With a small class expected this year the initial word from campus was that we'd only sign 2 OL for this class. Of course, it's understood that if you can get a third one who is too good to pass up and you still have room then you make that adjustment. So, I think getting 2 would have been fine to the staff given the constraints but 3 would be a preferred number if it could work out that way. During the season we only knew of one offensive lineman set to leave through graduation. Starting right tackle Mansfield Wrotto just finished his last season and is hopefully on his way to a spot on an NFL roster [projected as a 5th round pick by Scout.com's latest NFL draft analysis]. Because there was only one leaving, that's probably why there wasn't a big concern to have more than 2 initially.
The next concern was injuries which traditionally have been scary news coming from an offensive lineman. Three backups were injured throughout the season, if not before: Jacob Lonowski, Cordaro Howard and Will Miller, in addition to some other more minor injuries. Lonowski's injury was particularly tough since he could have pushed for a starting role and would have been one of the first off the bench. Howard would have also pushed for space on the depth chart. The news on Will Miller didn't turn out well. He will not be able to return from his redshirt freshman season. Will now takes a medical hardship and his career is done. Miller was just starting to gain some decent reps but we won't be able to see him reach his potential now unfortunately. The other post-season loss is Leshawn Newberry, who has decided to transfer. So overall we lost 3 (Wrotto, Newberry, and Miller). You also have to consider another who moved over from the defensive side of the ball. David Brown is now giving OL a shot after fighting it out on defense for a few years in search of a quicker move up the depth chart.
Looking Toward Spring Practice:
There's a new sheriff in town at Offensive Coordinator. This past off-season Patrick Nix left for Miami and Tech Coach Chan Gailey hired John Bond, the offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois University, in his place. Bond has a reputation for liking to run the ball and, specific to the offensive line, he is said to prefer bigger physical linemen. It will be interesting to see if philosophical differences from the previous OC will have any effect on personnel decision this spring and fall.
The starting line has the appearance of being mostly set since 4 of the 5 positions return starters. The lone departure, of course, was Wrotto, so the competition is open for a new starting tackle at a minimum. Gardner is locked into one tackle spot and the other spot in spring appears to have A.J. Smith as the favorite. AJ's biggest battle though might not show up until fall practice when Nick Claytor will enter the competition. Nick will no doubt be groomed to be a starter sooner rather than later so look for him to instantly enter the 2-deep and compete for a starting role. The other thing to watch for is a likely swapping of the tackles in spring. With Taylor Bennett, a left hander, entering as the starting quarterback Gardner will most likely move to right tackle to protect his blindside.
I don't expect to see any changes at the center position. Kevin Tuminello seems to have fought off Dunmon all season so he should be secure at center for his senior season.
The real interesting battles could come at guard. Nate McManus and Matt Rhodes will both be seniors also but that doesn't mean they are not going to be pushed. Two players, if healthy, could really give the starters a good run. Jacob Lonowski and Cordaro Howard could both fit in as starters. The only problem is they are fighting injuries. Lonowski is said to be perhaps one of the better OL on the team but is trying to overcome a shoulder injury that has threatened his return. Jacob is running again but won't participate in spring. Practice intel says that Howard pushed Rhodes hard for a starting role by the end of last season so look for that battle to spark right back up in spring, if Cord is 100%. Dan Voss is another good one on the 2-deep. He'll have his chance to make an impression this spring and make a case for a spot down the road with 2 senior guards leaving after next season. Trey Dunmon could provide depth too at guard and will be Tuminello's backup at center.
Rounding out the depth chart Jason Hill and David Brown are looking for their best role. Both should have chances at a lot of reps given injuries and attrition to the line. Also I expect walk-ons Andrew Faulkner & Drew Brannon to fill in some reps during spring.
