RT: A.J. Smith, Clyde Yandell, Jacob Lonowski
RG: Cordaro Howard, Nick Claytor, Brad Sellers
C: Trey Dunmon, Joseph Gilbert, Nick McRae
LG: Dan Voss, David Brown, Omoregie Uzzi
LT: *Andrew Gardner, Jason Hill, Austin Barrick, Phil Smith
* All-ACC First-Team Honors
There's no good way to spin the fact that Tech is going to have to replace a trio of tough, hard-working, skilled, muti-year starting offensive linemen. The interior line including guards Nate McManus & Matt Rhodes, and center Kevin Tuminello are all graduating at the same time. The line will certainly have a different look in spring than Tech fans are used to. Say what you will about any ups and downs the line may have had - particularly last season, losing that much experience at once is not easy to overcome in the college game. Some would argue that guys like Rhodes were even a little undersized. But he and the other two would be fantastic for the offense we're about to start running thanks to the skills listed above and their good mobility.
One thing the position needs is numbers, the other is youth. And that can be addressed through recruiting and position changes. The top tiers of the offensive line are starting to get long in the tooth now too. There are going to be 4 seniors and 5 juniors next season. And combined – including possible position changes – there are only 5 total sophomores and redshirt freshmen. That is getting toward a concerning level of depth in the next couple of years if not addressed in the '08 and '09 classes.
Also, I always like to see balance in terms of numbers in classes and that's already out of whack thanks to numbers shortfalls over the past two recruiting seasons. So what should the 2008 class hold in terms of numbers? Ideally, you'd like to see 4 or even 5 in the class. Three is a bare minimum meaning 2009 would need to be a big class or 5 or so.
Spring Practice Report:
This spring will mean a lot of new changes for the offensive line. In addition to replacing three starters which will lead to some intense position battles, the players will be focusing on a new offensive philosophy. Though I feel the team had excellent coaching in the past from Joe D'Alessandris, he has moved on and will be replaced by two line coaches instead. This will mean more face time with new coaches Mike Sewak (guards and centers) and Todd Spencer (tackles). Coach Paul Johnson doesn't want any position coach to have more than three starting positions (except for defensive line, which will also have a graduate assistant helping that position coach) in his responsibilities. This should lead to more individual instruction for each player. I suspect all of these changes will mean some intense spring practices for the linemen. Another change is that they'll be involved in more scrimmage action and live play so they will need to be in great shape. Those are some lumps they are taking at this time in workouts.
Three starters graduating means that there is some good news – two starters return. One of those two starters was the top lineman on the team last year. Andrew Gardner is back after a season where he earned 1st team All-ACC honors. He seems a safe bet to pencil in for starting at left tackle once again. The other returning starter is 6'7", 300-pound A.J. Smith. The two returning tackles should provide good leadership for the line.
Only one other tackle seems poised to be ready to really make a push for playing time. In fact, Clyde Yandell has reportedly been super as a redshirt freshman and has shown great strength and potential to be an impact player in his second year in the program. If he's as good as advertised then the coaches may want to consider finding space for one of these guys at guard. If not, Yandell could provide some good competition for Smith this season at right guard.
Other tackles who could figure into the mix include: Jason Hill, Austin Barrick, and Jacob Lonowski. Barrick was a tight end last year but with that position not a part of the new offense, he needed somewhere else to play. I wrongly included him on the running back report when I guessed he could fill the role as a B-back. As we saw in that report though, that position was very crowded. Apparently it made more sense for Austin to keep his size or even get bigger and in one spot to the tackle position. This season should be a transition period for Austin. I don't think anyone expects him to master the position right away but it's a good thing for him that others are learning new tricks the same time he is. That should help level the playing field for Barrick. Lonowski would be prominent in the discussion about tackle but it's not clear yet if he's going to return to the team from injury. He is no longer being listed on the roster at ramblinwreck.com.
Now we're on to the center position. Actually, it's been said that this is the most important position on the line for this offense. The coaches would like their best player to fill in the center position first before deciding on other positions. I don't think that means Gardner will actually be given a look at center but I do think it signals anyone who thought they were next in line there may have some more competition that they believed.
And who seemed like the next in line there after Tuminello was gone? Trey Dunmon – he would seem the favorite to start there but I'm guessing he's going to have to hold off just about all other center and guard players. Until it is clear how coaches will arrange players along the line, I'm going to go forward with leaving guys in my depth chart as I currently believe they could end up. Joseph Gilbert has been a guard but with no others currently known to be playing center, I suspect he could back up Trey this spring.
