Ryan's Ramblins - 2012 Offensive Backs

GoJackets.com continues its series to help you get a view of the big picture in recruiting. With National Signing Day over and Georgia Tech's recruiting class completed, GoJackets.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2012 recruiting class. Today we will look at the offensive backs.

Current Depth Chart:

QB: Tevin Washington, Synjyn Days, Vad Lee, Justin Thomas, Dennis Andrews

BB: David Sims, Charles Perkins, Richard Watson, Zach Laskey

AB: Tony Zenon, B.J. Bostic, Robbie Godhigh

AB: Orwin Smith, Deon Hill, Broderick Snoddy, Marcus Allen

Current Seniority Chart:

3 seniors – Washington (R), Watson (R), Smith

2 junior – Sims (R), Godhigh (R)

6 sophomores – Days (R), Perkins (R), Zenon (R), Bostic (R), Hill (R), Laskey

5 freshmen – Lee (R), Snoddy (R), Thomas, Andrews, Allen

Expected 2013 Class Open Slots: 1 QB, 2-3 RB

Notes: Georgia Tech loses some very dependable backs from the 2011 team. Roddy Jones, Preston Lyons, and Embry Peeples graduate from last year's squad. Roddy has been an integral part of the offense since he joined the team. Peeples was a solid back capable of breaking off big plays at anytime. And with Lyons, you never lost a beat when he'd replace or fill in for David Sims. The trio was #3, #4, and #5 (Peeples, Jones, Lyons) in rushing for the Jackets in 2011 so there's a lot of production to replace. Jones and Peeples were also #4 and #5 respectively in receiving. Peeples also handled 8 kickoff returns.

Having a system in place where you can plug in good players from the program will help, but this group won't be as easy to replace as just plugging someone in at the position. There seems to be a drop off in the A-back pool when you take Peeples and Jones out of the equation. Orwin Smith is certainly in a position to continue to star in the position. Smith accounted for 12 touchdowns in 2011 (11 rushing and 1 receiving), but the rest of the group really needs to prove itself. Zenon showed some flashes of ability in limited action. Certainly he has some speed as he showed in his 79 yard kickoff return against Maryland (though he was caught from behind when he seemed to relax thinking he was home free). Zenon will be penciled in as a starter to begin spring. The returning experience from last year at A Back besides Smith & Zenon consists of 3 combined carries from Godhigh & Hill. Many feel that a player like Broderick Snoddy, who redshirted last year, really has a chance to move up the depth chart and compete for a key role at A Back.

Though there are some key people to replace, I don't want it to sound like a dim picture for the running game. In fact, it's quite the opposite. If you count QB, BB and AB, the top three rushers on the team will still be there in 2012. Tevin Washington led the team with 1,125 yard. B-back David Sims followed with 698 yards and then Orwin Smith with 615 yards. It just goes to show how much Tech depends on the QB & Full back (BB) as opposed to other teams who lean so heavily on their main tailbacks.

Back to Sims, he was outstanding as the starting B Back following a move long-anticipated from the QB position. Sims contributed 8 touchdowns on the year (7 rushing, 1 receiving) and was a go-to player on short yardage situations. Even still, he averaged over 5 yards per carry. Perkins, Watson and Laskey will need to step up to show they can spell Sims as capably as Lyons has done.

There were no loses from the quarterback position and two players were added. So, expect some movement there at some point before game one of 2012. I'm not sure the coaches will be able to find enough practice reps for the five players either returning or being added to the roster. As we saw with Sims, bringing in great athletes as quarterbacks means you'll probably find a solid QB plus you'll be able to move others around to use their talents elsewhere. Washington was another people thought would eventually move to A Back but he actually stuck around and became the starter. Who from this group will end up finding a home at another position? Time will tell.

As for the competition for the quarterback position, Tevin may not be as entrenched as it appears following a season where he started every game and led the team in rushing. Georgia Tech in fall could match the political atmosphere at the same time where the incumbent could face a stiff challenge from a party not currently in power. The issues with Washington (back to the player, not the city!) have little to do with his ability to run. He is one of the best open field runners on the team. As for how he runs the option, I have little issues with his decision-making. He can be nearly flawless on his choices to hold the ball or pitch it. Sure he'll make a mistake here and there and yes a mistake can often lead to a turnover, but that's more of the nature of this offense when you have to make those calls so many times per game.