Overall the thing to keep in mind is that Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris has certain ways of running his OL. He likes to play the best 5 and will find a way to fit in those best players. He also likes to have his backups learn multiple positions, so don't be surprised to see some unusual combinations on the 2-deep at times. This way the next best lineman can fill in where an injury may pop up.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Gainesville, GA (Gainesville HS)
Other offers included: Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State (Notre Dame showed strong interest)
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Charles Kelly
Scout.com Stars: ****
Scout.com State Ranking: 6
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: 50
Scout.com National Ranking: 15 (OT)
Georgia Tech hasn't always had the best luck getting blue-chip players along the offensive or defensive line. With that being the case, Claytor was a very welcomed addition to the class and perhaps one of the most important pickups. As recruiting wars go, this was a big victory for the Yellow Jackets since the two finalists (among many of the top programs in the country) was GT or Ohio State. Nick is one of those players that your little sister could look at and tell he's probably going to be a good player for your team. He is not just a big guy but also is built solid as a rock. It looks like it would be impossible to move him. Hearing that he also has good footwork could mean that the top defensive ends in the conference may have their work cut out for them in future years against GT. And if that isn't enough, he's in the group of friendly young men, like Roddy Jones and Kyle Jackson, which is very approachable. He has brought his "little" brother to many practices and other events. They just seem to really be a good fit for the family atmosphere in the football program. And watch out for little brother in a few years. He may end up at least as big!
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy says:
I like him a lot. He's got a huge frame. He's light on his feet. Another thing I like about him is his toughness. For some reason that has come up as a question about him among some people, but that's usually amongst the people who aren't getting him. This is a guy that played the entire second half of the playoff game against Westlake with a broken ankle. I was at that game and he got rolled up on in the first series and he missed the rest of the first half. So they taped him up and he played the entire second half with a broken ankle. I don't have too many questions about his toughness and you can't coach 6-foot-6, 320 pounds either. That's just natural.
Recruiting Analyst Jamie Newberg says (from June 21, 2006):
"Nick Claytor is an offensive line prospect from Gainesville (Ga.) High Schol. Claytor, 6-6 and 315 pounds, is an offensive tackle. He is a very athletic and mobile lineman that has good feet. Claytor is fairly quick off the ball. Even better is the way he comes off the ball because he plays low and uses leverage. Claytor has a big lower body and is a very good drive blocker at this stage. He is equally impressive in pass pro. Claytor uses his hands well and looks very strong at the point of attack. He maintains good balance and a good base."
(#75 LT Nick Claytor - Video 1)
(#75 LT Nick Claytor - Video 2)
Home Town (High School): Jacksonville, FL (Nease HS)
Other offers included: Florida, Maryland, NC State, Northwestern (Michigan & Notre Dame showed strong interest)
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Buddy Geis
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 57
Scout.com National Ranking: 38 (OT)
This is one of the more interesting prospects to me. At the time Tech landed him, I really didn't think 1) we were going to land another OL and 2) that we had a real shot at landing Clyde. People who have seen Nick Claytor up close understand what a mammoth kid he is. Well the same can be said for Clyde if his measurements are correct. He's just a touch shorter and lighter than Nick. I look forward to seeing him in person but if he's really 6-5 and already over 300 pounds, then wow, that's another massive body now in the system at OL. When I watched some film on him, I was actually impressed with how he played on the defensive line in high school. For a guy who is definitely an OL at the next level, he really got off the ball fast and seemed to be too much for the other line to handle. He just looks brutally strong on tape. I don't know much about Clyde's personality since it's been pretty hard to reach him for an interview, but on the field he seems down right nasty. We've got some other "nasty" guys currently on our OL so Clyde will fit in well. It's always good to have a little attitude from the OL. I like guys who are not afraid to mix it up with the defensive line.
Recruiting Analyst Miller Safrit says:
"While he may not have much experience along the offensive line, Yandell was still one of the top offensive linemen at the Scout.com Combine in Jacksonville last year. He has great hands, a good lower body push up field, and moves surprisingly well for a player of his size. There is no question he has a ton of potential at the next level."
