New Additions (1):
QB: *Josh Nesbitt, Jaybo Shaw, Tevin Washington, Jordan Luallen, David Sims, Synjyn Days
(*) Previous First Team All-ACC Selection
Combine a small recruiting class with no attrition and no graduating players at the position and there obviously was not a serious need to increase the number of quarterbacks in the program. In fact, the number of reps in spring and fall will only become more contested as Luallen and Sims shed their redshirts and start to seriously contend for practice reps. One would even look at five returning players at the position and start looking down the road at potential position changes.
In addition to solidifying the backup this year in the event of an injury, the future needs to start being considered when evaluating reps. After all, Nesbitt has but one year left and it’s now time to start sorting out who’ll be the heir to his spot on the first team, who’ll provide depth and who would be better served helping the team in other areas.
Spring Practice Report:
Clearly Georgia Tech is as comfortable with the starting quarterback situation as just about any team in the country. Nesbitt, the first team all-ACC selection, is the unquestioned starter and leader on offense. There was no better example than his efforts in the back-and-forth shootout at Florida State in front of over 76,000, the largest crowd GT played in front of all year. It was an emotional game for the Seminoles who walked onto the field arm-in-arm with Coach Bobby Bowden in a show of solidarity for their embattled head coach who would later call the season his last. The 49-44 victory was also the Yellow Jackets first win ever in Tallahassee.
Nesbitt picked that game to have his best rushing performance of the season with 140 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. He solidified his reputation as a never-say-die leader when after a fumbled pitch was gathered by the Seminoles he tracked down FSU linebacker Nigel Carr and ripped the ball back out of his arms. This was late in the fourth quarter after carrying a heavy load for Tech on the ground. He wasn’t done yet though. Two plays later he broke open the back-and-forth affair when he hauled in a 22-yard touchdown run giving Tech a 10-point lead with 6:29 to go in the game. The two teams had not been separated by more than seven points at any given point in the game up until then. That moment marked that point that any remaining Nesbitt doubters from the Jacket faithful were at last converted.
It was no secret now that Josh would be the go-to player for the rest of the year and probably as long as he remains a Yellow Jacket. That theory was tested in a big way just four weeks after the FSU game. Tech got on a roll after the FSU game. Next up was number four ranked Virginia Tech. Nesbitt, as in the FSU game, sealed a victory with a late rushing touchdown. Josh looked like he was completing a high wire act when he clung to in-bounds territory on a 39-yard back-breaking scamper to give Tech the 12-point lead with three minutes to go. Soon after, Tech fans were covering the field and removing the North end goal posts.
Tech moved from 19 in the polls to 11 following the win versus the Hokies. Charlottesville, Virginia was the next stop. Normally a tough destination for GT to pick up a win, Tech dismantled the Cavaliers behind a pair of touchdown runs from Nesbitt and Anthony Allen. The 34-9 road win meant the Jackets would retain their #11 ranking in a week when no teams ahead of them lost.
The following game was another convincing road win, this time at Vanderbilt. This was a Jonathan Dwyer-Josh Nesbitt show. Dwyer’s three touchdowns and career high 186 rushing yards were met with Josh’s two rushing scores and two additional scores through the air. Tech moved up one spot in the rakings to the top 10 and seemed to be in line for a very favorable home reprieve against unranked Wake Forest.
Wake ended up being more up to the challenge than many Tech fans expected. Dwyer continued his torrid pace by eclipsing his personal best he had set just seven days prior by rolling up 189 yards. Nesbitt though was finding the going much tougher. He only managed 54 yards in the game on 21 carries. Success in the air was difficult as well. Josh threw 14 times and only connected on 4 of those attempts. Halfway through the fourth quarter Josh finally broke through when Tech needed it with a 12-yard touchdown run. It broke the 17-17 tie and seemed to give the Jackets a well-needed but precarious lead. Tech hadn’t had a lead since about 8 minutes to go in the second quarter. Wake fought back though. Within four minutes Riley Skinner found Devon Brown for an 11-yard touchdown pass and the game was back to even. From there each team had one full possession to break the stalemate. Nesbitt drove the Jackets down as close as the Wake 30 yard line. On a 4th and 8 on the 33, Coach Paul Johnson decided to go for it and Nesbitt was sacked. Wake then stalled out on a five-play drive and punted it to Tech where Josh ran the clock out.
