RT: Austin Barrick, Antonio Foster, Michael Johnson
RG: Omoregie Uzzi, Nick McRae, Catlin Alford
C: *Sean Bedford, Zach Fraysier, Raymond Beno
LG: Will Jackson, Jay Finch, Zach Krish
LT: Phil Smith (questionable), Nick Claytor, Morgan Bailey
(*) Previous First Team All-ACC Selection
Unexpected post-season player attrition left Georgia Tech in a position where it was difficult to overcome on short notice. It was the case with an unprecedented four underclassmen leaving early for the NFL. A couple of NFL defections could have reasonably expected but it's difficult to prepare for four – at DE, RB, S, and WR. Also consider that the quarterback position was also affected when Jaybo Shaw left after signing day. Well, the offensive line was affected as well. It may not be as glaring as having to replace someone like Morgan Burnett, Derrick Morgan, Jonathan Dwyer, or Demaryius Thomas, but losing Joseph Gilbert on short notice has a similar affect on the recruiting class.
Tech coaches knew that three senior linemen were already departing in Cordaro Howard, Brad Sellers, and Dan Voss. Brad Sellers was the starting right tackle for the entire 2009 season. Brad took an unusual path to the starting line position. In his time at Tech, Brad also played defensive line, tight end and long snapper. He's also long thought to be one of the strongest guys on the team, so to eventually see him hold his own at OL after this switch wasn't too surprising.
Cordaro Howard, a starting right tackle beginning in the last six games of 2007, moved inside to right guard when Coach Paul Johnson took over. Coach Johnson's theory on linemen is almost a little backward from what most fans are used to seeing. To be able to run smash-mouth style inside and get speedier backs to the outside, Johnson will often times put tackle types at guard and vice versa. This is why you saw the move of Cord inside, just like A.J. Smith before him. Cord started every game of the season at guard for both 2008 and 2009. He was second team all-ACC in '08 and was honored with a first team selection on '09. Cord also selected by teammates in the pre-season as the team's best singer – that will come in handy next year for NFL freshman hazing.
Georgia Tech led the ACC in rushing in 2007 and 2008 with Dan Voss leading the way as the starting center. He lost his starting spot to Sean Bedford in 2009 after falling behind in spring when he had to sit out the camp recovering from shoulder surgery. Instead he was a valuable backup for the 2009 Yellow Jackets.
Knowing three valuable members of the offensive line were leaving after the season, coaches planned accordingly. Numbers were tight for the class, so they couldn't replace all of them but the plan was to address the needs by signing two linemen.
The big twist was losing two-year starter Joseph Gilbert, who still had two years of eligibility remaining. Gilbert, a smart kid by all accounts, redshirted in 2007, started in '08 and '09, and then will soon complete all of his requirements for graduation. Some guys graduate early and get another degree in order to extend their college football career. Gilbert wants to go to graduate school but Tech generally speaking doesn't allow in student to the graduate programs without some work experience. Joseph was denied admission at GT and it appears he may go to Georgia State to play out his eligibility and get his graduate degree following the spring semester at Tech. Some will ask why there was an exception made for Darryl Richard, who similarly graduated from Tech early and entered the MBA program. He was given exception based on a body of work at school that was filled with many on campus activities in addition to being a football player. His work included serving as president of the Georgia Tech Student-Athlete Advisory Board.
In addition to Gilbert leaving with remaining eligibility, Clyde Yandell is also likely to join Gilbert at Georgia State. Though the Yandell departure doesn't hold the same weight as losing a two-year starter, it was another dent in the numbers on the offensive line when the plan in place only called for landing two linemen. Knowing what we know now in regard to all of the unnatural attrition, I'm sure the coaches would have planned to sign at least three offensive linemen.
The 2010 version of the GT offensive line has some big shoes to fill. The 2009 group left some high standards to match. As many know, the line helped lead Tech's rushing offense to rank second in the nation with 295.4 yards per game. But their blocking also contributed to Tech being: 2nd in third-down conversions (52.3%), 3rd in time of possession (33:49), and 5th in fewest sacks allowed per game (0.86) – then again Tech didn't run as much as others.