Recruiting Analyst Bob Lichtenfels says:
"I personally enjoyed seeing Yandell rise up the charts. I had a chance to work with Clyde at our Jacksonville combine and you could see that he had an outstanding frame and he moved very well. Fundamentally he was a little behind, but after I had learned that he had been primarily only used on defense I understood why. I remember leaving that combine very impressed with Yandell and thinking that he had a very bright future. Over the next few months you could see it all coming to frutition for him as his offer sheet continued to grow. I think Yandell has a very bright future, he really has only just scratched the surface."
(#90 OL/DT Clyde Yandell - Video 1)
(#90 OL/DT Clyde Yandell - Video 2)
Home Town (High School): Cartersville, GA (Cartersville HS)
Other offers included: None -- April commit, GT was 1st offer (Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Vanderbilt showed strong interest)
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Joe D'Alessandris
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 46
Scout.com National Ranking: 82 (OT)
Big Gilbert! I was lucky enough to run into him at a practice the day he committed. That was the first time I met Joseph. He and his father were very excited to be Yellow Jackets and didn't particularly care about missing out on other offers should he play the recruiting game longer. "Tech was the first one to offer and they were the only one so far," Gilbert said that day. "I think Georgia might have offered eventually, so would Vanderbilt, but I wouldn't have taken the offer from either over the one from Georgia Tech." Joseph is a bad looking dude but probably talked as much as any kid I spoke to this year. He's very engaging and gives no nonsense, direct answers. It was refreshing to get such frank answers to questions. One example that stuck out in particular you can read below!
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy says:
"He's a guard prospect. I love him. Early commitment so he didn't really get the fanfare I think he probably deserved. He's got the feet to play tackle. He played tackle at Cartersville. He's got the size of an interior lineman. He'll play guard and he can really move. I can see him being one of those mobile offensive linemen that pulls a lot. And then he's very strong locking onto guys too, so he'll be an asset in the running game or passing game. Very good pickup."
Joseph Gilbert on other programs he considered (interview with GoJackets.com on Apr 7, 2006):
"The other schools were mainly Vanderbilt and Georgia," Gilbert said. "Georgia had a real good program but their academics weren't quite as high as Georgia Tech's, which is one thing I was really looking at. Vanderbilt had real good academics but their program isn't to where Georgia Tech's is. Tech was the best mix of both. I want to get a real good education but I'd like to win football games while I'm doing it."
(#75 OT Joseph Gilbert - SR)
The one who got away:
Missed on several good ones, not sure any were "close calls" though. If I had to pick one though I'd go with Chris Little.
In addition to the 3 Tech landed, 6 others were known to have received offers at some point in the process. Others offered included: Mason Cloy, Thomas Edenfield, Chris Little, Trinton Sturdivant, James Wilson, Stefen Wisniewski. In most of these cases we had the usual case of losing out on a stud lineman to one of the "football factory" schools, like Georgia, USC, Penn State, and Clemson. The only one not to end up at one of those schools was Thomas Edenfield. He perhaps overplayed his hand with his early offers, in addition to a senior season ACL injury, and ended up picking South Florida over Southern Miss on Signing Day. I'm guessing he's another example in a long line of them this year who could have been a Yellow Jacket had he made a decision earlier (see also Cam Baker). One thing you can't like about the missed list is that two are going to play for your main rival.
People love to see grades in the ‘Final Analysis'. I'm not sure you could give this group anything other than an A if made to grade the offensive line class. There is one sure blue-chip prospect in Nick Claytor and the other 2 are big kids who are supposed to be smart and their talents are well thought of. Sometimes you see an OL brought in who is a reach or that you need to bulk up. Neither is the case with this class. All three guys are already very big, show well on tape and could have played at a number of other schools. For guys on the team now who have not locked up spots on the 2-deep, watch out. This group is going to be hungry to make their mark early on and they seem physically fit to do so.
Thanks to Scott Kennedy, Jamie Newberg, Miller Safrit, Bob Lichtenfels, Kamden Robb and Rod McKenzie for contributions to this article!