DE: Derrick Morgan, Anthony Egbuniwe, Jason Peters
DT: *Vance Walker, Logan Walls, T.J. Barnes
DT: Darryl Richard, Elris Anyaibe, Ben Anderson
DE: Michael Johnson, Robert Hall, Antonio Wilson
* All-ACC First-Team Honors
The defensive line at Georgia Tech will have a lot of needs to fill. The team not only loses two key starting seniors and a valuable walk-on but there are four rising seniors on next year's team. Of those four rising seniors, three are expected to start. So this would be a good recruiting season to add some numbers and talent.
The two departing seniors may both be drafted soon in the NFL draft. Starting defensive ends Adamm Oliver and Darrell Robertson will both be on NFL rosters soon. Robertson is expected to go somewhere around the 3rd round and Oliver is projected to possibly go in the 7th round. It says a lot about the talent level leaving the team when the League wants both of your starting ends. The duo combined for 77 tackles and 11 sacks in 2007.
Robertson, who first earned playing time as a pass rush specialist, has been the full-time starter for the past two seasons. He made All-ACC second team this year and was selected to play in the Senior Bowl.
Oliver, a former high school running back and current GT blogger, has been the starting end for the past three years. The man called "Machine" has needed little maintenance in his Tech career as he started an iron man like 41 total games.
Marcus Harris, who came in as a walk-on, has been a steady part of the depth chart in his career at Tech. He didn't see the field a lot as he only got in for 5 games in his career but he played an important role in practice. Whenever there were injuries or times of thin depth, he was always around to compete for reps.
A good number of defensive line players to land when heading into the recruiting season would be something like three or more. Obviously you want to replace two starting defensive ends but really you were losing 3 ends and tackles each over the next two years.
Spring Practice Report:
Despite losing two seniors who'll soon be paid to play football, the returning line is very experienced and very good. People will truly appreciate just how deep last year's group of defensive ends was when you see this group not really miss much of a beat.
Michael Johnson, a.k.a. "Stretch", as most people know, would have started last year at probably any other school in the conference (sans Virginia). As it turns out surprisingly he's only started all of two games in his time at GT. I suspect he's in for a real breakout year. Tech fans know all about Stretch but the rest of the league will soon know him like Maryland does (back-to-back sacks to end the game in 2006 when they were inside the 5 yard line and down only 4).
Filling the other defensive end spot is not a sure thing like MJ by any means but there are several capable replacements which also means that the depth still good. The logical choice to start is sophomore Derrick Morgan, who played in 12 games as a true freshman on an already stacked defensive line. He was just too good to keep off the field. It helped too that he got into school early and was beginning his career about this time last year.
Others looking to push Morgan and Johnson include Robert Hall, Anthony Egbuniwe (pronounced E-boon-a-way), and Jason Peters. Hall is coming off of a leg injury but has already impressed the new defensive coordinator Dave Wommack by toughing it out in off-season drills. Egbuniwe is a transfer from Tulsa who I'm told has looked good in closed practices. Peters is an interesting case too. He was a highly touted prospect from the 2007 class, like Morgan, but Peters redshirted his first season. He's a big guy and could play either end or tackle but will probably stay at end, at 6'4" 272 pounds, this year since the tackle positon has plenty of good players up and down the depth chart for this coming year.
One of those tackles is the defensive anchor and one of the conferences best players. He was expected to be a nice complement to Darryl Richard and a decent replacement for Joe Anoai heading into the 2007 season. He had previously received some spot starts – 2 games each in '05 and '06 seasons. Instead Vance Walker, ligtly recruited out of high school until a nice showing at the Shrine Bowl following his senior season, received more votes among all defensive linemen in the ACC except for Chris Long from Virginia. Long was also 1st team All-America and will likely be a top 5 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Walker was a thrid team selection for All-America.
