DE: Adamm Oliver, Derrick Morgan, Jason Peters
DT: Vance Walker, Ben Anderson, Logan Walls
DT: Darryl Richard, Elris Anyaibe, Marcus Harris
DE: Darrell Robertson/Michael Johnson, Robert Hall
This position heading into the recruiting season was in serious need of replenishment in terms of numbers. There is only one loss off of last year's team. But the word "only" would seriously undersell the impact of that one loss. Stalwart Joe Anoai has now graduated and has moved on to attempt a career in the NFL. He's always been an underdog and a ‘tweener to those who care about "measurables" so much. He came in as a mostly unheralded linebacker prospect without many offers. I remember Auburn trying to get back in on him late when they were able to evaluate him more but lucky for us, he was already a Yellow Jacket. Big Joe got bigger and bigger though and quickly outgrew any chances he'd play linebacker. Then he played defensive end but got bigger and meaner and played both outside and inside before finally become "The Rock" for GT at defensive tackle (and yes a wrestling reference is apropos for Joe, who comes from a family of wrestlers, as most know). Now "Hawaii Five-O" is starting again with the same knocks against him physically as he goes for an NFL gig. He was "dissed" by not being invited to the NFL combine workouts so he'll have to find other ways of getting noticed. But most Tech fans believe the team that does discover him among all of the great height/weight/40-time guys will end up with a real gem that will definitely make their team. I can guarantee that if a team drafts him it will be a respectable organization that has a knack for finding great sleepers late in the draft.
That's my rant on my man Anoai. Now why else was it important to replenish numbers when you only lose one player? Looking ahead at the roster heading into next season you only have 2 freshmen or sophomores on the roster at all with a scholarship. Those two were Ben Anderson and Robert Hall from last year's class. Additionally, your probable starting defensive ends next year are both seniors, so defensive end was going to be a priority for sure and you always want to land a good DT whenever possible because they are hard to come by. That was the task heading into recruiting. It's easy to say but tough to land a great class along the defensive line though because everyone else has that as a high priority too.
Looking Toward Spring Practice:
Even with the loss of Anoai, there's still a ton of talent returning on the defensive line. It's a good problem to have but the issue is figuring out the best way to get everyone on the field. The most glaring "issue" is that we once again have three fabulous defensive ends in Adamm Oliver, Darrell Robertson and Michael Johnson. I listed Oliver as starter on one side and Robo and Freak as co-starters on the other side. But what you may see a lot of times is Adamm a.k.a. "Machine" moving inside so MJ and Robo can get on the field at the same time. That will be a more likely scenario on passing downs because we still want Oliver to stay at end, where he's most effective.
As for the backups at defensive end (beyond the first three), there's more ridiculous talent and potential. First off Robert Hall was very impressive in limited time as a true freshman last season. He was very active on special team but also saw the field some at end. He's going to be a good one. I'm very comfortable with him as a backup and he'll be a factor for starter in 2008 when Oliver and Robertson graduate. With those being limited numbers (though certainly not limited in talent) heading into spring, we see the first benefit of this recruiting class to assist with depth. Derrick Morgan, who I'll go into more detail below, is one of the top recruits in the class and has already enrolled. So, he'll be playing in spring ball and we'll get to see immediately what he's bringing to the table. I have a feeling he'll be quite a player and very early on too. He'll get a lot of reps in spring.
