Here are three of the biggest keys to the next Georgia Tech football season…
1. Kyle Wallace
2. Andy Tidwell-Neal
3. Brad Honeycutt
That's right, the "big 3" offensive linemen. These are the guys that anchored the line this spring and surprisingly handled our defensive line after the first couple weeks of spring drills. It's true that GT lost a lot when starting center Hugh Reilly graduated and junior & three year starter Nat Dorsey jumped for the NFL, but the cupboard was not left bare. The coaching staff managed to piece together some adequate parts around these three hosses and gave Tech fans some hope that the line may not take a step backward next season as many feared might happen. It's still early and depth certainly remains a concern but there is good reason to think this group that helped P. J. Daniels get over 300 yards in the bowl game could be pretty good once again.
It all starts with the one's you know you can count on. The most versatile of the big men is Andy Tidwell-Neal. Andy wanted to move over from guard after last season and replace Reilly at center. That gave our coaching staff some options when it came to picking out a starting group in spring. The staff had more flexibility to get the best five players on the field and not worry so much about position. They knew they could count on good things from Andy whether he played center or guard. As it turns out, one of the best five linemen was also a center, so Andy will have to move back to the role he excelled in last season, left guard. For Andy, the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. He did spend a lot of time at both positions in spring though. He did a lot of work often times working one position on first team then move to the other and run with the second team offense. It would be hard to convince me that many others worked any harder than this guy did in spring. Tech fans should appreciate his hard work and senior leadership. Comparing Andy to former first team All-ACC Tech lineman Brent Key would seem to be a fair comparison. Andy is the type of player that could be looking for post season accolades just like Brent did should he keep up the hard work.
Kyle Wallace is another with the talent and experience for others in the conference to keep an eye on for excellence. Kyle is the returning starter at right tackle but the coaching staff was not happy with the play on the left side of the line early on in spring and decided to move Wallace, our best tackle, to the other side in order to better protect our quarterback's blind side. I did not know this until spring but was told that Kyle is actually left handed and that this move comes pretty natural to him. Dorsey told me that there are some differences between the right and left tackle but he felt like Kyle was a perfect fit for being on the side that Nat himself used to man. That's a good enough endorsement for me.
The third big nasty lineman is Brad Honeycutt. I don't profess to be an expert on judging the performances of the OL but my amateur observation from spring is that Brad might not have had as strong of a spring as he's capable of early on. I base this on the amount of time Coach D'Alessandris spent chewing on and coaching Brad. We all know Brad is a physical beast (resembles a pro wrestler's body) and is a quick lineman with proven success. I assume that D'Alessandris "extra coaching" of Brad worked out fine because the line finished up strong and impressed fans in the spring game.
By now many must be asking why I only mentioned the "big 3". What about Leon Robinson. The last word I had on Leon was that his wrist injury that kept him out of all spring practices could be a bigger problem than we first thought. Robinson may be faced with a tough decision on an additional surgery or hanging it up. I'm not sure where that decision stands as of today but during spring practice it seemed as if all avenues were still being explored. I'm not going to hold my breath on his chances of returning to the field but I would certainly love to see him suited up again. Leon has had a tough go the past year and I'd hate to see him have to hang it up early. He'll have plenty of support from Tech fans regardless of what he decides to do. Of course if he does return, he'll be a major factor in this conversation. He'd have to get back to game conditioning first but we would have a lot of other options were he to get back healthy. He could go back to guard and we could see Andy jump again to center or I imagine it wouldn't be completely crazy to think that he could try his hand (no pun intended) at tackle and give the right tackle position some more competition.
