It was plain to see that there was going to be HUGE holes to fill in these two positions based on graduation and heading into the recruiting season, most felt there would be an even bigger loss to the NFL by the end of the season. First off, the wide receiver position losses the best player to ever play the position for the Georgia Tech. I don't think there will be too many arguments otherwise there. Many didn't hold any realistic hopes that Calvin Johnson would be around at GT for his senior season and now he expects to go in the top 4 in the upcoming NFL draft. Besides losing Calvin, the Yellow Jackets also have to replace a couple of guys further down the depth chart who were counted on to provide depth in Chris Dunlap and Xavier McGuire. Not only will it be nearly impossible to recruit the lost talent of Calvin Johnson, but a limited number of scholarships could hurt the quantities that would be needed to fill out the depth charts.
At tight end there was another problem. The top three on the depth chart were on their last years as well. Michael Matthews and George Cooper were moving on due to graduation and Wayne Riles was too even though he had a year of eligibility left. Back problems contributed to him not returning to football. So the shear numbers a TE were taking a huge hit. Additionally, although none were going to be missed much for their receiving ability, this group had a reputation for being good blockers or essentially and extra linemen when on the field. Let's not also forget that the TE starter has come from this group for the past several years. So, gone is a lot of beef and experience. It was going to be important to address this position as well but were scholarship limitations going to allow it this year?
Looking Toward Spring Practice:
There's just no way to sugarcoat or overstate the loss GT will feel this spring at the wide receiver position. Calvin Johnson was simply the best and showed it every day. His efforts were the same in practice as they were on game day. I think that work ethic will be missed as much as anything as he certainly made our defensive better… or at least kept them humble! But, like anything else, it's time to start the process of moving on without the all-time best.
What stares out at you right away is that you see there are only 4 scholarship players playing WR this spring: James Johnson, Greg Smith, Demaryius Thomas, and Correy Earls. And Thomas & Earls both redshirted last year so they have no game experience. Some say Demaryius Thomas, a.k.a. "Bebe," maybe should have seen the field some. He could move up and possibly even be the top receiver next season, according to some who have watched the team practice through the entire season. Apparently, he was quite a load to handle as the scout team WR. I suspect he'll move into Calvin's starting spot if we're ever in just a 2-receiver set.
James Johnson will provide the leadership of the group. He started opposite Calvin and had many big days before having a couple of memorable bad days at the end of the season. He'll be leaned on to be a big contributor in the offense next season as well and will have to step up and show leadership this spring.
Greg Smith may be the most exciting one of the group. He could be a starter in 2-WR sets but I think he's likely to line up in a slot position. He can do a lot in space and runs well after the catch. He's a guy you want to move around the field and find a way to get the ball to him.
Rounding out the group is Correy Earls and walk-on Andrew Smith a.k.a. "Tweeter." Smith was more of a contributor on special teams as a punt returner but he has great hands and will see a lot of time in spring. Earls will be interesting to see as his reps also go way up. He has tremendous speed and I want to see if he's gained on his consistency with his hands. He could be a nice surprise this spring.
As with the rest of the offensive reports, it remains to be seen what changes will be made from incoming Offensive Coordinator John Bond. He could potentially really alter the positions, formations and responsibilities of each offensive weapon. We know Bond likes to run the ball but we also hear that he's familiar with a one-back set. If we use that, then it will be interesting to see how he lines up others and fills out the lineup. You could see some others lined up on receiver-type roles especially given a lack of true receivers on the roster. You could see Mike Cox or Trevor Bray moved around. You could see Rashaun Grant line up in the slot (I'd expect to see more of that come fall when Roddy Jones and Jonathan Dwyer get on campus). And don't forget that two former receivers are now on defense and could get called back if needed in Patrick Clark and Martin Frierson. There are lots of questions to answer at receiver this spring, probably more so than any other position.
