SLB: Shane Bowen, Anthony Barnes, Osahon Tongo (inj), Brad Jefferson
MLB: Phillip Wheeler, Matthew Braman, Travis Chambers, Kyle Jackson
WLB: Gary Guyton, Sedric Griffin (inj), Taalib Tucker, Quincy Kelly, Albert Rocker
Georgia Tech only loses one linebacker off of last year's team but it was a significant player: KaMichael Hall. Hall will be a tough one to replace but the Yellow Jacket staff will attempt to find the "next K-Mike" in the 2007 class. Hall ended up providing surprising leadership on the defense and an intensity that was unmatched. He was the same way in practices and I just don't think he liked offensive players! Besides losing Hall, the other two starters were staring to get long in the tooth. Wheeler and Guyton will both be seniors next year so the starting group from '06 will be completely overhauled by 2008. Getting a jump on replacing those players is the goal for this class. Additionally, injuries to Tongo and Griffin from last year's class makes you want to be sure you have plenty of bodies at LB since you never know how a kid will recover from some injuries.
Looking Toward Spring Practice:
Tech is lucky that rising senior Phillip Wheeler didn't test the NFL waters too seriously this off-season. He's an obvious talent but NFL fans will have to wait another year to see him drafted. He'll remain at middle linebacker and will be flanked by Gary Guyton again. Guyton will have to step up some too though in order to replace some of the work done by KaMichael Hall who has a great chance of being drafted in the next NFL draft himself. The big question is who will fill in as the starter on the other side of Wheeler? This will perhaps be one of the more interesting battles in spring practice.
When I stated in an early January lunch report (The Lunch Bunch) to a GT alumni group (and later on to the message board) that Shane Bowen could be the next linebacker starter, many were surprised. The "intel" from practice insiders had been saying that Bowen's reps had increased as the season progressed. I think part of the surprise to Tech fans is that they haven't seen many of the backups play a lot over the last year or so and everyone knew of the highly ranked recruiting prospects like Barnes, Tucker and Chambers. Many just assumed they would be next in line. In comparison to those, Shane was a relative unknown to recruitniks until just before he committed to the Yellow Jackets and enrolled early last year. He got some good experience last spring and saw the field a lot this past season on special teams. Coaches confirmed those thoughts on signing day indicating that Shane would indeed be the likely starter heading into spring.
Now, who comes out of spring as a starter is still to be determined. But obviously there will be some other capable candidates. Most notably is easily Tech's largest linebacker A.T. Barnes. A.T. has grown from a safety to a player who carries enough size to play on the line now. Due to problems with eligibility, Barnes has been at Tech for nearly two seasons now without being able to see the field. Though he's obviously grown a lot since then, there are a few things holding him back from becoming the next great GT linebacker who some think he can be. One is the time he has missed playing live games. Practice is one thing but it really hurts to be away from even special teams play for 2 seasons. Reps should cure that though and he'll get many this spring. Additionally, he really is just now learning how to play linebacker. He grew so fast into his frame that he's still adjusting to his physique and the position itself.
Osahon Tongo and Sedric Griffin are both promising young linebackers but neither will participate fully in spring. Both would have been key in the depth chart for spring but we'll have to wait until fall before seeing their contributions.
Matthew Braman, Travis Chambers, Taalib Tucker, and Quincy Kelly all round out a deep group of linebackers. Braman should provide some good reps at MLB behind Wheeler. He did well last year earning more practice reps as the season closed. Chambers and Tucker were both big-time recruits when they entered GT and are both talented enough to still work their way up to a starting role. Nothing is set yet and the competition is so close that anything could happen. But spring will obviously be very important for many of these guys to finally make their move up the depth chart. Kelly is a big bruising linebacker who redshirted last season, so it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Wrightsville, GA (Johnson County HS)
Other offers included: Maryland (Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Troy showed strong interest)
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Giff Smith
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 26
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: 100
Scout.com National Ranking: 12 (WLB)
Brad was an early commit for Tech and one you're glad as a fan the Jackets got in on very early. There were a lot of good schools sniffing around early on with interest in Brad but Tech let him know he was a big priority for them and proved it with an early offer. He's one I've seen up close and the first thing I thought was that he's not what he's listed on the recruiting sites...he's bigger. He has a frame that can definitely be added to. It would not surprise me if he were able to play on the end of the line later on, but for now, GT can use his size and speed at linebacker and on special teams. Physically he looks ready to go for day one so it would not surprise me to see him at least get in on special teams as a true freshman.
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy says: "The first time I saw him was in the Dome (State Semi-Finals) as a junior. I took film on him and put him down on an original list of top players in Georgia. He's one of those guys who plays in a smaller classification of school and he played a little bit of everything. This is good because you know he knows the game of football when he's played 3 or 4 different positions on the field on offense or defense. He really understands the game. And I don't think you can underestimate the knowledge of the game and the awareness. And he can really run too. He's a big linebacker. I haven't seen him in person in a while to know if he's a guy who can end up as a defensive lineman one day but I know he's a big kid who can really run."
