Spring Look: At Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets are not looking behind them. George O'Leary and the turmoil that surrounded him are gone. The Chan Gailey era has started in productive fashion, and the Jackets expect to remain on the winning path. "I think that there are programs that hope to win and there are programs that expect to win. And we fall into the category of programs that expect to win," Gailey said.

Georgia Tech survived plenty of turmoil at the end of the George O'Leary era. Now, the Yellow Jackets want to look forward -- and not behind -- under new coach Chan Gailey. And while construction is everywhere on the Tech campus, most notably the renovation of Bobby Dodd Stadium, Gailey is not interested in rebuilding the Tech football program.

Gailey expects the Yellow Jackets to be successful. immediately.

"I think that there are programs that hope to win and there are programs that expect to win," Gailey said. "And we fall into the category of programs that expect to win."

Well, Tech certainly won with regularity under O'Leary, who bolted the Yellow Jackets for Notre Dame, only to resign within five days after admitting he had lied about his academic and athletic credentials.

Enter Gailey, who inherits a program that has been to five consecutive bowl games, winning 42 games during that stretch. The native Georgian returned home to take a team that returns nine starters on defense, five on offense and three outstanding specialists.

Still, Gailey entered spring drills with question marks. The Jackets will have a new quarterback, a new tailback and a new defense this season, which may force Tech to play steady, low-risk, low-turnover football. Still, the results could be surprising considering the program's talent and expectations.

"The players in this program understand hard work and they understand discipline, and those are two big hurdles to get over in order to develop a championship team," Gailey said. "I think we are ahead of the curve in those two areas, but we have a lot of football ahead of us."

QUARTERBACK CONCERNS

Tech's most pressing concern is: who is going to replace George Godsey, who threw for 3,085 yards and 18 touchdowns last season? Battle lines have been drawn between junior A.J Suggs, a transfer from Tennessee in his first season of eligibility, and redshirt freshman Damarius Bilbo who played in one game last season but received a medical hardship. Also in the mix is junior Brian Camp, who returns to quarterback after playing running back last year.

All three showed positive signs during spring drills. Suggs was 8-for-18 for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game, including a 70-yard strike to receiver Jonathan Smith. Bilbo completed just three of six passes for 13 yards but displayed big-play ability in the running game, particularly on a 31-yard scramble. Camp was 5-for-7 for 79 yards and two touchdowns, including a 38-yard scoring strike to Smith and a five-yard touchdown to sophomore Trevor Bowman.

"They all did things that we thought we had seen during the course of spring practice," Gailey said. "A.J. threw the ball well. He threw the deep ball better than he has in previous practices, so that was a positive. It's never an easy choice, but the good thing is that we have a choice between two good players (between Suggs and Bilbo). They both showed they can move the team. I have a scenario in my mind where they both will be on the field a lot next fall."

Tech also lost tailback Joe Burns, a 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns last season and the program's fourth-leading rusher, and receiver Kelly Campbell, the team's leading target with 56 catches for 708 yards and three scores in nine games. Still, the Yellow Jackets feature a trio of talented skill players in Will Glover, Kerry Watkins and Smith. The trio combined for 136 receptions, 1,810 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Keep an eye on Smith. He displayed his athletic ability with 185 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in the Yellow Jackets' spring game. He had four catches for 165 yards, including scoring plays of 70 and 38 yards. He added a 20-yard run.

"I think there's no question he'll be a big weapon for us," Gailey said.

Additionally, Tech returns three starters on the line, including left tackle Nat Dorsey (6-6, 315), an All-ACC and freshman All-America selection last season. Leon Robinson (6-4, 310) returns at left guard and Hugh Reilly (6-4, 285) moves to center after starting at right guard last season. Senior Raymond Roberts-Blake also had 19 career starts at left guard before switching to right guard.

Junior Tony Hollings, a converted safety, ended spring drills as the starter at tailback. Senior Sidney Ford is the team's most experienced tailback with 605 career yards and four touchdowns.

Another plus was Gailey's decision to retain offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien from O'Leary's staff.

SOLID DEFENSE

Despite a new approach under coordinator Jon Tenuta, who was at North Carolina and Ohio State, Tech should be just fine defensively. Its calling card remains big plays and speed.

The Jackets return their top four tacklers from last year and eight of the top 10. It goes without saying they boast one of the nation's top players in all-America defensive end Greg Gathers and also features all-star performers in linebackers Recardo Wimbushand Daryl Smith and safety Jeremy Muyres.

With a season to play, Gathers (6-1, 275) is already Tech's career leader in sacks with 30, ranking sixth in ACC history, and tackles for loss with 56. Last season Gathers led the ACC with 10 sacks along with 56 tackles and 18 tackles for loss.

Along with receiver, linebackers appears to be Tech's deepest position, returning Wimbush, Smith and fellow starter Keyaron Fox. A three-year starter, Wimbush (6-1, 218) is Tech's active career leader with 281 tackles, which ranks 15th in school history. He has led the Jackets in tackles the last three years, including 96 last year.

Smith chipped in 59 tackles despite missing three games and half of another with an elbow injury. Fox was Tech's second-leading tackler with 95 stops.

"You start talking about our defense and if you aren't careful you are going to leave somebody out," Gailey said. "There are a lot of very good players. There is no question that the speed of the defense is what is exciting to watch. I think we will swarm to the football with the best of them."

Tech's secondary features three returning starters, anchored by Muyres, a two-time All-ACC honoree. Muyres (6-3, 205) has started 33 consecutive games and ranks first among active Jackets with seven career interceptions and 197 career tackles. He had 85 tackles last season to rank third. Strong safety Cory Collins has started 19 consecutive games and Marvious has six career interceptions and 100 career tackles.

On special teams, kicker Luke Manget is considered one of the nation's best, punter Dan Dyke has been extremely consistent and punt return specialist Kelley Rhino is one of the league's most exciting players.

Manget has made an ACC record 131 consecutive extra points and is within reach of the NCAA record of 161. He had a school-record 97 points last season with 19 field goals. Dyke has a career punting average of 42.3 yards and Rhino set a conference record last year with 515 punt return yards.

Tech, which hosts Florida State Nov. 9, opens its season Aug. 31 at home against Vanderbilt. The Yellow Jackets open ACC play at Clemson Sept. 14.

JUST THE FACTS

Last season: 8-5, 4-4 ACC (tied for fourth); beat Stanford 24-14 in Seattle Bowl.

Starters returning: 5 offense, 9 defense, 2 specialists

Coach: Chan Gailey, 24-11 overall, first season Tech

Players from the Sunshine State: DT Omar Billy (Orlando Colonial), G Beau Cleland (Panama City Mosely), WR Nate Curry (Miami Monsignor Pace), P Dan Dyke (Oviedo), WR Will Glover (Tampa Jesuit), DE Tony Hargrove (Port Charlotte), G Clay Hartley (West Nassau), FB Johnathan Jackson (Jacksonville Bolles), DT Reggie Koon (Miami Miramar), LB E.J. Kuale (Daytona Beach Mainland), DE LaRon Lee (Ft. Pierce), DT Casey Loesch (St. Petersburgh), WR Jonathan Warshaw (Miami Gulliver Prep), LB Chirod Williams (Jacksonville Trinity Christian), DE Fred Wright (Lehigh).

FLORIDA RECRUITS: DB Vinnie Gilliam (Tallahassee Rickards), RB Eddie Lee Ivery, Jr. (Tampa).


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