At TE, Matthews and Cooper are going to be missed this spring for what they brought in terms of blocking and experience. I'm very excited about one thing though; we'll finally get to see what Colin Peek can do. And I think Colin will be a very special TE. I've touted his abilities in my practice reports since the first practice I saw him participate in. I think he has great size and will be able to block, perhaps not like Matthews & Cooper just yet, but I think he's a much better receiver than all three who just graduated. Not only that, I think Peek has a kind of nasty streak when he's on the field. He's got a little Jeremy Shockey in him in that he plays with a chip on his shoulder. If my eyes aren't tricking me, Peek will be one of the best stories of the 2008 season. He has really bided his time and has not, to my knowledge, made a big fuss about it like some other highly touted prospects might. He is going to go from playing special teams his first season to redshirting this past season to starting in 2007. I look forward to seeing him make the adjustment but I have full confidence in him.
With a lack depth that comes from losing three at once, Colin's back-up will be another who has no experience. Austin Barrick and Brad Sellers will be the only other scholarship players at TE in spring and also in fall. Barrick has shown some promise as a freshman in practice. Sellers moves over to TE from the defensive line for this spring. So, there are a lot of questions to be answered in regards to TE in spring. Not only do these three need reps but the other question will be how they are used in the new offense being run by newly announced Offensive Coordinator John Bond. The TE has been the red-headed stepchild in past seasons here. We'll see if the combination of a new OC and losing starters whose best skills were blocking will change that formula.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Kingsland, GA (Camden County HS)
Other offers included: Florida State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech (Florida & Georgia showed strong interest as well.)
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Giff Smith
Scout.com Stars: ****
Scout.com State Ranking: 17
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: 52
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 46 (WR)
Personally, I was very excited when I first heard that Tech had a great shot at Willie White and ecstatic when he committed. I went around and took pictures and met many athletes at one of the early Scout.com combines but when I started off, I didn't have a roster with me to match up numbers with faces. So, before recognizing guys like Roddy Jones there, I just went up to a few guys who looked like no-brainer, division-one athletes and introduced myself. The first one I was sure would be worth meeting, of course, turned out to be Willie White. When he told me his name I was like, "yep, I know who you are." He's a tall, skinny, smooth-looking athlete and reminds me of some of the FSU receivers of past years. He's a kid you'd love to clone. From film, I could see him as a strong contributor at wide receiver or as a tall corner or safety. He seemed to be a real ball-hawk on defense but my understanding is that he'll come in as a receiver. And with our needs there, I doubt he'll have trouble sticking there and playing early on. He was one of my favorites from this class based on his talent and star potential.
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Willie White: "That's where I like him [wide receiver]. The stuff that's been leaking out on the message boards is completely backwards [White being better on defense] as far as how I've seen it. Willie White's a good safety but he's a very, very good wide receiver. He just didn't get to play it a lot until this year in high school. But he went to all of our camps as a wide receiver and was generally the top wide receiver there. Big size and speed, adjusts to the ball well and has good hands. He's just fairly new to this position but he's a natural at it. With good size and speed, I think he's going to be a weapon."
More from Scott Kennedy on Willie White (Sep 24, 2006): "It wasn't until spring camps that people realized that Willie White was one heckuva wide receiver. People already knew that he was a lights out safety, but with Camden County's vaunted Wing-T, White rarely got the chance to display his skills as a wide out. White participated in two Scout.com Combines, and it was obvious that he had the skills to be a standout receiver on the next level. Coach Jeff Herron has spread the ball out more this year and started throwing the ball more than ever. White has been a big beneficiary of the new look Wildcat attack."
