Current Depth Chart:OLB: Brandon Watts, Nick Menocal, Malcolm Munroe, Chaz Cheeks ILB: Daniel Drummond, Quayshawn Nealy, Jabari Hunt-Days, Tyler Stargel ILB: Julian Burnett, Tremayne McNair, Anthony Harrell, Beau Hankins OLB: Jeremiah Attaochu, Tyler Marcordes, Kyle Travis
Current Seniority Chart:2 seniors – Munroe (R), Burnett 3 juniors – Drummond (R), Watts (R), Attaochu 4 sophomores – Nealy (R), Menocal, McNair, Travis 6 freshmen – Hunt-Days (R), Cheeks (R), Harrell (R), Marcordes (R), Stargel, Hankins Expected 2013 Class Open Slots: 2
Notes: In the 3-4 defense, the linebackers are typically your top play-makers. Two of the top three leading tacklers on the team last year were linebackers – Burnett (120) and Attaochu (59). The top two leading sackers on the team were also linebackers – Attaochu (6) and Watts (3). Of the 22 sacks for the season, 13 came from the linebacker position. If the line is supposed to take up blocks and disrupt running lanes, the linebackers make the tackles and pressure the quarterback. If the line does its job, then the linebackers can usually tee off on the guys with the ball. If not, it makes for more work but a good group of linebackers can help overcome some of the deficiencies. The linebackers also chip in a fair amount in pass defense. Last year the linebackers had 4 of the 14 team interceptions. This position can be asked to cover a lot of ground so having speed matters in addition to having the size to make tackles.
Tech loses Steven Sylvester from last year's team. Steven was a solid starter who was 10th on the team in tackles (43) and chipped in with one sack and one forced fumble. Though he'll be missed, Tech has a capable replacement in Brandon Watts. Watts started 2011 on fire, having sacks in 3 of the first 5 games. He could be poised for a breakout season by having an opening to the starting role. Attaochu will line up opposite Watts and has already had his breakout. He showed some real promise in 2010 as a true freshman then really stepped up in 2011 starting in 10 of 11 games in which he played. Watts could really rival Attaochu's numbers this season particularly if other teams start to pay him more attention. Fans should be excited about the starting outside linebackers heading into spring.
Beyond Attaochu and Watts, we don't know a whole lot. Spring will help separate players like Menocal, Marcordes, Cheeks and Travis to see really what the coaches have. Senior Malcolm Munroe also returns and provides steady depth. Menocal looked like a solid player in limited time last season. He could be the key backup on the outside. And don't be surprised to see movement between inside and outside linebacker as well. At one time the inside rotation was very clear, but an injury to Julian Burnett has changed that. Burnett, Drummond, and Nealy were all heavily involved in the defense last year. Burnett has been one of the brightest spots on the team. Burnett suffered an undisclosed injury in the first half of the Sun Bowl. In a January 20th press conference, Coach Paul Johnson stated that Burnett's injury could be worse than previously thought. "There's a lot of guys who are playing and have gone through it," Johnson said in response to a question about players ending their careers because of an injuries or health issues. "But they've come out on the other end, that they've determined it's O.K. for them to play. It happens a lot; it's a violent sport, high-contact." Johnson cited privacy issues and didn't say anything about the extent of the injury. With spring practice beginning this Monday, we'll soon know about Burnett's availability.
Drummond made a successful transition from B-back to linebacker. He started most of the first 5 games last year before going down with an injury against N.C. State and missed the next two games. He regained the starting role against Georgia. If he stays healthy, he'll remain a big contributor once again. The guy who replaced Drummond – Nealy – will again be nipping at his heels for playing time. Nealy started 7 games in total last year and accounted for one of the more exciting plays of the 2011 season. Nealy appeared to just about ice the bowl game against Utah with a late third quarter 74-yard pick six putting the Jackets up 24-10. Of course we know that didn't hold up, but Quayshawn brings some nice momentum and confidence into the new season.
McNair, Hunt-Days, and Harrell could now be pressed to into the rotation on the inside if Burnett is not healthy. Many were mildly surprised that Hunt-Days didn't play some last year. Certainly he looks like he can handle it physically. It will be interesting to see if he can wedge himself in for some playing time among this group.
The seniority chart now looks pretty bottom heavy, though the starting 4 are all upperclassmen. Even though ideally you'd like to see a more even distribution, I'm happy seeing the upper classmen leading the way while the younger players vie at the same time to be the next ones in line. The 10 underclassmen at linebacker will be hungry and well vetted by the time they are most needed in 2013. In the meantime, injuries could force the best of the bunch into playing time. I'd really like to see someone besides Burnett, Drummond, Attaochu, Watts, and Nealy earn it though and look so good in spring that the coaches have to find room for them to play. My eyes will be on Menocal, McNair, and Hunt-Days.
The heavy load of underclassmen linebackers could mean another small class in this recruiting season. I'm projecting two linebackers again this coming class. Three would not be a surprise.
Hankins (6-2, 230) is a three-star player ranked as the #40 MLB by Scout.com. Beau was a last minute commit for the Yellow Jackets. He announced his commitment on National Signing Day. It was a match that Hankins wasn't sure would happen. After getting an early offer from Tech, the coaches later told him that they had filled their allotment at the position. When Albert Rocker left the team to make an early jump into the "real world", the offer opened up again. "Before it was made public they filled their allotment at linebacker," Hankins told Andrew Bone on Signing Day. "I talked to coach Bohannon that day, and I had tears in my eyes. I told him if anything happens to please let me know." It did happen and now Beau is an enthusiastic Yellow Jacket.