Gone now are three starters from that group, a former starter who was a key backup, and a fifth player who would have provided depth. What's left is a lot of holes to fill in spring and only eleven scholarship players to handle all of the repetitions. On the positive side, you have a returning first team all-ACC selection and basically introduce four players who were recruited by this head coach with this offense in mind. And those four should be properly trained and in shape by now following a redshirt year in the program.
The most positive news for the offensive line this spring is that Sean Bedford (6-1, 274) returns as the center with hardware. Bedford, who took the starting job at center from Dan Voss to start the year, finished the year as the ACC's best center by winning all-ACC first team honors. Bedford, a senior and former walk-on, was one of biggest surprises for the Yellow Jackets in 2009. Some feared transitioning the starting center position and risking messing with the chemistry between Voss and Josh Nesbitt, but Bedford put all of those concerns to rest. Now Sean is looked at as a solid leader on the line. Walk-on Zach Fraysier (6-3, 260) will compete for the backup spot behind Bedford at center.
The only other returning starter is another rising senior Austin Barrick (6-3, 279). "Barricade" took over as a starter in this offense in 2008 once Andrew Gardner and David Brown went down with injuries that season. Nick Claytor initially took over when Brown was injured. The following week Gardner went out and Claytor moved to left tackle while Barrick settled in at right tackle for the rest of the season. In the 2009 season Barrick moved to left tackle, where he started every game except for a four-game stretch toward the end of year where he missed time with a leg injury. Walk-on Michael Johnson (6-4, 304) will compete for the backup spot behind Barrick.
Two other guys with starting experience are Nick Claytor (6-6, 283), as mentioned above, and Phil Smith (6-6, 276) – the guy who took over for Barrick when he hurt his leg in 2009. Both were going to be huge contributors this coming spring. "Philthy" would be the new starting left tackle this season but an injury suffered in the ACC Championship game will cause his status to be questionable in spring. Now Claytor will likely get most of the starting reps in his place. On the subject of Claytor and Smith, Bedford had this to say following the ACCC game when interviewed by Rod Mackenzie, "Phil Smith did a great job filling in for Austin. I don't think we missed much of a beat at all. When Phil went down, I hated to see that happen, especially Phil playing in his hometown [Tampa]. He gave all he could and I guess there's a certain breaking point where your ankle can't give any more. The other guys came and stepped up. Nick Claytor did a great job. Nick played through a ton of pain. I can't say enough about his toughness." Both guys will see the field a lot in 2010 but Nick will handle most of the load this spring. Claytor and Smith also have both been cross-trained to play either tackle position, so whoever loses out in this battle for the starting role will likely be able to backup both the RT and LT positions.
At the guard positions there are several returning players who have never started prior to this season but will work this spring to change that. The most likely to move into a starting role is Omoregie Uzzi (6-3, 305), the highest rated Tech recruit from the 2008 class. Uzzi has taken a couple of years to get there but this may be the year he realizes his four-star potential. He played in 12 games last year so he's used to being in the rotation but this year he'll likely be counted for a greater contribution. Zach Krish (6-5, 279) is the third rising senior who is expected to contribute this year. Krish almost didn't play with Tech this spring. He was going to stop playing and work toward finishing school then heading to law school. Instead he'll stay on – likely due to Tech losing Gilbert and Yandell – and compete for playing time at guard this spring. The final returning guard is Nick McRae (6-4, 296). He played in only four games last year and needs to have a good spring to avoid sliding down the depth chart. Bedford had the following to say about these guys to Rod Mackenzie, "You really do have an opportunity to move up and establish yourself based on hard work and your performance. I think it showed with a couple of guys. I think Uzzi and Zach Krish had a good run during camp. They both set themselves up in positions to contribute."