So the six game winning streak (8-1 overall) and a chance at the ACC championship game now came down to an overtime match at home against Wake Forest. Wake got the ball first and only managed seven yards before settling on a field goal. Now any miscue on Tech’s part and the game’s over. On Tech’s first play Nesbitt relieved some of the tension by going for 11 yards. The next two plays netted four yards and on third down Josh made a five yard run to close to the first down marker. After a Wake timeout Tech ran to the line as if they were going to actually go for it on 4th down from the five. Typically I’m not one of the more conservative fans in the stands, but at this point I’m screaming for the field goal and just about no one around me agrees. We held our collective breath while Nesbitt tried to simply draw Wake off-sides. Timeout Tech – that was more like it – at least Coach Johnson is more reasonable than the people standing around me. The next thing we know Josh is running back onto the field. On the sidelines Coach Johnson put it together that the Wake linebackers were not playing close enough to the line of scrimmage. So he put the season in Josh’s hand and went for the win versus the tie. Josh answered with a two-yard dive. He didn’t score but got a first down. Wake, reeling from the turn of event, watched the next play as Nesbitt finished them off with his second touchdown of the day. Nesbitt had put the offense on his shoulders once again when the team needed it most.
Nesbitt definitely solidified his place based on his on-field performances. Getting over to spring now, what is there left to prove for Nesbitt? Well, not much really. The biggest key is for him to just stay healthy. If we want to talk about areas to improve on there’s always the running discussion on his ability to have success through the air. This was debated on the boards and in these updates before spring and fall of last year. In general many fans wondered aloud after Coach Johnson’s first season if the Nesbitt and the offense would pass the ball more in 2009. It was generally believed that would be the case. In 2008 Tech ran the ball 80% of the time. Before reading ahead, do you think that number went up or went down? Actually, in 2009 Georgia Tech ran the ball more – 83% of the time.
As for individual improvements in passing, I made the following prediction before the season, “My first prediction is that Nesbitt will improve on his 43.9 completion percentage from last season but that he’ll still end the season under 50 percent.”
Of all the pre-season predictions I made last year, writing that Nesbitt would not improve enough on his completion percentage to eclipse the 50% mark was the most challenged. In this case, I got that one dead on. In guessing between 43.9% and 50%, Nesbitt ended the year with 46.3% completion percentage. As effective as he is in moving the ball and putting up points, passing remains an area he can improve on. The interesting thing to watch in spring is to see Tech changes the passing profile to higher percentage plays. With Demaryius Thomas moving on to the NFL, Nesbitt will be looking for another deep threat. If that materialized, will he find one who comes up with the ball more or less? Does Josh become less comfortable with the deep pass or do defenses do a better job of defending it and Josh tries more intermediate receiver routes, dumps-offs and seam routes to the backs?
Josh did make other huge strides in 2009 though over the 2008 season. Most people don’t really understand how far he came along this past season versus what was known about him prior to the season. In 2008 Josh had only 2 touchdowns to go with 5 interceptions. In 2009 he improved to 10 touchdowns while keeping the 5 picks. Nesbitt more than doubled his number of yards thrown from 808 to 1,701 yards and his yards per attempt jumped from 6.6 to 10.5. But in the most important metric of a quarterback Josh lead Tech to an improvement from 9-4 to 11-3 and that, of course, was the record. I think all Tech fans would gladly take another improvement in that stat in 2010 and if that’s to happen, a healthy Josh Nesbitt will be in the center of it.
On the field in 2009 there were only six passes attempted by someone other than Nesbitt. The good news is that the starter was relatively healthy for almost all of the season; the bad news is that Tech is no closer to being settled on the quarterback of the future – not that anyone is complaining about first team players healthy. Spring is a good time to scale back some reps for Nesbitt and let Shaw, Washington, Luallen and Sims start to duke it out.
