Georgia Tech '08 Recruiting Review – LB

With National Signing Day over and Georgia Tech's recruiting class completed, GoJackets.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2008 recruiting class. Today, we will look at the linebackers.

Linebackers

New Additions (3):
Malcolm Munroe, Steven Sylvester, B.J. Machen


Depth Chart:
SLB: Shane Bowen, Sedric Griffin, Albert Rocker, B.J. Machen
MLB: Anthony Barnes, Matthew Braman, Travis Chambers, Kyle Jackson, Malcolm Munroe
WLB: Brad Jefferson, Osahon Tongo, Tony Clark, Steven Sylvester


Position Needs:
Position needs for linebacker stay pretty much the same each year unless you really just have too many in the system or are seriously under stocked. You almost always want to bring in right around three each year when you run a 4-3 defense. I'd say that even in a year where you have good numbers in the program, it almost always still makes sense to bring in three. Linebacker is a position you just can't have enough of. They usually make great special teams players even when they are not always seeing the field. As examples, guys like Tony Clark and Brad Jefferson made impacts last season even though neither received a lot of playing time at linebacker. The other advantage to them seeing the field early on special teams is that they are more acclimated to the speed of the game when they do get into the mix for playing time at their main position.

As for senior losses from the LB position, this year Tech takes a pretty noticeable hit. Phillip Wheeler and Gary Guyton are both moving on and both are expected to be fairly high picks in the NFL draft. Wheeler has been a staple for Tech at LB. He has played inside and outside and is generally all over the field. He has really gotten a lot of accolades and hype for his play. His reputation was that of a bruising run stopper whose skills should translate well into the NFL. But, a funny thing happened on the way to "The League"... the combine. Phillip's teammate, and fellow LB, Gary Guyton had played second fiddle to Wheeler for so long, that it surprised some when there was talk that he could actually be the higher drafted pro prospect. If there were any doubts, the NFL combine put Gary's name on every team's radar. As Tashard Choice called him when announcing the team for a game this year, "Scary Frightening" Gary Guyton topped every linebacker in the combine in the 40-yard dash and the vertical leap. He's now probably no worse than a top 15 LB in the draft and it will be interesting now to see which name actually does get called first. Draft day should be a good day for Georgia Tech a.k.a. Linebacker University (or Institute of Linebacker)!


Spring Practice Report:
There are several good story lines for linebacker in spring: filling in two starting positions for the two seniors who moved on, three seniors trying to finally push their way to becoming significant contributors, two young guys who shed their year one redshirts, and the continued progress of some promising but injured younger guys.

Let's start at the top. The most significant question is which players will propel themselves into starting roles with the departures of Guyton & Wheeler. Anthony Barnes and Shane Bowen both saw time as starters on the outside last year so it stands to reason that they are the two favorites to move into starting roles this year. Shane still has an upper body injury though that could affect his status for spring. In that case there could be more opportunities for other guys to stake a claim for playing time. Someone will also have to play in the middle since that was Wheeler's spot last year. I suspect Barnes could be the right candidate for that role but that will be determined on the field later this month! My bet for the thrid spot is true sophomore Brad Jefferson. He was fantastic on special teams last year and appears ready to take a shot at replacing Guyton. But there are many other candidates who'll certainly have a say in who fills out the depth chart this spring.

How about the three seniors who are attempting to finally work up to a starting role? Matthew Braman and Tony Clark are both in a position to crack the two-deep this year as well as Travis Chambers, who we are told will return to the football team after dropping off the team in 2007. Braman and Chambers are experienced at the Mike position where none of my projected starters are. That could give them something to work from. Clark, originally a defensive back, has been bulking up since the position change and has done a lot for special teams in the past couple of years. Could this be the year he figures into the mix on the outside? With a new head coach and defensive coordinator at Tech, all of these guys will get a fresh slate to show they should be the ones playing.

Albert Rocker and Kyle Jackson are linebackers from the Class of 2007 and both used their redshirts last season. "Rock" and "The Ambassador" are kind of unknowns in what they'll contribute this spring since many haven't seen much of what they are capable of just yet. With a year to develop and build up strength either one could come out early and make an impact.