That only leaves the class that Georgia Tech fans are hopeful to carry on or even improve on the line play from the past few years. This was the first full class of offensive linemen recruited to Tech by Coach Paul Johnson. That group is made up of: Will Jackson (6-4, 284), Jay Finch (6-4, 274), Antonio Foster (6-4, 310) and Raymond Beno (6-1, 292). The entire group has the chance to come out of spring all being on the two-deep depth chart.
Will Jackson is supposed to be the star of the group. Fortunately The University of Tennessee played the waiting game on offering the prized lineman from Knoxville-Farragut and Tech ended up with him. After a year of bulking up, his time may come early. I don't typically pencil in freshmen for a starting role by spring but with the loss of Gilbert and Howard, he's as likely to start as anyone. In fact, the speedy lineman Jay Finch will likewise be working for that starting spot. Finch stood out in combines as a recruit and was offered on the spot. He'll get to put that speed and footwork to good use in an offense that should suit him well. Beno is the shortest of the group at 6'1" and is more of a fit at center. He'll push Fraysier hard to be the backup for Bedford. Foster, the biggest of the four, will compete at tackle. Again we looked to Bedford to tell us what to expect from this new group of linemen. "I think they're going to be a good group of guys," Sean told Rod Mackenzie. "They still have some refining to do. They're still kind of cutting their teeth right now. I think after the spring, there's going to be a huge improvement in them that you can really be excited about."
Home Town (High School): Loganville, GA (Loganville HS)
Other offers included: Clemson, Florida State, Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Vanderbilt
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Jeff Monken
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking (Regardless of Position): 38
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 36 (OT)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Scout.com Southeast Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Morgan Bailey, as seen here in Chad Simons' video from January 27th, has really been putting in some serious off-season work. It seems to be paying off too. In the latest publication from Georgia Tech, Bailey is now 6'4", 298 pounds. Even seeing him up close before his workouts, Morgan was an impressive site for an offensive lineman. He's just big and has little fat. He's also a smart kid – he carried a 3.8 GPA at Loganville High.
Frankly I was a little surprised when Bailey committed to Tech even though he had previously stated the Yellow Jackets were his leader. GT had just finished up the Elite Camp and had landed three commits in three days with B.J. Bostic, Isaiah Johnson, and Catlin Alford. But in the following five days Bailey joined his buddies along with Ryan Ayers – making it one of the best commit snowball Tech fans have had the joy of witnessing. GT was the first team to offer Bailey back in late March of 2009, and that initial show of appreciation for his talents went a long way. Even after building quite a portfolio of offers, he ended up where he started the recruiting process. "I grew up liking both UGA and Tech," Bailey told Jared Kimmel after Tech offered. "When they played each other, I was always for Georgia, but you know, that can change." Truer words haven't been spoken.
Bailey was drawn to Tech thanks to a tightly-knit recruiting class and guys like Denzel McCoy. Upon committing Morgan told Dale McDuffie his thoughts on what he liked about Tech. "It comes down to the coaches and players," said Bailey. "I really like them as they are ones that really make you feel like a part of a family. That was what really won me over, Tech has a great bunch of coaches and the players really go out of their way to make you feel at home."
I know Coach Johnson fully intends to redshirt every offensive lineman. But, if there was one with a chance to crack the two-deep as a true freshman, Morgan may be that guy. Tech is fairly thin at tackle now and a couple of injury could mean Bailey is forced into action early. He certainly seems to be training for that possibility.
Chad Simmons - South Recruiting Analyst:
Bailey is one of the best offensive linemen in the Peach State this year and one reason he is thought of so highly is the way that he finishes off his blocks. He plays until the whistle blows, he tries to put guys on their backs, and he has the attitude all OLs should have. He is a tweener between tackle and guard for a lot of schools, but he could fit in well at either spot in Georgia Tech's system. He has good leg drive, he has nice punch, and good strength.