Starting a defensive tackle will likely be Darryl Richard and Vance Walker. Richard is the one you can be surer about. He's the big tackle who takes up space and takes on blockers. There just aren't enough of guys like him in the program. He's very valuable to the defense's success next season. We just want to see him remain healthy through spring. Two springs ago he had a major knee injury. But he came back fine last season and I suspect he'll be in even better shape physically this year. I look for him to be more of a presence in 2007 than last season. I hear that Vance has done well in practice and will likely move into the other starter role on running downs. Elris Anyaibe has contributed in the past so he could push Vance some. Rounding out the tackle position is Ben Anderson and Marcus Harris. Ben redshirted last year in his first season and bulked up well. Coaches and fans hope he can make his presence known this spring and take on blockers at the point of attack. Ben is one of the stronger kids on the team so it will be interesting to see how he fares with increased reps. Then Marcus Harris is a senior walk-on who has done a great job filling in for injured linemen. He just hasn't made his mark consistently on the depth chart. He's been one of the better walk-ons on the team for the past few years. He'll have another chance to break into the 2-deep this spring.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Coatesville, PA (Coatesville HS)
Other offers included: Boston College, Miami (FL), Ohio State, Penn State
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Joe D'Alessandris
Scout.com Stars: ****
Scout.com State Ranking: 8
Scout.com Eastern Ranking: 21
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 15 (DE)
I think I can safely say that this was the most shocking get for GT this year. To most fans, landing one of the top players from the northeast was a mere pipe dream. In the last days leading up to his commitment, insiders at Ohio State and Penn State were already calling it for their particular schools. Usually where there's smoke, there's fire when rumors like that float around. But all of them were wrong and many fans of those schools spend the 24 hours after Derrick's announcement scratching their collective heads and going ‘how did Georgia Tech do that?' On top of the excitement Derrick added to Tech fans in the recruiting season, it was made that much better when we learned he would graduate early and enroll in January. Now he'll lend some extra excitement to the upcoming spring practice. I saw Derrick earlier in the recruiting process and he was a kind of lankier guy with a nice frame to grow on. But recently he was seen at a Tech basketball game and it's plainly obvious that he's added a ton of muscle since I first saw him and he looks like he's definitely physically ready for college practice. My expectations for Derrick are as high if not higher than for other studs in this GT class. He'll make the 2-deep competition for DE very interesting this spring and then in fall.
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Derrick Morgan: When Georgia Tech was really rolling there trying to finish up their class, I don't know how he plays but we can talk philosophy here… This was one of the signature players of this class. Georgia Tech has gone up to Pennsylvania in the past but they've never butted heads with the likes of Penn State and Ohio State and then taken a guy. I think that's a guy that just signifies a different level that they're recruiting on. Forget what I may know about a player, as a scout, if I know anything at all, I know to win you've got to get into the battles and lock it up with some of the big-time schools and not necessarily always going for the second level players in the other states. They went up north and took a guy right up from under their noses. So, to me, that signaled as much as anything how well Georgia Tech was recruiting this year.
Recruiting Analyst Bob Lichtenfels on Derrick Morgan: First and foremost with him is his athleticism. He's a 6-foot-4, 260-pound guy that can play tailback, you know what I mean. He's very explosive. He had a better junior season, I thought, than a senior season, which could be attributed to maybe he just had a better season. But I think also too, the fact is everybody knew about him, so teams kind of schemed around him so to speak. He's just a great athlete; very explosive, great burst off that edge.
He could also grow into a down guy, a three-technique, a defensive tackle or there are a number of different possibilities. So I don't know if he'll actually stay at defensive end just because of how big he is. At the NFL level you're looking for that bottom base: the butt, the hips, the thighs. He's that type of player. So I think eventually, in the end, he'll end up being a defensive tackle just because he has all of that. The thing with him though is he's so explosive. When it all shakes out in 4 or 5 years defensive tackle might be the best spot for him. When they start eating right and start the conditioning programs when they get to the schools, they're going to gain 15 pounds. So you're looking at him probably 2 or 3 years, the kid's going to be 275 pounds. So, he is athletic and can come of that edge but I just personally think he probably ends up as a down tackle.
(Derrick Morgan - DE/FB #34)
Home Town (High School): Baton Rouge, LA (Baton Rouge Catholic HS)
Other offers included: Florida, LSU, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Stanford
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Curtis Modkins
Scout.com Stars: ****
Scout.com State Ranking: 10
Scout.com Southwestern Ranking: 66
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 28 (DE)
Other Honors: Gatorade Player of the year for the state of Louisiana
Like Derrick Morgan, Tech fans were kind of made to believe it wasn't going to happen with Peters. Just days before he announced his commitment to GT, an LSU insider told readers privately that Peters was coming there. There were also rumors about LSU almost being full at the position and asking Peters to "grey shirt," an option I was told he was not going to accept. So, with those factors in mind, I think many fans kind of continued to hold their breaths until his name when up on the board officially on Signing Day. This was a player of great need for us. While we were hoping for a LB or S prospect on the last weeks of the recruiting season, another defensive lineman was really what Tech needed. So Jason not only added to a very talented list of players to sign but he really was a huge need position-wise. Without Peters, Tech fans would have still loved this class but I know the talk would have been about not filling that particular need along the defensive line. This was truly a very satisfying way to round out the class.