Jaybo is still the backup for 2010. If his long-term plan comes to fruition, he’ll start as a senior in 2011 once Josh moves on. He’s been Nesbitt’s backup for two years now and will attempt to fight off the competition for another year. His understanding of the reads in this offense sometimes goes unappreciated by many. The biggest difference now for Jaybo versus the past two seasons is that his competition for backup and starter-in-waiting gets seemingly better each season. In 2008 a freshman Jaybo Shaw had to contend with Bryce Dykes and Calvin Booker. Both were out of the program in 2009 and it was Jaybo versus Tevin Washington – a player from his same recruiting class who he was obviously more ready than in year one when Tevin took a redshirt. Now Tevin has another year under his belt and two others have emerged from redshirt seasons and are closer to being ready to compete.
Tevin Washington will start out again as the third string quarterback. Last year coaches preferred to redshirt both freshmen quarterbacks Luallen & Sims so there wasn’t a very tough decision to make for the third string. Any thoughts of a position switch for Washington were tabled though there were some fall experiments with wide receiver Quentin Sims getting looks for the #3 quarterback spot. I haven’t personally seen enough of Tevin to say that he cannot be the quarterback of the future. He certainly is one of the more electric offensive players in the open field. I know less about his grasp of the offensive reads or his abilities in the passing game, though I suspect there are still some reservations on those skill sets from coaches. If there are no injuries to Nesbitt or Shaw then this could really be do-or-die time for Tevin’s shot at quarterback. With the skills we’ve seen from Tevin, there is a sense that he could transition to a-back or wide receiver if needed in the future. The biggest problem moving forward though on quarterbacks potentially switching positions is that the depth at those positions seem to have gotten a lot better since Coach Johnson brought in his offense. For example, the a-back position had more opportunities prior to adding a transfer and three commitments.
The biggest challenge to Shaw this year and beyond may come from redshirt freshman Jordan Luallen. Jordan showed some good glimpses prior to suffering an ankle injury in fall practice. He’s got as much or more athletic ability to play this position at this level as the other backups on the team and he seems to have a good presence on the field. Shaw has much more experience at this level so it could be tough for Jordan to make a big move in spring but he could supplant Tevin at #3 and will be someone to watch potentially challenge #2 throughout the season and into next spring.
The other losing the redshirt this season is David Sims. Indications from National Signing Day were that David, while built well to play football, may have bulked up a little too much for this position. Coaches don’t mind guys getting bigger as long as they can grow while maintaining their speed and other skills. It seems that David may have to take some off to get back to the physical requirements coaches are looking for from him as a quarterback. He has some upside but also has more room to grow as any of the quarterbacks on the roster. I can see him getting a look as a quarterback for another year but should it not work out I could also see him as a potential b-back down the road.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Powder Springs, GA (Hillgrove HS)
Other offers included: Indiana, Kansas State, Louisville, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State, Toledo
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Bohannon
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking (Regardless of Position): 64
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 91 (S)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Synjyn is a no-brainer in terms of having the physical ability to translate from high school ball to college. As you’ll see below, analyst can picture him at a number of different positions, much like you heard when Josh Nesbitt was being recruited. Like Josh, Days should definitely get his first college shot at the quarterback position. I first saw Synjyn as a junior at one of Tech’s camps. It was one of those situations where we were watching the quarterbacks and saw a guy we didn’t recognize, looked for a roster and matched it up to the kid who was standing out that day. The ability and poise were obvious even to the untrained eye. Days was invited to Tech’s junior day last year. Following that visit he told our Jared Kimmel, "I run the triple-option offense on my team, too. I think that is why they're probably recruiting me." Tech not only liked his athleticism but liked his leadership and the fact that he was familiar with the type of offense he’d run here at Tech.
Though I do like what I have seen and heard from Days holding him up to Nesbitt as a comparison is not fair at this point. Josh was much more acclaimed at this point than Synjyn for what that’s worth. Josh was the #4 ranked player in Georgia and #12 quarterback in the country. Days is outside of the top 60 in Georgia and is ranked as a safety by Scout.com. Putting rankings aside now, I do have a better feeling about Days’ chances of remaining a quarterback than I have about some other versatile players who have come through the system in the past couple of years.
Days had a pretty solid list of offers but in the end it came down to GT or Oklahoma State. “It was a hard and tough decision as Coach Spencer from Oklahoma State really made it a tougher decision than I thought it would be in the end,” Days told Dale McDuffie back in August.