Home Town (High School) Adairsville, GA (Adairsville HS)
Other offers included: North Carolina State, Navy, East Carolina, South Alabama, Western Michigan Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Bohannon
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking (Regardless of Position): 97
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 39 (OG)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Scout.com Southeast Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Nobody knew much at all about Catlin prior to Tech's Elite Camp. He had an outstanding performance in early drills and was offered before the second part of the camp even began. Before heading in for the break not knowing he was about to be extended an offer, Alford told me, "Georgia Tech and North Carolina State are my top two."
Following a meeting with Tech coaches, the story had changed. "Coach Johnson was upstairs with my mom and they came and pulled me up there and I just decided to tell them," said Alford. "This is where my heart is at, and I love being here." It was a soul searching lunch hour for Catlin as he described when he made up his mind. "I sat here alone at lunch and thought about it the whole time. I decided it's real close to home and this is where I want to be."
Some worried that Alford pulled the trigger too quickly on his offer and could waiver later on. When Auburn pursued him later on, Tech fans had some moments of apprehension. "I mean as of right now I'm still solid," which was coaxed out of Catlin by Burke Hayes about a month after his Tech commitment. "But if Auburn jumps in it will definitely give me a lot to think about." Not surprisingly there was nothing to it but some typical recruiting gamesmanship. Alford never made the Dontae Aycock mistake of taking that Auburn visit. The tough lesson from two recruiting seasons ago still resonates with recruits. Coaches can always point to Aycock to show they mean what they say when they say it.
For Alford to prove in such a short time that he was worthy of an offer from Coach Johnson was remarkable considering Catlin was a tight end for his high school. He also played some nose guard – but don't expect any chances of that happening here. It likely means he'll need a year to get reps on the offensive line but he's a super athlete for a lineman and has a lot of upside.
Chad Simmons - South Recruiting Analyst:
Alford is very athletic for a big man and he could have played offensive guard, defensive tackle, or possibly tight end on the next level, but he going to Georgia Tech strictly as an offensive lineman. He plays with a lot of raw power and he has good flexibility. He is a straight drive run blocker on the OL and he should fit in very nicely in Atlanta. Hands and extension are two things he can work on.
A.J. Cann (South Carolina)
There really wasn't a name that stuck out as a big miss at offensive line in this class. Tech didn't offer many so guys either committed or didn't show a great amount of interest. Cann showed up at Tech a time or two and enjoyed himself but Tech was never really a finalist. "I had a very nice time there," Cann told Dale McDuffie about his visit to Tech. "I really enjoyed the campus and talked with my recruiting coach a lot. We talked about me being recruited for the offensive line and how much they liked me as player. Over all, the coaches were very cool. The best part of the trip was their practices. They are very intense and you can see the players really stepping up to work hard for the coaching staff. I'd rate the trip an 8."
Kolton Houston (Georgia) and JaWuan James (Tennessee) also received offers along the way but not many offers were out there for this position. Tech really didn't have many offers to work with, landed two good one, then the late losses of Gilbert and Yandell came too late in the game to get in with any big-time prospects.
Tech looks to have done a nice job with the two recruits landed in this class. Hindsight would tell you that they should have recruited a third player for the line but the late attrition couldn't be predicted. Tech had been building up depth on the offensive line but this class – in terms of numbers – set it back. If you count Alford and Bailey, Tech will go into the 2010 season with only 13 OL, the fewest scholarship players at the position since 2003. GT has gone into each season since 2003 with 14 scholarship linemen except for 2005 when there were 15.
If you're curious what happened in 2003, Tech ended up with a 7-6 record. But there's hardly a high correlation between Tech wins and number of scholarship offensive linemen. Tech ran 7-5 records in '04 and '05 with 14 and 15 scholarship offensive linemen respectively. Coach Johnson will surely have the line ready again to be the class of the conference. The depth will be helped by a steady walk-on in Zach Fraysier and may even give someone like Morgan Bailey a look at cracking the depth chart if he's ready. So there are no true worries for this coming season. What is clear is that OL will need to be addressed in a big way for the Class of 2011. By starting out short and losing two seniors after the season, the numbers point to at least signing three for next year. Four or more should be the number in case of further attrition.