Kevin Tuminello Matt Rhodes
So, we know three of the starters for sure. How will the other 2 spots shake out? The first battle was between two redshirt freshmen that play different positions: center Kevin Tuminello & guard Matthew Rhodes. Since the coaches are more concerned with getting the best players on the field, it did not matter that these two played different positions. This is the battle that determined where Tidwell-Neal was going to start. In early practices Rhodes started at guard and Andy was the center. But over time I think Tuminello's game was further along. Andy moved over and Kevin took over at first team center. Tuminello has tree trunk legs that you would expect to see on a 330 pound lineman. But his upper body and overall weight doesn't yet match it. He holds his own well and is surprisingly quick. I can see Kevin growing into a physical monster like the other three starters over the next year or two. Rhodes is still a bit undersized physically and I think that probably hurt him as much as anything. It seems like the coaches are pretty happy with how he's coming along technically. He's not a guy they will hesitate to use but I think right now we are more comfortable with starting Kevin above him.
Kenton Johnson Salih Besirevic
The final battle for a starting spot takes place at right tackle. At the beginning of spring it was Kenton Johnson and he was starting at left tackle. He had some early problems and the coaches decided to make the move with Kyle Wallace. When Kenton moved to the right side he started to receive some stiff competition from Salih Besirevic, who to this point hadn't made much noise at all in the 2-deep at OL. By the end of spring Salih had come from virtually nowhere to take the starting spot and received rave reviews from Coach Chan Gailey along the way. Chan called Salih the most improved player for spring practice. In my eyes Besirevic was still missing a block here and there but I'll yield to the judgment of Coach Gailey on this subject. Salih certainly has the size to be a good tackle. I think with more reps he could turn into a solid starter. And don't count out Kenton either. Kenton is a huge lineman but probably needs a little more time in the weight room in the off-season. I think maybe his size got him by a lot more in the past. Now he's being tested at a higher level and needs to raise his strength and quickness to match what he's going to face from defensive lines in the ACC. The good thing is that Kenton can play both sides of the line and will likely get called on often to be in the OL rotation.
After the first seven players on the OL rotation (Andy, Brad, Kyle, Kevin, Salih, Kenton & Matt) there exists more questions than answers at this point. This is the point where depth becomes a concern in my mind. Getting Leon back would certainly push some of these issues further down the bench but let's take a look at what we have besides him. In order to help out with the depth issues, Brad Brezina was moved to guard from defensive tackle. Brad did some early drills but couldn't participate in full contact practices. From what I could see, Brad has a real mean streak. He has a nasty personality that you'd rather have on your side. But the truth is, he's inexperienced and recovering from an injury that kept him out of spring drills. Injuries have also plagued another promising player, Eddy Parker. Parker has a concerning shoulder injury that hasn't allowed him to be much of a factor in his first season even though he was the more highly touted of the three freshmen OL from last season. The other big concern with Eddy's injury is that we really don't have much after him at the tackle position. This is an area where a true freshman could earn early playing time but from talking to Coach Gailey, that's not an option he really hopes has to be played out. The final offensive lineman that could be a factor on the 2-deep is walk-on Travis Kelly. He'll probably be the number two center on the depth chart but in reality, Andy is probably the first option at backing up Tuminello. Despite that Travis was a pleasant surprise on the line this spring. He deserves to be mentioned with the others and could be one that earns a scholarship in the future. He's a guy that could rise to the starting spot via the walk-on program in the future as David Schmidgal did several years ago. Kelly probably needs to add some weight but he's tough, strong and quick.
It appears that Georgia Tech has a very nice class of linemen entering this fall. Kieran Delaney, Nate McManus, and Jacob Lonowski all have college ready bodies and could be called on early in an emergency, especially those that can play tackle. Andrew Gardner has a great frame for a tackle as well but will need at least a year to add weight needed to play a serious role there. As of today he's built more like a basketball player but he tells me he'll be working on the weight hard starting this summer. The dark horse option at OL to me is Elris Anyaibe. He's listed as a defensive tackle coming into school but many who saw his film remember that he's one of the most impressive OL prospects seen on film in some time around here. Several analysts that viewed his film after a lot of the rankings were out agreed that he was seriously overlooked and should have been ranked much higher than he was. With his size and speed, it wouldn't be out of the question for him to make an impact at guard or center this season. But the more realistic scenario in my mind has him starting his career on defense and moving over to offense sometime next season or right after the season. I'm convinced that he'll be a huge asset where ever he ends up.