With all of that written about Vance I have to conclude that it's also no coincidence that Walker and Anoia have done so well putting up great numbers from the defensive tackle position. I think Darryl Richard is having a lot to do with those results. Though Richard is not putting up gaudy numbers and winning awards like we expected when he signed with Tech, I think most of his work has gone fairly unsung. He's a disruptive player who garners a lot of attention often times freeing up his insider partners for some one-on-one matches that they are also winning. I'm going to appreciate Darryl for one more season then hope Tech can find someone who'll do what he does on the field as a team player. Darryl also represents himself and the school well with his academic acheivements. I'd take someone like him any year.
Vance and Darryl are both senior so unfortunately that leaves a good player like Elris Anyaibe on the bench when games start. He's also a senior so it will probably take an injury for him to become a starter given who's ahead of him. In another situation Elris could be moving into a starting role himself this season. Regardless he'll be heavily involved once again this year in the rotation.
The real interesting DL spring battle for me is who'll be the #4 tackle. A couple of young big dudes will battle it out for reps this spring in Ben Anderson and Logan Walls. "Big Ben," perhaps the strongest player on the team, got his feet wet last season by getting into 6 games following his redshirt season the year before. Logan Walls is coming off of his redshirt season now and will have a chance to show how he's developed in the past year. Interestingly, Logan also has two older brothers on the team – Lance and Levi, though Logan outweighs the heavier of his two brothers by about 50 pounds.
Coach Wommack has also said that when they go to a three-man line he'll use the three best pass rushers without regard to what position they play. We could see three DE's on the field at the same time possibly. Overall the starters and depth along the defensive line are in a good place right now. Even with losing 11 sacks from Robo and Machine, the starting line returns players who totaled 17 sacks last season. Not a bad place to start from with some promising talent backing up that group.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Enterprise, AL (Enterprise H.S.)
Other offers included: Alabama, Auburn, Louisville, Troy
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Charles Kelly & Giff Smith
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking: 24
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: NR
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 59 (OT)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Once again the Tech coaches snuck a big player out of the state of Alabama who has a lot of potential. It's somewhat reminiscent of a few years back when Tech landed Michael Johnson while schools like Auburn and Alabama were targeting other kids. Both schools liked Barnes early on but with Alabama, for example, the class they were putting together was so good that they were able not only to target the best players in their state but they had a national campaign going on as well signing 14 kids outside of the state. With Auburn it was even more skewed. They only signed 9 players from their state, just a third of their class. So, sometimes when recruiting in that state, what those guys are doing is sometimes part of the story.
In the end, the in-state schools had lowered their interest levels and Tech benefited. T.J. was a player the coaches coveted across both coaching staffs. He made a very good connection with Tech early on and committed to the Yellow Jackets even after the coaching change.
Barnes is a young guy and may need to redshirt – especially since the depth is good right now for the 2008 season. He could be the space eater who takes over for Darryl Richard down the road if he meets his potential.
Recruiting Analyst Andrew Bone on T.J. Barnes:
"T.J. Barnes is an excellent football prospect, but raw with unlimited potential. The 6-7, 320-pound signee has performed well on both sides of the ball and has great quickness and moves well for a player his size. He is young and will likely need a redshirt season to help develop and mature."
Enterprise High Head Coach Kevin Collins on T.J. Barnes:
"It's always important that I'm up front with these recruiters, so they know that any kid that comes from Enterprise is going to be of high character," said Collins. "He's going to be #1 very coachable because he has the future of my program at stake as well because all of these colleges I send kids to, I like for them to come back and say, 'Hey, we want another one just like this one.' Georgia Tech is getting that – a high quality person that's very coachable."
"What they're getting as a player is a very young player – he's 17, he'll not be 18 until June – so he is still continuing to mature not only as a person but as a football player," said Collins. "But he has got all of the things you look for to be able to build off of and his best days of football are certainly ahead of him. He's 6'6", 320 pounds so he's got all of the tools. He moves very well and does all of the things right that you look for as being a high caliber division-one prospect. He plays well on the field and can do a lot of things. But I would look at it from the standpoint of – we're getting a young kid that we know still has a lot of good football left to develop into." \
Home Town (High School): Decatur, GA (Columbia H.S.)