Finally there are two others who I feel are serious contenders for playing time this year. Both Sedric Griffin and Osahon Tongo were very promising young guys who suffered bad leg injuries at different points in their career. They have both had time to fully recover for a season and should finally be at 100% heading into spring. These two are the real wildcards in battle for starters and backups. If either pushed for a starting role, I don't think anyone would be too overly surprised.

As for the above depth chart, this was probably one of the tougher ones to put together. I'm writing it in pencil because I expect to make potentially a lot of changes once practice starts! For one, they'll need to straighten out who plays inside and who plays outside. On my list I had an overabundance of "Mikes" so I moved Tongo to the outside. I could also see a scenario where he not only plays middle but could start there and Tech could keep AT and Bowen on the outside. So, don't get too worked up at me on the chart at this time! Also, when I don't have a definite guess on who'll be ahead of another, I'll usually put in the more senior player until they start playing.


Who GT signed:

Malcolm Munroe

Height: 6'3"
Weight: 205
Home Town (High School): Miami (Coral Reef H.S.)
Other offers included: North Carolina, Auburn, Central Florida, Louisville, South Carolina
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Jeep Hunter/Brian Jean-Mary
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 54
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: NR
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 26 (SLB)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Ranked the 15th best player in Miami-Dade County

"Malcolm in the Middle!" That could be a future headline if Munroe continues to grow and realizes his full potential. He's one of the best overall athletes in this class for the Yellow Jackets. He'll be big enough to play in the middle but in coming in with the speed to also be an option on the outside. GT had to do a little work to hold onto Malcolm after the coaching change but after meeting with Coach Johnson and the fact that Tech retained his position coach Brian Jean-Mary, Tech was able to fight off all other suitors. UNC was one of the last schools trying butt in. "Well, I have already called the coaches at North Carolina and told them that I am no longer interested in them and that I am 100% solid to Coach Johnson and Georgia Tech," said Munroe to our writer after he re-committed. "I am that pumped about attending Georgia Tech." And Tech fans are pumped too. Munroe has a very high ceiling in terms of his potential.

Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Malcolm Munroe:
"Malcolm Munroe is one of the best athletes in this class. He's got great size, great feet, and great fluidity. He actually played some corner in high school which is a positive and a negative. It's a positive in the fact that anytime you have a guy that's 6'3", 200 pounds and has the athleticism to play corner that's a good thing. But you question why is a guy 6'3", 200 pounds playing corner in high school when he could be doing a lot more closer to the ball. So my question is how physical is he because he's got all of the measurables you could possibly want."



Steven Sylvester

Height: 6'1"
Weight: 212
Home Town (High School): McDonough (Union Grove H.S.)
Other offers included: Alabama, Virginia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Giff Smith
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 20
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: 105
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 24 (WLB)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR

Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Steven Sylvester:
"He can play all three linebacker positions. He's a compact guy who runs well and plays sideline-to-sideline and can take on blocks. Very aggressive most of the time and was a pretty good running back but I think his position will be any one of the three linebacker positions depending on where they need him. He's strong enough to play inside and fast enough to play outside."

When pressed on which spot he'd start Sylvester at, Scott said he'd probably look at him in the middle first.




B.J. Machen

Height: 6'1"
Weight: 215
Home Town (High School): Hilliard, Oh (Darby H.S.)
Other offers included: Pittsburgh, Duke, West Virginia, Maryland, Northwestern, Stanford, Michigan State
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 21
Scout.com Midwest Ranking: 65
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 32 (WLB)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR

Though Machen is from Ohio, he was very familiar with GT. He has family in Atlanta already, including cousin and current GT defensive back DeRon Jasper. Through the coaching change BJ is not a player anyone ever got too worried about losing. He's been very solid on GT ever since he announced he was going to be a Yellow Jacket. He's a super prospect too. He's a punishing hitter and his videos show several bone-rattling pops on other Ohio preps. He's got good size, good speed, and carried himself well through the recruiting process. He was always very articulate and informative. BJ is aiming his goals high both for himself personally and for his new team. "I look to make an early impact and to help out the team a lot," said Machen. "And I'm looking to win a National Championship with Tech."