Washington threw 11 touchdowns to 8 interceptions and was under a 50% completion rate. Of the 11 touchdown, 7 came in the first 3 games against Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee, and Kansas. Only 4 passing touchdowns came in the remaining 10 games. Tech went on a run of 7 games during the season without a passing touchdown. The four regular season losses came in that span before Tevin changed it by having a touchdown throw in a losing effort against Utah in the bowl game (a game Tech really should have held on to for a win). So it goes to show, sure there are some times that the running game is so good, that you don't necessarily need to pass in order to win. That happened against Maryland, Clemson, and Duke. Tech beat Maryland by 5 and Duke by 7. Only the Clemson game seems to an outlier to the rest of the data. You can win (and by a comfortable margin) by not passing if you can run for almost 400 yards and 4 touchdowns while the defense contributes 2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries. Guess what? That's not going to happen often. It certainly didn't in regular season losses to Virginia, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Georgia.

It would seem to most that in order to put together a better season, the QB will need to help balance the offense with a few more touchdowns, particularly against the tougher competition Tech faces. Can Washington improve in that area or would someone else be better there? And would someone else be able to manage the option as well or who you trade off a better passing arm for more devastating mistakes in the option game?

Tech fans have made loving the backup a pastime just like any other fans of other teams. People need to remember that change can be upward or bring you down further. So be cautious when recommending or, in the case of fans, rooting for change. In my opinion, Washington has done a good job bringing the offense to this point, but I'm not yet convinced he can take the team to a place of winning consistently because good teams will force him to prove he can win (or keep defenses honest) with his ability to pass. I'm also not convinced we have a backup on the roster who provides a better option for the team but I, like many others, am very intrigued with one in particular.

The backups right now are Synjyn Days and Vad Lee. Days was the backup last year while other observers thought Lee might be better. Days had already put a year into the program for his redshirt season and the coaches probably wanted to not use Lee as a backup as long as Washington stayed healthy. Days looked a good bit like Washington did as Nesbitt's backup. He looked not sure of himself or confident in the decision he made in the option. But since Tevin looked that way, I'm sure Days could also get much better there with more reps as Washington did. In a small sample size, Days actually hit on 67% of his passes (8-for-12), including a 66-yard pass (his longest of the year) in mop up duty against Western Carolina. But he also was 3-for-5 against archrival Georgia for 78 yards. Synjyn also had 4 fumbles (2 lost) in limited play as well. So there are things to point to as encouraging and things that need a lot of work. The passing efficiency would be his ticket to supplanting Washington but taking care of the football will be a more important first step to master. The intriguing one, as always, is the one with all of the hype that not many have had the privilege to see live. Vad Lee has a reputation as being the one who can really connect the passing game to the proficient Tech running game that was second in the nation in rushing yards per game. Right now I'll take what I know I get with Washington but I'm certainly going to be interested to see/hear how Days and Lee handle their opportunity in the spring.

To tie it all back into recruiting, two new recruits will also be in the mix at the quarterback position. Dennis Andrews will actually join Days and Lee in the spring primary race to attempt to unseat Washington. Andrews is the lone player from the '12 class to enroll early. Then another gifted athlete and one of Tech's top players in the class in Justin Thomas will try to make his mark in fall. He spurned the nation's #1 team and recruiting giant Alabama for the opportunity to be a QB in this offense. It just goes to show how critical of a spring it will be for Days, Lee and Andrews not only to make their case to jump the starter but also to make their case to remain a quarterback before the position gets too crowded.

GT Commits:

JUSTIN THOMAS

Thomas (5-11, 180) is a four-star player who is ranked as the #28 wide receiver by Scout.com. He's the second highest rated Georgia Tech player in the 2012 class. Justin was #179 on the Scout 300 list and participated in the Offense-Defense All-Star game. Let's not forget that he made Andrew Bone's post-season all-state team as the second team quarterback! If you were curious, the first team quarterback was Jameis Winston, a 5-star athlete heading to Florida State, so he was in good company.

Thomas led his high school team Prattville to the 6-A state championship this past season. He rushed for 151 yards (2 scores, including a 72-yard touchdown run) on 20 carries and threw 13-for-20 for 153 yards (1 score). Thomas was MVP of the 35-34 thriller that ended with a failed Hoover 2-point conversion for the win.

Many know the story, but Thomas was a commit to National Champions Alabama before changing his pledge to Georgia Tech. Thomas was actually committed there since November of 2010. In December of 2011, after wavering a while on the Crimson Tide, Justin switched over to become a Yellow Jacket. He wavered due to a change in plans Alabama had for him. Thomas described it at the time to GoJackets.com's Matt Osborne: "After awhile, the Alabama coaches told me that they wanted to go a different route and see how I play in the system before they made a decision on my position," Thomas said. "They weren't sure if I would be able to play quarterback or not, which is what I want to play. That was the main factor in my decision. That was what I wanted to play and I felt Tech was going to give me the best opportunity to play it." Prior to the switch, Thomas had been in contact with LSU, GT, and FSU before picking Tech. Thomas had a bevy of other offers including ones from Florida, Auburn, Florida State, and LSU.