Other offers included: Navy, Vanderbilt
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary
Scout.com Stars: **
Scout.com State Ranking: NR
Scout.com Southeastern Ranking: NR
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: NR
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
To me Antonio Wilson is easily the most interesting player of the entire class for Tech. And that's mostly because no one really has any idea about what Tech is getting with this player. Basically what we know about him is that he began playing football as a senior in high school, only played in four games, was in an automobile accident, and still piqued the interest of several division one football programs.
Wilson, who is said to be completely healed from his injuries, had an impressive run in those four games. He totaled 25 tackles and 11 sacks in that span and had schools like Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Navy and LSU looking to find out more about him. Vanderbilt was the first school to take the chance and finally offer and he committed to them following the offer.
As mentioned above though, Navy was one of the schools that showed some interest in Wilson. It's no coincident then that when several from that coaching staff, including the head coach, ended up at Tech, Wilson got another look. Tech needed to identify quality players quickly to fill out several needs for the recruiting class so Wilson was evaluated and switched his pledge to Tech finally on National Signing Day.
It's an easy call really. First, Brandon was the only one of three big men Tech targeted early on who were going to decide how well the class looked along the trenches. Tech ended up landing two of those big targets with Barnes and Omoregie Uzzi (who'll be an offensive lineman). Secondly, Tech put such and all out effort on those three that in the end Thompson and Barnes were really the only defensive tackles they actually extended offers to.
Joe Jones (Virginia Tech)
It was a heartbreaking loss to miss out on Jones. He basically wanted to get out of Virginia, didn't like Blacksburg, favored Tech but ended up making a "hokie" decision based on the wishes of some family influences. He has the chance to be a very good player and unfortunately Tech (the real Tech) will have to see Jones line up against them each year.
Until signing day Tech had basically come up short on all of the DE targets they offered. There were some tough losses as well. The following kids were all offered at the position and many of the names had Tech near the top of their list at some point: Keith Wells (Ohio State), Peter Massaro (Penn State), Kaleb Ramsey (Boston College), William Green (Florida), Corey Liuget (Illinois), Jared Edwards (Baylor).
Edwards was basically committed to Tech after his official visit. He made one quick stop over to Baylor on his way home and decided he'd go there and stay closer to home. Most Tech fans had already penciled him in as a commit. Tech really didn't have much of a shot at Massaro but did have shots at the others at some point. Wells told me at a Tech practice that he was likely going to commit to Tech. Then he started getting a lot of attention and starting saying those same things to just about everyone. He committed to FSU before finally ending up at OSU.
The good news here is that Tech ended up with over 13-feet of players between the two guys they signed. With both guys at 6'6" or better, there is a lot of physical potential to build on. And fortunately, both are able to take likely redshirts in 2008 since the depth chart is very solid right now. With Barnes only being 17 until this summer and Wilson's short four game high school, there could be a lot be learned in a year in Coach Johnson's program.
The downsides here are apparent as well. First the numbers are too low. I know the staff wanted to sign more than that but losing guys like Jones, Thompson and Edwards late really hurt. Also there's no way to spin signing a guy with only four games under his belt as anything other than a sleeper. Wilson is a seriously intriguing player and athletic enough to have even been considered by schools after such a short look at him but he was likely a backup plan for the other players who Tech was unable to sign.
Finally, we already know more of the story to the defensive line recruiting for Tech. It's unusual to already know this but Tech coaches have already begun to make up for shortfall in recruiting for these positions by getting the first 3 players in the 2009 class to commit for these positions. With J.C. Lanier, John Drew, and Emanuel Dieke already in the fold for next year to go along with Barnes and Wilson from ‘08, the coaches have addressed future issues of depth and talent. They just didn't address all of the needs with this class in particular. All 5 guys are either very tall or very heavy so the big lineman is about to become in vogue again at Tech… and that is exciting.
Thanks to Andrew Bone, Don Yates, and Rod Mackenzie for contributions to this article!