to believe yes, as we can’t get much worse.
But Tech fans need to be grounded about what Groh brings to the table in his first year. We’ll be better but we’re far from an elite defensive team.
Those expecting a top 20 Defense are setting themselves up for disappointment. Better yes, elite no.
Q: Tech is going to need 4 LBs with the switch in scheme. How does the depth look here and who has taken to the new roles the best?
A: We’re paper thin at LB this year. Anthony Egbuniwe was always undersized at DE last year & has moved to the “jack” OLB spot this year as a pass rush specialist. I expect he’ll play well. The question is who backs him up? As of right now it looks like true freshman Anthony Williams will fill that role.
At the other outside spot it looks as if senior AT Barnes will start. Barnes looks terrific getting off the bus but his head & mental lapses have held him back his entire career. Can he put it together this year? My heart says yes, my head on the other hand says no.
Our strength lies at the two inside spots. Senior Brad Jefferson starts at one spot and perhaps no player will benefit more from the defensive scheme change. Jefferson is imposing physically and I expect him to punish opposing runners between the tackles. He’s very capable of a first team all-ACC season.
The other inside spot will fall to either redshirt freshman Brandon Watts or junior Kyle Jackson, who missed all of last year and the spring with a foot injury. Watts has a very bright future & getting Jackson back would be great for our depth.
Q: Which of the freshman are likely to see significant playing time?
A: On offense, Morgan Bailey could see time at guard or tackle while BJ Bostic & Charles Perkins could see time at A-back.
On defense, redshirt freshman Brandon Watts will likely start at LB & incoming freshman Anthony Williams will likely play some at LB.
Perhaps the name that you’ll most likely hear on Saturdays this fall is true freshman Isaiah Johnson. Johnson, who plays safety, enter school early and went through spring practice where he emerged as a real force, splitting first team reps by the end of camp. With a good fall camp he could well end up starting.
Q: Which is more important this season: Defending the ACC Championship or Beating Georgia?
A: The classic debate on our blog. I’ll say defending the ACC crown for one simple reason: the Coastal is loaded this year & the winner will at worst have only one loss in conference play. So for the continued development of the program I’ll say defending the ACC championship is more important because we’d return to a BCS bowl with at worst 2 losses.
But I want both. No matter how many we win, beating Georgia is a priority. We really need to accomplish both for it to be a successful year.
Q: Describe a successful season this year in Atlanta. Describe a disappointing season.
A: Well, beating Georgia is paramount. This is where someone always talks about the “intangible barometers” used to measure the growth of a football program. Bullsh*t. Wins almost always determine your success/growth as a program.
To that end I’ll say 9-3 would be a successful year, if we beat Georgia.
If we lose, 10-2 is the mark. We must continue to win if we’re to be thought of as a successful program and not just a successful team every couple of years.
Now’s the time we need to follow up last year’s success & ascend to the next level.
Q: What is your prediction for the season?
A: 9-3 is the number in my mind. Best case 10-2, worst case 8-4.
We play all our big games with the exception of Miami on the road (UNC, Clemson, VPISU, & UGA) so the schedule is tough. The ACC Coastal is tough this year with four very good teams.
Running that gauntlet will be difficult, certainly more so than winning the SEC East. That ought to stir the pot…
My take on Georgia Tech…
When most people look at Georgia Tech this year, they look at the talent losses and how bad the defense was last year. Despite the losses, Johnson’s offense will still be a bear to prepare for.
Many mention the loss of Dwyer which, like Barrel of Rum, I see as almost a non-factor. The biggest talent losses by far in my opinion are Derrick Morgan at DE and Thomas at WR. Replacing those two will be paramount to a repeat title.
As long as the defense can improve some, Tech can be just as good because they couldn’t stop anyone after September last season.
The schedule the Yellow Jackets face in 2010 is very similar to the one they faced in 2008 when Johnson went 9-3. Why can’t he do that again when he does not have to teach a completely new system?
If Ga. Tech was in the Atlantic, I think they win it by a full game, but they are in what could be the toughest division in college football this year (SEC West probably a little tougher).
9-3, T1st in Coastal Division
Thanks again to Barrel of Rum for their insight.