(#8 WR/S Willie White)
(#8 S Willie White)
Home Town (High School): Houston, TX (Langham Creek HS)
Other offers included: Air Force, Iowa State, Louisiana Tech, Rice
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Curtis Modkins
Scout.com Stars: **
Scout.com National Ranking: NR (WR)
It may take a while before we will actually see what Melton can do on the field due to changes in his enrollment plans. He signed with the rest of the class on Signing Day -- in fact he made a trip to Atlanta from Texas to be with most of the others in the class at the ESPN zone Signing Day party, which I found impressive. But a late season knee injury will force him to change his plans after that. He will enroll in summer classes and take a class or two but will not be with the team or at school in fall since he won't be able to play anyway. He'll re-enroll next January and should see his first practice time begin next spring. It's a long time to wait and I'm sure it will be a frustrating time for Tyler to miss some of his first year but his eligibility will still remain in tact when he comes back in 2008. By all accounts he's a solid pickup of a receiver though not mentioned with others as the one with the highest upside. From film, he's actually looks much better than any lack of hype he receives. Though it is highlight film and is to be somewhat expected, he seems to make many difficult catches, more so than some other packages I've seen put together. I think he'll be a solid addition once he finally gets going. It may take a little time for him to contribute because of the injury but solid hands and crisp route running should get him on the field in a couple of years. Though Scout.com recruiting analyst Scott Kennedy didn't see a lot of Melton with Tyler being from Texas, he did scratch out a few thoughts on Melton based on some clips he saw of him. "I just remember that he looks a lot better than a 2-star guy but it was a highlight film," said Kennedy. "He could help out on special team. I remember him doing a lot on special teams too."
Recruiting Analyst Greg Powers on Melton: "Georgia Tech has a done a great job developing wide receivers in their system, and while no one is going to mistake Tyler Melton for Calvin Johnson, he is still a solid pickup from the "Lone Star State." At 6-foot-0, 180-pounds, Melton, is not a real flashy receiver. He simply does what it takes to get the job done. He works very hard on his route running and will do all of the little things to be successful within the Yellow Jacket offense."
(#5 WR Tyler Melton - SR Highlights)
The one who got away:
TE Bailey Woods
I'm not sure in the end if we can say Tech really missed on a WR. For one reason or another most of the ones offered throughout the recruiting season couldn't have ended up at Tech anyway. Brandon Gibson and Sidney Haynes are two we had good shots at but didn't have the scores to get in. Haynes was all but a done deal to GT early in the process but couldn't get over the hump. Gibson would have been a GT/Alabama battle if not for the same issue. Cam Baker had every chance in the world to be a Yellow Jacket but, in my opinion, didn't play the game very well. Though he listed GT has his favorite for much of the process he would never heed the concerns about Tech running out of scholarships overall, much less for his position. He always talked about how Tech would hold his ship until the end if they wanted him that much. Well, it didn't work out that way. Israel Troupe, who signed with rival UGA, could be drafted into Major League Baseball and not ever see the football field. The other offered player at WR is Art Evans, who I admittedly know less about than the others mentioned above.
At tight end we ended up signing nobody but did go after several top targets early. Offers were extended to: Jon Ditto, Aron White, and Bailey Woods. Though Bailey's dad played for the Yellow Jackets, he ended up at Auburn and that's probably the one in both groups we wanted the most. He would have been a perfect fit here but decided to go his own way.
I have to give a kind of split decision on the success of recruiting for these two positions. On one hand, you landed a 4-star player at receiver in Willie White but on the other hand there were more needs that didn't get met in terms of numbers. There were some unfortunate factors here, the most of which was the scholarship limitations and then just being unlucky in that the other receiver you signed got injured at he accepted his offer. So, the team will not have use of Melton until 2008. But that all has to go into consideration when looking at the big picture of how we did. WR/TE positions seemed to be the ones that got hurt most by the limitations.
We made attempts at some high level TEs early on and missed on all three. I think it was a good strategy to make that attempt but then to move on and address that more next year rather then go down the list and just fill that spot. At WR, we are going to be so thin there; you'd really liked to have seen another signed there. With more ships, perhaps we could have waited around long for someone like Cam Baker.
The other consideration is that perhaps we did get more receivers but they were signed and listed as defensive players. Certainly there is a chance that any from this group could end up as a receiver: D.J. Donley, Jerrard Tarrant or Morgan Burnett. I'll touch on them much more in the upcoming defensive back report and their abilities to play either side of the ball. So, I think WR is a concern because of numbers but there are ways to work around it. The good thing for White (or possibly Donley/Tarrant/Burnett) is that they will have a great chance to contribute early if their game is ready for it.
Thanks to Scott Kennedy, Greg Powers, Kamden Robb and Rod McKenzie for contributions to this article!