Recruiting Analyst Jamie Newberg says (from June 22, 2006): "Brad Jefferson is a linebacker prospect from Wrightsville (Ga.) Johnson County High School. Jefferson, 6-0 and 210 pounds, has committed to Georgia Tech. He also plays tight end and is a very good tight end at the high school level but he is too small to play that position for the Yellow Jackets. Jefferson has good speed and quickness and is a thick kid. He runs well both north-south and side to side. Jefferson is physical and aggressive and will fight off blocks and find the ball. Offensively, he is undersized for that position but he shows good hands and speed. Jefferson can be strong and powerful with the ball in his hands."
- Brad Jefferson
Home Town (High School): New Market, AL (Sparkman HS)
Other offers included: Louisville, Purdue, South Carolina, Troy, and Vanderbilt
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Joe D'Alessandris
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 11
Scout.com National Ranking: 13 (WLB)
Albert was a pleasant surprise to the recruiting class. It wasn't clear early on that he had a strong interest in Tech then next thing you know, he's fully committed. Another writer from GoJackets.com, Alan NeSmith, had many conversations with Albert this recruiting season and added the following about Rocker. NeSmith said, "Albert Rocker is a polite and soft-spoken young man off the field, but on the field he was a tenacious leader for his Senator teammates. As a defensive end in high school Albert recorded 7 sacks in one game. The experienced he gained at defensive end in high school should help Albert as he makes the transition to linebacker in college." Rocker could be that player who draws early comparisons to KaMichael Hall. They both came in with similar builds, reputations, and a solid but non-football-factory list of college offers. We'll have to see how "mean" Rocker can be first though before we continue with the K-Mike talk. At least he's off to a great start just on last name alone!
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy says: "Yeah, I've seen him. I love him. He reminded me a lot of Antonio Clay. Guys like Antonio Clay and Geno Hayes (starting linebacker for Florida State). Antonio Clay played defensive end but was going to be a linebacker in college. But he was so fast off the ball and played with his hair on fire. And that's how Albert Rocker plays. He's a full speed all the time guy. He has just a tremendous burst. I think his change of direction and his burst is how he's going to translate into such a good linebacker. And he's not afraid to take on blocks. He's strong at the point of attack because he played defensive end in high school."
- Albert Rocker
- Albert Rocker
Home Town (High School): McDonough, GA (Union Grove HS)
Other offers included: Ball State, Mississippi State, Wake Forest, (Alabama, Clemson, Florida, and Stanford showed strong interest)
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary & Giff Smith
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 41
Scout.com National Ranking: 29 (MLB)
What I said for Roddy Jones goes the same for Kyle Jackson. He's the most social recruit I have yet to meet. He's great with the coaches, the fans, the media, and definitely with other players. He's a smart guy and just "gets it." He's mature beyond his age in understanding how he could influence others after he committed to GT. In fact, he was trying to help get together a great class for the Yellow Jackets even before he had his offer. I realized early on the effect he was going to have on Tech's recruiting class and deemed him "The Ambassador" in this article:
It's a well-earned nickname because he's worked as hard as anyone to be the glue in this class which ended up being one of the best in Tech's recent history. Between his hard-nosed play on the field and outgoing, magnetic personality, Kyle is a model for the kind of player and person Tech fans will want to root for four years as a Yellow Jacket and to follow in whatever he does in life after school.
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy says: "Kyle Jackson is a middle linebacker prospect with good size as far as bulk. He's already 220, 230 plus. He's one of those run pluggers that can go in and play on first and second down and really be an asset against the run. And he's smart, really smart on the field. You're not going to see him out of position a lot or over pursuing or doing a lot of silly stuff. He's a good disciplined football player and I think he can really help as far as being a run plugger in the middle at middle linebacker."
Kyle Jackson on Kyle Jackson (Jul 28, 2006): "I'm not big on expectations; other than 100% every play for 4 quarters. I consider myself a leader both vocally and physically, and my goal is to be a captain for Tech sometime throughout my tenure as a Yellow Jacket. The main thing Tech fans can expect is a hard working athlete who will want nothing but success for four years. I think we're building a GREAT class and we will work great together to contend for some ACC and National Championships."
- Kyle Jackson
The one who got away:
The big loss here was a tie between Malachi Lewis and Casey Matthews. What's worse, we lost both to the same program all the way across the country: Oregon. In both cases it came down to GT and Oregon and both times we couldn't quite draw these West Coast kids over to the Southeast. Coaches really thought at one time or another that we had great chances at both. Others who were extended offers over the course of the recruiting season included: Brandon Hicks, Josh Linam, Rolando McClain, Barquell Rivers. All though not all offers stayed on the table the entire time either. Some were scratched off the list each time another guy accepted his offer.
Of all the 4-star recruits in this class for GT, none were in this group of linebackers. But all 3 appear to be very solid and are all ranked well within their state. Despite lacking an obvious blue chip player, this is a very solid group that should begin to contribute right away on special teams at a minimum. These three won't necessarily be leaned on right away on defense given the current depth at LB. That should give them time to develop and adjust the to college game. If one or more of these linebackers are too good to keep off the field right away though, the depth chart isn't exactly locked in either. There is always a potential to earn their way into early playing time. It's a very interesting group with tons of potential. In addition to being a very physical group they've also been described as having "football smarts." That should serve them well in picking up Coach Tenuta's schemes.
Thanks to Scott Kennedy, Jamie Newberg, Alan NeSmith, Kamden Robb and Rod McKenzie for contributions to this article!