Dan Voss, whether it's as a center or a guard, figures to be heavily in the mix for a starting spot. He received some valuable playing time last season and replaced McManus when his season ended due to an injury. Cord Howard also played some last year and could be a guard or tackle. I'm told he'll be at guard but he could be slowed by a new injury for spring. If healthy, he'll be a candidate to start. Look out for big Nick Claytor. With three guys battling for two starting tackle spots, look for Nick to enter the competition for the guard position. He's supposed to move well enough for a big man to get serious consideration for playing time.
Others in the mix include: David Brown and Brad Sellers. Both have changed positions at some point in their Tech careers. Brown, originally a defensive end, has played several OL positions as well at tight end. For Brown, a senior, this could be the year he figures into the depth chart. Sellers has taken a similar path as Brown. Brad began on the defensive line before being moved to tight end last year. Like Barrick he had to find another position after that position was dissolved. He'll battle for a role at guard. He's one of the strongest guys on the team so he'll be up to par in that area. It just remains to be seen how much of a learning curve he'll have for the line position.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Chamblee (Chamblee H.S.)
Other offers included: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Central Florida, Virginia
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary
Scout.com Stars: ****
Scout.com State Ranking: 18
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: 90
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 9 (OG)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): 274
Other Honors: AAA all-state 1st team
Uzzi - Is there a better name for a football player? Uzzi also gets to carry the torch as the anchor of the class for Tech this year. In the 2007 class, GT signed 9 four-star players. This year Uzzi is the only one.
Omoregie is a kid Tech fans always kind of thought would end up coming their way but could never quite get too comfortable or overconfident in that thinking. Fans were comforted by a few aspects of his recruiting as signs he'd end up a Yellow Jacket, the biggest of which is that he seemed close with current Yellow Jacket and former teammate Roddy Jones – who not coincidentally hosted Uzzi on his official visit. Additionally, he was reported to be on campus a good bit – at games, practices, camps, etc. Finally, though his favorites list would change and teams would come and go from it, Tech was always on the list.
The coaching change really made some think for the first time that Tech might not land him. Many players the old staff targeted were scratching Tech off their list. Uzzi was notoriously tight lipped about what he was thinking exactly but Tech still was among his favorites. Then there was a late push by several schools, including Alabama and Virginia. The new Tech coaches held all others off and ended up with the talented, big and smart lineman who they hope will be a fixture on the line for years to come.
As an example of how Uzzi would play his cards close to the vest, here's a quote he gave our own Dale McDuffie less than two weeks before made his announcement. "I plan on deciding between Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Alabama after my visit to Virginia. Right now, I'd like to say all three are even and plan on using all the facts I got from each visit to make my decision." Even though fans had to sweat this one out a good bit, this is a commit that was well worth the wait and a kid I expect will be a big piece of the new offense in the near future.
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Omoregie Uzzi:
"Another two-way guy. He played a lot of defense as a junior but I think he kind of outgrew the position. He's on offense and I think that's where he's going to find a home. He's real mobile, already he's athletic enough to play defense, which is always what you're interested in. If you've got a guy that's athletic enough to play defense but you've got him on offense, he's going to be pretty dangerous. Big – he's already over 300 pounds and carries it well. Smart kid. Close to home. Nice pickup late by Tech."
More from Scott Kennedy on Uzzi from Scout.com profile:
"An athletic big man with a great frame to play interior line on offense or defense, Uzzi plays with great leverage and pad level. He'll need to work on getting off of blocks a little sooner so that he can square up on the ball carrier better. A terrific college prospect."
Height: 6-3 1/2
Home Town (High School): Dublin (Dublin H.S.)
Other offers included: Duke, Maryland, North Carolina State, Central Florida
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Giff Smith
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 45
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: NR
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 8 (OC)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Other Honors: AA honorable mention all-state
McRae, the 8th ranked Center prospect in the county, was a needed addition to the class. Coach Chan Gailey and crew did a nice job of identifying Nick's talents, offering him and closing for a commitment. Coach Paul Johnson and team, after the coaching change did a nice job of re-recruiting Nick and holding onto his commitment even though other schools were trying to get into the door. "Yes, I did consider de-committing but right now I'm still committed," McRae told Brandon Mellor on January 2nd. "But I'm keeping an open mind about other schools by listening to what they have to offer to compare them to Georgia Tech."
Sometimes in the strange world of recruiting you'll take help wherever you can get it. McRae told Dale McDuffie about the sign he received as he was leaving his official visit from Georgia Tech. "I look for little things that are signs and when we were leaving, a yellow jacket landed on our car as I was getting in, that told me right there my decision was right."
With the center position being so important, Coach Johnson and Coach Sewak have a promising, experienced player to plug into that role as soon as he shows he's ready.