If last season was any indication, Coach Johnson would probably prefer to redshirt Days in 2010. Unless he comes in and shows some really special abilities and understanding of the offense upon arrival in summer, it won’t make sense to play him with five other quarterbacks on scholarship. There were whispers of a “grey shirt” for Days back during the recruiting season. That’s where the player wouldn’t enroll until January of the next year and not burn up that year of eligibility. I’m not sure how seriously that was ever considered but it doesn’t seem to make sense right now given the numbers in the class and numbers on the team. There is room still to give scholarships to walk-ons even after this signing class so I don’t expect anything other than Days enrolling as everyone else does.
Chad Simmons - South Recruiting Analyst:
Georgia Tech is getting a very talented athlete in Days. He has the ability and size to play many positions other than quarterback on the next level. He could be a running back, a safety, or even an outside linebacker. He is a very physical player that is ideal for the GT system as a quarterback. He has the size to take the hits, he has the experience in an option offense, and he should be very comfortable when he gets on campus in 2010.
For the full analysis from Chad see his story from August 31, 2009:
Scout’s Take: Synjyn Days
The one who got away:
Connor Shaw (South Carolina)
Losing out on Connor Shaw was unfortunate because he could have been a good player in this system, though it was another offense he was more interested in playing for. With Shaw, most Tech fans kind of assumed he’d end up a Yellow Jacket all along; It a surprise when he announced for South Carolina. Shaw had been around Tech for all of the camps and combines and often was seen at practices and games. In the end it was him wanting to play for another system and going in a different path from his brother as the main factors for him choosing SC. "I felt that I would fit into the system at South Carolina a little better than Georgia Tech,” Shaw told Dale McDuffie in April. “Coach Mangus is another reason too. We have a very good relationship and it helped South Carolina with him being there. Also, I know Jaybo and I wanted to play together again but I felt Jaybo had his thing at Georgia Tech and I felt I would be better off making my own at South Carolina."
There were a number of others who Tech either offered along the way or had some serious interest in such as: Gabe Henderson (Kent State), Ty-Meer Brown (Connecticut), Ryan White (Auburn), Santez Emory (South Carolina State), Bruce Ellington (South Carolina – hoops), and Dominique Brown (Louisville).
Henderson showed off a good arm at Tech’s camp last year but coaches weren’t sold on his running ability. Ellington, Emory, Brown and White attended the same came as Gabe. Of that group Ryan White really stood out the most. He as a little smallish for a quarterback but showed a good range of skills. Tech pulled the offer for him once numbers got tight and he wouldn’t make a decision. He will now go to Auburn as a cornerback prospect. His case reminds me of a few years back when Tech looked at Joe Haden as a quarterback but he went with another SEC school – Florida – as a defensive back. White only hope things work out that well for him too.
Ellington, like Shaw, is going to South Carolina but he’s going as a basketball player – which is supposed to be his better sport. Dominique Brown received some late interest from the Tech coaches but did not have strong enough transcripts to get that offer. He would have been a very good fit for the offense and a nice late addition however he ends up at Louisville.
Ideally you’d like to either land a top 15-20 type quarterback every year but that isn’t always going to happen. Josh Nesbitt, being from Georgia and having the skills to fit, ability to make it academically and having interest in GT doesn’t come around all of time. In absence of a sure-fire quarterback talent, the next thing you’d like to see, particularly in this offense where you can find success in good athletes in the next tier, you’d like to add 2-3 players in that tier and see if one will eventually stand out. That was more of the case last year with Luallen and Sims. Neither player was ranked in the top 20 at the position (Luallen was #26) but you felt like there was a chance one of them would step up and contribute or start down the road. With the class set up to be a small one and five quarterbacks on campus already, it just wasn’t realistic to take that approach this recruiting season. Sure it would have been nice to couple someone like Shaw or Brown with Days and like the chances that one would pan out and possibly start down the road. In this case, coaches had to just be sure they got the right one if there was only going to be one. I think Days could be a successful quarterback and was a real steal. If he doesn’t pan out as a quarterback he could fit in nicely elsewhere, there will just be a hole in the class at this position if that happens.