Georgia Tech returns two of three starters from last year's solid linebacker group: Senior Gerris Wilkinson and Junior KaMichael Hall. The third member of that group, Chris Reis, is still around but will just be manning another position. He's moving back to Safety, to help cover the loss of All-ACC Safety James Butler, who expects to be a high pick in the upcoming NFL draft. The present is bright for this group of starters. The player who made it possible for Reis to move back, to perhaps his more natural spot, will be an impact type of player: Redshirt Sophomore Phillip Wheeler. Wheeler redshirted the 2004 season for non-football reasons after playing some as a true freshman in 2003. Reports on Phillip are very bright for his work this season in practice. The coaches are looking for big things from him.
The depth behind the starting 3 however starts to get into the inexperienced level. Gary Guyton should be the top substitute. He shined on special teams in 2004 and is building a reputation as a real hitter. Travis Chambers played some too last year as a true freshman but needs to show improvement before he's ready to push the starters. He should provide depth as will Eric Williams, a Safety last year, who has bulked up over the off-season which meant a change of position for him. The only other off-season loss at the position, besides the Reis position change, was Tabugbo Anyansi. "T" didn't live up to his billing as a highly touted incoming LB but he worked hard and eventually provided some solid depth in his senior season. With numbers barely enough to cover the 2-deep, it was important to re-stock the LB position with numbers and talent. Clearly the goal was to find 3 good LB in this year's recruiting class.
Who GT signed:
It came down to the final in-home visit for Chan Gailey to land Matt Braman. Matt was set to attend the University of Colorado, which is but 15 minutes from his home. It was going to take a lot to get Matt to leave his comfort zone and travel across the county to attend school at Georgia Tech, but that's exactly what happened. Matt had many great college options open to him. In addition to Colorado, he also had offers from Colorado State, Kansas State and Oregon. When asked if it was a tough decision to make leaving to go so far from home, Matt said, "Yeah it was, just the stay-at-home aspect of having the people here being around to watch me. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought I wanted to go to Georgia Tech." Matt is a big linebacker with good wheels, in the mold of former Yellow Jacket, Keith Brooking.
Taalib Tucker is one of the headliners for GT in this year's class. He's the one household name added to the linebacker group and a player who Tech coaches had to work hard to hold onto. In the end Taalib was being pursued by South Carolina, Clemson, Florida & Ohio State. Tucker isn't a tall LB at only 6'0" but he's built like a barrel at 230 pounds and has unusual speed for his size. He runs the 40 in the 4.6-4.7 range and ran on the 4 X 100M relay team for his high school. He moves well from sideline-to-sideline and hits with authority. Tucker will have high expectations on him as he enters school. With the 2-deep not completely set, Taalib is a player who could compete for a spot as a freshman, if he's up to it. Travis Chambers had similar expectations last season but quickly saw that the college game and the ACC wasn't an easy place to make that kind of impact.
The one who got away:
Where do I start?
If you make me just pick one player as "The one who got away," I'd have to go with Marvin Sapp. Sapp, a 3-star LB from Florida, committed to Tech early on and it seemed at the time that GT had the makings of a stellar class at a position of need. The September commitment however turned out to be too early for Marvin. In November Tech fans learned that he was itching to look around some more and take other visits. All the way into mid-January, he switched to South Carolina with just a few weeks left until Signing Day. His heart wasn't in it at Tech so it's probably best for all involved that he moved on but it did leave the Jackets scrambling for a solid replacement.
Not long after Sapp's defection, another committed LB, Antonio Jones, also decided to make a switch from GT. It is not clear in the end which side initiated the switch but nonetheless Jones signed with Baylor instead.
But the Jackets weren't done after losing Sapp & Jones. The coaches worked hard to overcome the defections and add another quality player to the group. Two very nice targets came along in Adam Decker and Quentin Taylor. Decker had a great visit to GT but eventually leveraged his Tech offer to get an offer from Michigan State, a school he wanted to go to all along and one which was closer to home. Taylor was almost an 11th hour coup for Chan Gailey. In his last week of official visits, Taylor went to the Florida campus only to learn that they were out of scholarships. Had he known this in advance, he could have taken a trip to Atlanta instead that weekend and would have likely been a Yellow Jacket. But left in an uncertain situation just a day before Signing Day, he went with his father's choice, Ole Miss, a school where he knew some other players and had a certain comfort level with. Not having visited GT ultimately killed the chances of landing the talented LB, who didn't want to wait until after Signing Day to make the extra visit.
Recruiting Grade: B-
I really love the players GT landed at the LB position in this class. Both had big-time schools after them and should both be major contributors within 2 years at Tech. Both fit the GT defensive mold of being able to run and hit. Beyond those two, there was unfortunate event after unfortunate event for the Yellow Jackets at this position. Just landing one of the above mentioned players would have made this a much better grade. Despite the close misses and being unable to get other solid options accepted to school, the goal here was to land at least 3 quality backers and that did not happen. Incoming Safety Anthony Barnes could fit the bill down the road but he's coming in as a defensive back and will be evaluated in that group for my report card. This position represents the greatest source of frustration in this year's class but when we look at the players Tech did land, the future doesn't look so bad.