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Jason Peters: He's a big kid. I think he has a chance to actually play defensive tackle one day just with his size. He's mobile and he's active. He plays hard. He's got a high-end motor but a good athlete so I don't want to just characterize him as one of those ‘motor guys' because he's a big kid that's a good athlete. But he's always going hard sideline-to-sideline. He's got the size that he can move inside one day, I think.
Jason Peters on Jason Peters: "I have good speed and takeoff. I'm always in the ready stance and am always ready to make a tackle," Peters said. "I'm aggressive and read really well. I still want to get stronger and have more power off the line. I'm working on improving my 40 time and working on my technique, especially on the pass rush."
Catholic Head Coach Dale Weiner on his player Jason Peters: "I think he is an end and I think he will be great coming off the edge," said Weiner. "He's one of those rare guys who sets the tone for everything whether it's on the field or in the weight room."
(Jason Peters - DE #95)
Home Town (High School): Dawsonville, GA (Dawsonville HS)
Other offers included: Arkansas, Auburn, BYU, Georgia, Oklahoma State, South Carolina
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Charles Kelly
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 42
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 45 (DT)
Logan Walls was one kid I never worried too much about going elsewhere even when other big schools were sniffing around. Most notably people got worried when Georgia finally offered Logan and went after him hard. I just had seen him at too many practices and other Tech events to think he'd go anywhere else. And he would always be sporting the Tech gear. Additionally, he was already very close with many of the other GT recruits. And that was a common thread between many Tech commits this year. They all got to know each other pretty early on and all stuck together.
I never saw Logan play during the season but I did watch some of him in one of the all-star games. He seems to be pretty explosive and has a quick first step. In an interview with me in the past he compared himself to David Pollack. I could kind of see that too in limited clips of the all-star game. He's definitely got some nasty in him and I'm sure Georgia coaches made that connection as well and was the reason they went after him. Now the other two linemen in this class for Tech could grow into defensive tackles but Logan is already there. He'll be a tackle from day one.
Walls could also opt for a mission trip during his time at Tech since he is Mormon. Coach Chan Gailey has already given him the okay to do so if he chooses.
The one who got away:
Tony Tucker – even though he didn't have an offer
Not getting Tony Tucker was very disappointing for Tech fans and me personally. He needed to get his scores to a certain level and he was in but it never worked out. He loved GT though and even talked up the school to other recruits for a while. Had he been able to get into GT, I think he would have tried to land others as well like Kyle Jackson and Steven Threet did. Tony was a wonderfully nice kid to interview. I'm sure Pittsburgh will enjoy him. Oh well.
As you can tell from the write-ups above, things just always seem to go kind of strangely with defensive lineman -- at least that was the case this year. Not only was it a situation of constant flux for the guys Tech landed but there were some oddities on the ones who had offers but ended up elsewhere. None is stranger than one time commit Jacoby Monroe. He supposedly wasn't doing what he needed to in school his senior season to retain his scholarship offer. But the rumor later on was that he wasn't going to sign anyway but instead go to prep school or possibly even begin a rap career. I never saw confirmation of that but wow! He never signed elsewhere so who knows?
Duke Lemmens was a good prospect we liked and was teammates with Casey Matthews but thought he'd end up on the west coast. Instead he signed with Florida. D'Angelo McCray we thought would end up with Florida but instead went to Illinois. Kevion Latham visited GT as a Penn State commit and we thought we might turn him, especially since PSU thought they'd get Morgan. But we landed Morgan and they kept Latham. Justin Houston goes to the enemy east of here. Finally DeMario Ambrose had an offer for a time but never seemed to be in much of a hurry to accept it, so it ran out of time. All in all, it was a wild time following the defensive line. These guys could give Recruiting Coordinators (and fans) some grey hairs!
Given all the craziness that went on with defensive line, it could have easily ended badly. As it is, the Jackets ended up very well. They landed three players with a boat load of offers. All three have some good size and potential to grow more. This could end up being a very special group and, with an aging line, could make impacts early in their Tech careers. I'll be very interested to see if Peters and/or Morgan are able to grow into a tackle like some analysts think. I feel like this defensive line class will be looked on fondly in a couple of years.
Thanks to Scott Kennedy, Bob Lichtenfels, Kamden Robb and Rod McKenzie for contributions to this article!