Insight: "The Yellow Jackets struck gold in getting Justin Thomas. He was the fastest player in the state of Alabama this past year with blazing sub-4.3 40-yard dash speed. He can win a game with his legs and burn you with his arm. He is an accurate passer who can throw on the run." – Andrew Bone

"Thomas is an athlete that is versatile and he makes plays when the ball is in his hands. He plays quarterback now and he has an above average arm, but his height will likely lead a move on the next level. He could be a very good slot wide receiver, he could be used out of the backfield, and he could be used as a return man on special teams. He reminds me a little of 2011 Alabama signee Blake Sims, an athletic quarterback that came out of Gainesville, Ga. Sims is a little longer, but Thomas is a little thicker, and more compact. He has good speed, he can change direction well, and he just has a good feel for the game. If he moves to receiver, like Scout expects him to, he will have to learn that position. His natural athleticism and competitiveness will likely get him on the field early on the next level though." – Chad Simmons (Article from November 2, 2011)

Notes: I have 5 criteria that I look at when trying to figure out whether a recruit was a good get or not. Those criteria are: Rankings/Honors/Awards, Offers, Personality/Demeanor, Physical Measurables (size, speed, etc.), and Need/Fit. Most people probably make the same judgments whether they do it consciously or not. These criteria served OL Chase Roberts well in my article last week but what does it do for the fan favorite Justin Thomas?

Rankings and offers pretty much seal the deal for most fans. Any 4-star player with offers from football factory schools will win over just about any Tech fan. In terms of size, there could be a question considering he's looking to be a quarterback. It was obviously more of an issue for Alabama than it was for GT. Being a 5'11" QB in Alabama's offense is more problematic than it is for Tech's. A quarterback in Tech's offense is more of a running back and a 5'11", 180-pound high school senior becomes an ideal running back size as he approaches 200 pounds or so. It remains to be seen if size is an issue in the passing game, but it shouldn't be a problem for running an option offense. Certainly, his speed plays well in any position and in any offense. A reported 4.3 40-yard dash would make him the fastest QB Tech fans have seen running the offense. If he sticks there, it could be very interesting to watch.

As for personality or demeanor, that's always one of the toughest things to know. Coaches get a great feel for this aspect while most fans usually have no idea. It's a big knowledge gap between coaches and fans and sometimes explains why the coaches may not be as high on some player they may find talented but flakey and a risk where a fan only sees offers, rankings and 40 times. I've not seen enough on Thomas' demeanor to really say. Some may see a commitment switch as a knock against a kid, and I wouldn't disagree. In this case though, it's understandable. He committed so early though and that doesn't seem to often be such a great plan when things can change so quickly in college football. So I wouldn't agree necessarily with that judgment call but you can chalk it up to youth and overexcitement. The switch is understandable since Alabama changed its tune on what position he'd play.

Finally, would a player like Thomas be a good fit at Georgia Tech and in this offense? Without question this is the type of player Coach Paul Johnson should bring in to be given a shot at quarterback. If he sticks then you have a guy who runs a 4.3 40 at QB who was thought well enough of as an athlete to get offers from all of the best football teams. If he doesn't work out at QB then his enormous abilities can be used elsewhere. Tech has a great past of such players like Dawan Landry, Tony Hollings, and now David Sims. Josh Nesbitt was also a good "athlete" who wasn't given a chance to play QB by the football factories. But he stuck there and led Tech to an ACC Championship. Hopefully the factories will be similarly wrong again here.

DENNIS ANDREWS

Andrews (6-0, 170) is a three-star player ranked as the #79 quarterback by Scout.com. Dennis was a summer commit for the Yellow Jackets and, as mentioned previously, is the only player from this class to have already enrolled into school. He'll be on the team for spring practice. Andrews chose GT over offers from Iowa State, South Florida, Texas Tech (as a defensive back), Vanderbilt and Western Kentucky.

More excitement and big plays is what Andrews would like to bring to the offense. He had this to say to GoJackets.com's Sean Breslin about 5 months before he actually committed to Tech: "I want to bring more excitement to the offense, because I didn't see a lot of that last year," Andrews said. "It may take a little time to adapt to the triple-option, but I feel like it won't be too much of a challenge because my offense at Godby uses a lot of the same reads." Hopefully he saw some of that excitement in the 2011 season and that he brings some of his own to campus this spring.