Hankins picked Tech over offers from Arkansas, Arkansas State, FIU, Iowa State, Penn State, Purdue, South Alabama, Southern Miss, Stanford, UAB, UCF, and Wake Forest. In the end Hankins picked Tech over Arkansas, Stanford, Penn State, Wake Forest and Central Florida as the other finalists. Bone selected Hankins as a 2nd team pick for his post-season All-Alabama team. The first team included the nation's #1 MLB Reggie Ragland (Alabama),
Insight: "Beau Hankins is a solid pick up for Georgia Tech and has a bright future ahead of him. He is a leader on the field and a great student of the game. He is physical player with good size to play inside linebacker, quick to the ball and does good job at shedding blocks." – Andrew Bone
Notes: Across multiple head coaches, Georgia Tech seems to know how to find linebackers. Moderately rated linebackers like Keith Brooking, Keyaron Fox, Gary Guyton and others have gone on to nice careers in the NFL or very good college careers. One former Tech trend has likely gone with the wind – and it's evident by this class for sure – is the 210 pound linebacker. Someone like Recardo Wimbush would have trouble getting an offer for this defense. Both of the guys in this class fit well the physical profile for a linebacker in the 3-4 defense. Ideally you want around a 240 pound ILB. Hankins listed at 230 pounds has a high school senior should have no issues getting there. He's a nice fit for the defense physically. He is rated fairly well as a prospect and had a nice list of offers. In terms of demeanor, he seemed to really be enthusiastic about being a Yellow Jacket – that's how he came off from reading multiple interviews. He seems very passionate and appreciative about his situation. I don't see how anyone could have an issue with this kid as a solid prospect. Andrew Bone lists leadership among his traits so that could be an added bonus to the size, offers, rankings, and fit to scheme. The most likely limiting factor I could possibly see (and it goes for just about any big linebacker) is if he's not as athletic as needed to cover all of that ground on defense. He did list a 40-yard dash in the mid-4.6's so if that's the case and he can maintain it as he adds strength, he'll be fine there too.
Stargel (6-3, 250) is a three-star player ranked as the #52 MLB by Scout.com. By the time most Tech fans had heard of Stargel he was already committed to the Yellow Jackets. He was at the other end of the commitment timeline as Hankins. Tyler is the second longest standing Tech commit from the 2012 class, making his announcement early last June. At the time of his announcement he had not collected a huge list of "big" offers but he did have offers from schools such as Memphis, Troy, South Alabama, Arkansas State, and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Tyler had the following to say to Dale McDuffie following his commitment in early June, "Coach (Paul) Johnson is a winner and Coach (Al) Groh is a defensive genius. I know I will learn from one of the best defensive minds in football. When he told me I was the perfect fit for his 3-4 defense and that he had high hopes for me being a dominant force in the defense, I knew I was in good hands."
Andrew Bone had Stargel (#32) ahead of Hankins (#39) in his preseason Alabama top 60. By the end of the season both guys moved up the list but Hankins (#26) edged out Stargel (#29). Hankins also supplanted Stargel as second team linebacker going from the preseason to postseason All-State lists. Stargel moved to honorable mention after the season. Stargel finished the 2011 season with 79 tackles and 3 forced fumbles.
Insight: "Tyler Stargel can play inside linebacker or possibly grow into a defensive end. He has a big frame at 6-foot-3, 250+ pounds. He is an aggressive player who fights off blocks and simply makes plays. He is physical, strong and plays the game with intensity." – Andrew Bone
Notes: Stargel doesn't have near the offer list as Hankins but he gets a bit of a pass having committed early versus on NSD. You'd have to think there was a good chance he would have expanded that list. Based on several different rankings and postseason lists, the analysts seem to slightly favor Hankins as a prospect over Stargel. Though if you are a Hankins fans, there wasn't a considerable difference in rankings. The size is great. Any kid with some athleticism and a 6'3", 250 pound frame has the body to be a factor in college football. In the 3-4 defense he's starting out as an inside linebacker but he has the frame of a future outside linebacker. That's more like a rush end in the 4-3 defense so the question will be how well he moves all of that weight. Dale McDuffie listed Stargel with a 4.74 forty time in one of his articles. That may be a tad slow for the position. If he moves to the outside he'll need to contain outside runs and prevent the quicker quarterbacks from rolling out to his side. If he has long arms it will help to disengage from taller offensive linemen. If I'm being honest, the video of him up on Scout.com of his 2010 highlights is a mixed bag. Surprisingly he pursued well across the field but rarely sends the ball carrier backward when making tackles. That was old video so he's no doubt improved. Al Groh seems to think he has something good to work with, but Tyler will need to have come a long way from 2010 to avoid just being a big body providing depth to the defense.
The one who got away:
This one got away according to Junior's high school coach for academic reasons. Tech controversially pulled Gnonkonde's scholarship late in the game. From Chad Simmons' January article with Coach White of Lanier County: "We kind of kept our commitment to Georgia Tech, so Junior did not go to any camps, he never talked to any other coaches, and he just stayed fully focused on Georgia Tech since they took his commitment last year. Now, we are 10 days or so out from Signing Day and he has to get things going again. Many other schools that had interest in him went in another direction, so we just hope we are not too late." Junior did land on his feet and he'll get the chance to face off against the Jackets annually as he staying in the ACC by picking UNC.
Orjioke ended up going across the country to UCLA. He went to high school in Georgia Tech's backyard in Marietta, Ga. and Tech was on Kenny's early top 5 list. But it was no surprise he went to UCLA because he grew up in southern California.
Dillon Lee (Alabama) was a player who ended up a 4-star prospect and #4 MLB in the country. Back in February of 2011 he told Sean Breslin, "I've spoken to Coach Paul Johnson, Coach (Joe) Speed and Coach (Al) Groh, but I'm not sure how interested they are in me." That was said in spite of recently receiving an offer from Tech so I'm not sure what he expected as a show of interest. GT was not a finalist for Lee in the end.