Georgia Tech loses a key starter at linebacker: Gerris Wilkinson. Gerris will definitely be missed on Tech's defense. He was a great team player and an NFL talent. He was asked during his time at GT to move from linebacker to defensive end and back to linebacker. He made an impact at both positions as a starter. He's the kind of player you'd like to clone. He has good size and enough athletic ability to be effective in stopping the run or in pass coverage.
The other loss at this position is the transfer of Eric Williams. Eric was an exciting prospect when he committed to Tech. Many expected big things from the safety-turned-linebacker. He seemingly got off to a slow start though and, to me, looked too thin to stay at linebacker and still resembled a ‘tweener between OLB and Safety. It's too bad he didn't get to realize his full potential at Tech but in terms of how his loss affects the position, he wasn't a huge contributor to this point.
Despite the huge loss of Gerris, the starting group should still be very good in 2006. K-Mike Hall and Wheeler are both returning starters on the outside and Guyton was good enough to start but there were 4 guys to fill 3 starting spots in 2005. Guyton will now join fellow junior Wheeler and the senior K-Mike to form a fast and hard-hitting experienced starting group. All three are also very versatile. When asked on Signing Day, the coaches would not commit to who of the trio would start in the middle.
Depth on the 2006 team at linebacker will take a hit next year in terms of experience with Guyton moving up to starter. There is some good potential but the next four haven't played enough minutes to know who will be factors. Travis Chambers, a junior, is the elder of that group. He's been gaining weight and strength since he got to Tech in order to fill out his smallish frame. This might be the year where things come together for him. He was highly touted as a recruit but has been slow to reach his full potential. Braman is a bruising linebacker who may man the backup spot in the middle. The sophomore has spent a lot of time on special teams and is getting comfortable with the speed of the game. Finally freshmen Anthony Barnes & Taalib Tucker were two of the biggest names in last year's class. Barnes had trouble with the NCAA clearinghouse after getting to Tech and was declared ineligible. He re-enrolled and is just about starting anew. He came in as a safety but there are no more thoughts about him playing there. He had a linebacker's frame and has already grown into it. It will also be exciting to see how far Tucker has come since last season.
With Tech being down to 7 scholarship linebackers heading into recruiting, it became a must this season to land at least two. Three would be a perfect number but the surprisingly (or maybe not so surprising to some) poor decision from the NCAA to cut Tech's scholarships like they did could force that number down. Having a veteran staring group and several former highly touted prospects as backups signaled a good pipeline for the position. Coaches just need to keep feeding that pipeline with good talent. The number could be below three if it had to be that way but three would be preferred in a similar situation with no probation restricting the numbers.
Who GT signed:
Osahon Tongo (6-2 225) is the #19 player in Illinois according to Scout.com rankings and a 3-star prospect. Tongo is one of the significant pieces of Tech's recruiting puzzle this year. He was pursued by many teams, many of which liked him more as a defensive end. Other teams that are credited with offering Tongo include: Boston College, Duke, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Stanford, and West Virginia. Obviously he was in high demand. Osahon took official visits to BC and Duke around his visit to Tech but the Yellow Jackets happily won out for his services. The coming loss of Wilkinson and thinning depth chart were attractions for Osahon to possibly play early. "That was one of my deciding factors too because the depth chart isn't too deep," Tongo said. "I hope to challenge for a spot and hopefully earn some playing time." Osahon style of play is that of a very physical player. He's a explosive and a ball hawk too. His size and speed should serve him well in the college game as he'll be asked to attack the ball in many ways in the GT schemes. In his own words Osahon describes himself this way, "I'm an aggressive linebacker with good closing speed. I also have good speed and I have the ability to read and react to the play."
Sedric Griffin (5-11 220) is the #21 player in South Carolina according to Scout.com. He represented his state well in the most recent Shrine Bowl where he stood out with seven tackles including two for a loss. That game brought Sedric the kind of attention he wasn't getting during the recruiting season. Before the game and before Tech's involvement, Griffin was looking to go to one of the following programs: Coastal Carolina, Furman, or South Carolina State. His road to picking a school might have been much different had teams either known more about him earlier or had not been put off by his size. Tennessee is an example of a school that was impressed by Sedric in his coming out party but by then they were close to filling up and Griffin was close to committing to the Yellow Jackets. Coach Chan Gailey called Sedric, "the most under the radar guy on the board." What Coach Gailey liked about Griffin as much as anything is his speed. He ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at one of the combines and anchors his school's 4x100 relay. Another Tech coach threw out that, "I don't know that there's a faster LB in the Southeast." Though he is physically built more like Pittsburgh Steeler's safety Troy Polamalu, Griffin will be closer to the line of scrimmage as a linebacker for Tech (though Troy cheats up to LB territory a lot of times). "That's what they're telling me but I have a lot of versatility," Griffin said. "I can play anywhere on defense; anywhere they like me to play I'll play. I can play strong safety or weak side linebacker. They're telling me weak side linebacker but anything can change."
Scout.com analyst Miller Safrit had this to say about Griffin, "Sedric really launched himself on the radar with the Shrine Bowl, but I was impressed with his coverage abilities first in Alabama for the Hoover passing tournament. That said, his game is all about speed and pursuit of the ball. He's undersized at MLB, but he more than makes up with it having an attitude when he meets the ball carrier all over the field."
Some databases list two other Tech recruits as linebackers but I have them at different positions. Though Robert Hall is roughly the same build as Tongo, he's a defensive end all the way according to coaches and I've rated him along with that group. Another who could very well end up at linebacker is Shane Bowen. The plan now though is to start off Bowen, an early enrollee, this spring at safety. For Shane where he ends up will depend on how he fills out and where he's most needed.
The one who got away:
Colin was a super prospect who could have ended up at just about any school he wanted. In the end he chose Miami over Tech and Ohio State. He visited GT officially and liked the Jackets enough to keep Tech near the top of his list along with other schools more known for being perennial recruiting powerhouses. McCarthy wasn't the only near miss at linebacker for Tech though. LaMarcus Thompson, teammates with Tech QB commit Byron Ingram, ended up going with Tennessee over Tech. Another linebacker Tech really liked early on was Charlie Kirschman. He made an early commitment to Alabama over Tech and Florida (no offer). Either of those three would have been a big boost. Other than those three, Tech was quite selective in who they pursued so it probably says something about Tongo for sure and possibly Griffin too though he was maybe a backup plan for the 4-star McCarthy.
Recruiting Grade: B
This is a tough grade to give. I realize that an outside view of this group would likely yield a slightly lower grade than I gave but I'm sticking with a B meaning it's a solid average class. I think most would agree that Tongo, by all reports, is a solid-to-excellent start. The difference of opinion will come when talking about Griffin. Many look at his other choices for schools and think he's not a big prospect. I think that if he was 6'1" though he probably would have had offers from just about anyone he wanted. I watched him in the Shrine Bowl and have heard from others who have seen him play. I think with his speed and style of play, he'll thrive under John Tenuta. With the numbers, I'm hedging here just a bit. I'd be surprised if Shane Bowen didn't do like Chris Reis and at least play linebacker at some point. On the other hand, my hedging will probably adversely affect the grade for safeties. Finally, last year's class of Tucker and Braman received a B- from me. I think this group is a little better overall.