Recruiting Analyst Scott Kennedy on Nick McRae:
"He's a big kid. It's nice that he's actually got some experience at center. He played center this year. Normally the best offensive lineman on the team plays left tackle but not in that offense. Good size, good mobility. He played on a very, very successful team at Dublin. He has the size that he could make an early contribution if needed."
Home Town (High School): Tampa (Jesuit H.S.)
Other offers included: Penn State
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: BJ/Todd Spencer
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: NR
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: NR
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 56 (OT)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
It looks like the Tech coaches found a really nice line prospect late in the game with Phil Smith. Though fans didn't know a lot about him too long before he announced he was coming to Tech, everything I've heard or seen of him since then has been very positive. He comes from the now-familiar Tech stomping ground of Jesuit High in Tampa. He was hosted on his official visit to Tech by another Jesuit alumnus, starting lineman A.J. Smith.
Part of the reason he stayed under the radar until late in the recruiting game is that he was a 45 pounds lighter and playing tight end to begin his junior season. Phil told me when he committed to Tech that he is currently 6'6" and weighs 280 pounds. He has really added much of that weight to his frame in just about a year and a half. "Last year I played tight end and I was 235 before the season," said Smith. "Actually, my playing weight this year was 280 and I got to that over the summer. I'll probably be around 295, maybe 300. I'll be there by fall."
In the end though the secret was out and it became a GT and Penn State battle for his services and Tech won out.
Finally, you'll see below in Miller's comments that there is a common thread between Smith as a prospect and what Andrew Gardner did before he came to school. Besides both being tall and lanky before adding a bunch of weight toward then end of their time in high school, both can attribute good footwork to the sport of basketball. Perhaps Smith could be Andrew's future replacement!
Recruiting Analyst Miller Safrit on Phil Smith:
"Phil Smith is one of those late bloomers in the game of football that could become a special player in college. With a background in basketball, his excellent footwork is very evident on the field and he shows a good amount of flexibility for a big man as he is able to get leverage and keep good balance while driving his man into the ground. Smith is a very tenacious player who does not take plays off even though he starts on both sides of the ball."
The one who got away:
Kenneth Page (Clemson)
It really didn't come down to GT and Clemson in the end for Page but of the group Tech offered I felt like he was the best choice for "one who got away". He'll certainly be an interesting one to follow and unfortunately Tech will have to see him every year. He really backed off of GT after the coaching change but Tech coaches had a pretty good shot at him before that. Early on last year it looked as if Tech could be early favorites for both Page and McRae – both of whom attended Tech's first Junior Day – but in the end, the Yellow Jackets got one and lost out on the other.
There were many others who received offers at time throughout the recruiting season and many of them showed why the staff targeted them early – most ended up at other prestigious football programs. Those names include: Dalton Freeman (Clemson), Michael Via (Virginia Tech), Tyler Sands (Illinois), Ryan Turnley (Pittsburgh), Jonathan Owens (Georgia), Ricky Barnum (Michigan), Barrett Jones (Alabama), Preston Bailey (Tennessee).
There were others who had offers at some point but may not have kept those offers in the end, like: Evan Epstein (Air Force), Greg Shaw (LSU), Jake Jackson (Baylor). Shaw was determined by the new coaching staff to not fit the profile of the type of lineman they were looking for. Jackson attended a camp at Tech but didn't perform as well as expected. He announced he was going to Baylor soon after the camp so it worked out fine for all parties.
I was very glowing in my analysis of the 3-man linebacker class and I could argue that these three offensive lineman matchup equally as well in terms of talent and potential. The one knock I'd give to the OL that I couldn't for LB is numbers. I would have liked to have seen at least one more OL in this class but understand that there are areas that will fall short – in terms of numbers – when you're dealing with a coaching change toward the latter part of the recruiting season.
This group of coaches did a great job in that the three they landed all had unique challenges. McRae was a commit from the previous staff and the new staff had to do everything they could to hold onto him in the face of other schools playing the coaching change and new offense against us.
Uzzi was recruited by Gailey's staff but didn't commit previously. Without being burdened by the idea of reversing a commitment, Uzzi was in an easier position to go elsewhere if he wanted even though Tech was long thought to be the leader. Additionally, his stock continued to rise and other top schools like Virginia and Alabama were making strong plays for him. In the end Tech was able to follow through on all of the good work started by the previous staff and land Uzzi.
Finally, Phil Smith was identified late in the game and by all indications was a solid pickup. The staff considered many OL late in the game so the fact that Smith was one of the few they actually offered should tell you how the coaches feel about landing him.
Thanks to Scott Kennedy, Miller Safrit, Brandon Mellor, Dale McDuffie, Kamden Robb and Rod Mackenzie for contributions to this article!