Recruiting Analyst Bob Lichtenfels on B.J. Machen:
"Everyone judges Ohio kids by whether or not they get an offer from Ohio State. Well let me tell you that this kid could play at OSU and probably would've gotten an offer if the Buckeyes had a full class, but ships were limited. Machen runs sideline to sideline as well as any linebacker I have seen in the Midwest. He is a finisher, when he hits you, you stop. He has above average cover skills and is very good at reading his keys and reacting to what is going on. Very intense competitor with All-Conference type potential."



The one who got away:
T.J. Pridemore

There were many excellent LB prospect courted by Tech this past recruiting season. I'm going to go with Pridemore here simply because he was the closest in the group of offered players to come to GT. There are others whose careers will also be interesting to follow but TJ was once a Yellow Jacket commit before bolting to Florida. Ultimately I think TJ not only wanted to go to UF more and was just hoping they'd eventually offer but I think it was a big pull for him to go since his teammate Omar Hunter was going to change his commitment from Notre Dame and go there as well. In fact, it kind of seemed like a package deal.

TJ's switch from Tech to Florida caused me to want to do a little research on how many linebackers the two schools put into the NFL. Though Florida is a great program and has 38 players in the NFL to Tech's 18, Tech actually has more linebackers in The League. Tech has 5 linebackers listed in the NFL (Keith Brooking, Keyaron Fox, Daryl Smith, Gerris Wilkinson – Super Bowl Champ!, and Eric Henderson – though he was a DE for Tech) to Florida's 4 linebackers (Channing Crowder, Andra Davis, Mike Peterson and Brandon Siler). Additionally, Tech will send two more this year with Wheeler & Guyton. So, if you're a high school linebacker, GT could make a good case for future success even against one of the best college programs. Of course, Pridemore is not going to Florida to be a linebacker though, he signed up to be a fullback somehow. In that case Florida does have one of those in the NFL to Tech's 0 – at least until Mike Cox can give it a shot. So until then, TJ may just be the next Billy Latsko!

I'm only giving TJ a hard time. He was actually one of my favorite kids to interview this year. He's a sharp and polite kid, plus I was a big fan of his Dad's when he was an Atlanta Falcon. It would have been nice to have TJ in white and old gold but he chose differently.

You can see by whom Tech lost out to that they were involved with some really big-time kids in this class at linebacker. Others Tech offered along the way included: Arthur Brown (Miami), Jon Major (Colorado), Brendan Beal (UF), Etienne Sabino (Ohio State), Andrew Sweat (Ohio State), J.B. Fitzgerald (Michigan), Jerrell Harris (Alabama), Dewitt Stuckey (Oregon), Christian Robinson (Georgia), Uona Kaveinga (USC), and Mike Yancich (Penn State).


Final Analysis:
GT was a significant player in the recruiting market for linebackers in this class. The strategy was to aim high and target the best. There were a lot of great players targeted who ended up at many of the best programs but GT did get three very high on the list and won a few battles of their own. They did not have to reach for any talent at LB talent late after the coaching change. In fact, with Pridemore they actually had more players at the position than they really needed. They were all just so good they couldn't pass on them. When TJ de-committed there wasn't even an attempt to pursue another one. The coaches were supremely pleased with the three they ended up with.

It's hard to not be completely happy with how recruiting turned out at this position. It's already a deep position for GT and now the talent level will rise in addition to the numbers. I can't really see the need for any of the three to be forced into action early but I wouldn't be surprised if someone in the group was good enough and ready to contribute right away nonetheless.

It will have to be seen whether or not Coach Johnson is keen on letting a young linebacker cut his teeth on special teams while not playing much at his natural position. He stated on Signing Day that he didn't favor using a true freshman on special teams if the player wasn't going to play much otherwise, which would be a shift in strategy from how Coach Chan Gailey approached it.

Thanks to Scott Kennedy, Bob Lichtenfels, Dale McDuffie and Rod Mackenzie for contributions to this article!


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