Insight: "Most programs recruited Andrews as a DB/WR, but the one program he can maybe succeed at QB at is Georgia Tech. Gifted athlete that was known to be very clutch. His best attributes are his ability to throw on the run and his speed to take it the distance. He will need to bulk up, but he has the body to do it. If QB does not work out, he will be able to contribute at another position. Comes from a very talented program in Godby." – Geoffrey Vogt

Notes: Andrews has a good but not great ranking and offer list. Actually, both I think are nothing to sneeze at. Any three-star player with the right coaches can help you win games. And that's a decent list of offers to have by summertime before your senior season. If teams were unsure of where exactly he'd best fit in, they still seems pretty high on his athleticism since he's been viewed as a QB, WR, or DB. He gets a mixed vote overall for measurables. He's tall enough but will need to add weight according to Vogt and according to the scales if 170 pounds is correct. Having the speed to "take it the distance" is a good physical attribute and good for QB in this offense. There are some positives I've read on personality/demeanor. Being known as "clutch" is a great thing to read about a future quarterback. He also comes off as confident in interviews. I want my quarterbacks to be that way. The key will be does he make good decisions like Tevin in the option and is Vogt right in that throwing on the run is one of his best attributes? If so, he'll make for an interesting quarterback. As for need/fit, again, I'll take the kid known to be a good athlete and give him his shot at quarterback knowing he's been recruited by good schools for other positions as well, so I know there is more than one path for this kid to make it to the field. Dennis rates as a solid pickup in my book though having the body type to build to his frame will be important or he could go the way of many other lanky athletes that we've seen over the past years. Having the body type to add the extra 15-20 pounds will be important particularly for the toll hits take on all backs in this offense at this level of football.

MARCUS ALLEN

Allen (6-2, 210) is a three-star player ranked as the #64 OLB by Scout.com. He chose Tech over offers from Arkansas, Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Kentucky, Nebraska, South Florida, Syracuse, TCU, Tennessee, SUM, Marshall, and UCF. It quite an amazing list considering he started playing football his junior season in high school. Allen was more into basketball as his favorite sport before finding football. Allen was an excellent student boasting a near 4.0 GPA so Tech was an attraction as a strong academic consideration. Most schools liked Allen as a linebacker but Tech again differentiated itself offering a chance to play on offense.

Insight: "Player that really came on after his junior film hit the circuit. Excellent athlete that has natural play-making ability. Many teams recruited him as a linebacker, but Georgia Tech signed him as a big back that pound. He can do that. At times showed the explosiveness for bigger type gains. Hits with a purpose on defense. High character." – Geoffrey Vogt

Notes: Allen has a solid ranking and wow, if those offers are correct, that's quite a list. He passes those two tests right off. I've watched some of his interviews and he certainly carries himself well when looking at personality. He must work hard too as shown by his great grades in high school so he had to do that while balancing playing sports as well as the rest of the social aspects that go along with being a high school student, and probably a popular one. I like that Vogt tagged Allen with, "high character." The evidence points to positives in the personality category.

His size is what you'd expect out of a Division I athlete. He's already built to contribute early. I have some questions as to whether he's a perfect fit for this offense or not. Most schools seemed to like him as a linebacker and that would appear to be an ideal spot given his size. A cynic would have to ask if he wasn't given the opportunity to play offense to help the school's chances of landing him. Even if that's the case, the coaches have shown that they will give the kid the shot they promised. It will be interesting to see if Allen can stick there. If he does I think he will have had to given quite a performance. If I had to guess, I'd say he's a linebacker long term – and potentially a very good one.

The one who got away:

Quarterback - Devin Fuller (UCLA)

Georgia Tech wasn't a finalist for Fuller but did make an early impression on Scout.com's #3 quarterback. There didn't seem to be any other really close misses here. Here are the others who were listed as having GT offers: Bilal Marshall (Purdue), Brenden Motley (Virginia Tech), Chris Moody (South Carolina), and Darion Monroe (Tulane).

Running Back - Kenyan Drake (Alabama), Shadrach Thornton (North Carolina State)

Drake was recruited for a long time by GT. He was a high school teammate of Jabari Hunt-Days at Hillgrove. GT was an early top 3 for Drake along with UGA and Vanderbilt. Later on Alabama offered and elbowed their way into his top 3 in place of Vanderbilt before also knocking out the two Georgia schools in the final decision.

Thornton originally picked Kentucky over GT, NCSU, and Vanderbilt. He continued to keep things open and took extra visits. GT and NCSU battled for his services in the end but he went with the Wolfpack. He seems to prefer being a feature back in a traditional offense versus Tech's option style offense.

Other offers reportedly went out to the following: Keith Marshall (Georgia), Mike Davis (South Carolina), Drew Harris (Virginia Tech), Imani Cross (Nebraska), Tevin Coleman (Indiana), Justin Taylor (Kentucky), Desmon Peoples (Rutgers), Danny Dilliard (Miami), Kenno Loyal (Mississippi), and Nick Tompkins (Michigan State).

I think GT fans will be plenty happy with the choices at quarterback. There really wasn't a true close miss there. At running back the misses stung a little more. The main issue I see is that there are so many players with GT offers who Tech will have to see again in the future as opponents on the field. It's tough to get over the hump and still lose out on multiple players at the back positions to teams like North Carolina State, Georgia and Virginia Tech along with others.


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