Georgia Tech '09 Recruiting Review – DL

With National Signing Day over and Georgia Tech's recruiting class completed, GoJackets.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2009 recruiting class. Today, we will look at the defensive line.

Defensive Line

New Additions (5):
J.C. Lanier, Izaan Cross, Euclid Cummings, Emmanuel Dieke, Chris Crenshaw


Depth Chart:
DE: Derrick Morgan, Jason Peters, Antonio Wilson, Euclid Cummings
DT: T.J. Barnes, Jason Hill, J.C. Lanier
DT: Ben Anderson, Logan Walls, Izaan Cross
DE: Robert Hall, Anthony Egbuniwe, Osahon Tongo, Emmanuel Dieke, Chris Crenshaw


Position Needs:
Even before this past recruiting season got started it was clear that the defensive line position was going to be the most critical position of need. It wasn't enough that there was going to be four guys graduating. We're not talking about just anyone here. Three of the biggest losses on the entire team come from this group of lineman who are moving on. This group will be taking with them years of starting experience and numerous awards. No pressure, right? You want to be sure you get these future replacements right so in addition to seeking a high level of talent for d-line recruits, you also want some numbers. Four commits would be the minimum number to get in this class and five would be preferable.

So who are these four guys who are moving on after the 2008 season? Well, between two guys – Michael Johnson and Vance Walker – Tech loses three years of first team All-ACC honors. But before I get to more on them, somehow one of Tech's Captains, Darryl Richard, never made first team, only second team. For Darryl he became a starter in his freshman season and never relinquished his spot. He missed his second year in the program with a knee injury but when he returned he never missed a beat. Richard has received numerous other honors including an invite to the latest East-West Shrine Bowl. In addition to the awards he received for his actions on the field, Darryl also was acknowledged in many ways for his academic prowess. In the time he played for Tech he graduated with an undergraduate degree in three years and earned his MBA as well. I can safely write that Darryl is the model for what fans hope for in a player, student and representative of Georgia Tech. We'll be looking for the next Darryl for a long time to come but he's one-of-a-kind.

The next time we hear Michael Johnson's name, it may be in the first round of the NFL draft. Last season he was one of college football's most feared defensive ends. Teams spent a lot of effort trying to neutralize his effect. A Tri-Captain like Richard, Johnson was selected to play in this year's Senior Bowl. Surprisingly, Michael wasn't much of a prospect when Tech first recruited him. He continued to climb the rankings later on in that recruiting season but by then GT had a secure hold on their future star. Alabama and Auburn didn't pay much attention to the in-state production until it was too late. He ended up as Scout.com's #2 prospect in the state by the time Signing Day came around. Another oddity is that MJ didn't really even have his own starting position until this past season despite never redshirting and always being an impact player. He bided his time – only two starts in his first three seasons – at DE and shared time with guys like Darrell Robertson and Adamm Oliver. Johnson continued to improve with each season and ended his career with 107 tackles and 19 sacks (putting him 7th on the all-time list at Tech).

The other big part of the defensive line foundation for the last few years is two-time All-ACC first team selection Vance Walker. His recruiting story was also an odd turn of events. Vance started the same season as MJ and also did not redshirt. But unlike MJ, Walker wasn't really getting noticed in recruiting conversations until very late in the game. He had a coming out party for South Carlina in their Shrine Bowl. GT swept in after that game and landed Walker. It's a good thing they did too because he had quite an impact. He started two games in each of his first two seasons but then took charge of the position for his last two seasons. He ended up his career iwth 110 tackles and 13 sacks.

Elris Anyaibe is the final piece of this fab four. Had he not entered GT while Richard and Walker were playing DT, he might have seen many more starts. He was still a very valuable member of the line and rotated in as the number three guy for the past two seasons. Not only will GT have to find replacement for two of the better starters they've had at DT for some time, they will need to replace the guy who spells them as a major contributor.

Overall, the four departing linemen totaled 125 tackles and 15.5 sacks last season. There are some big shoes to fill.


Spring Practice Report:
As glowingly as I described the four departing linemen from last year, the lone returning starter, Derrick Morgan, had perhaps the most impressive numbers of the entire group last season. He had the same number of sacks as did Michael Johnson and Morgan had more tackles – topping all linemen. Certainly teams focused a lot of attention on the three senior starters allowing Morgan to run freer, but he is clearly not a step down in terms of his talents.

The other defensive end starter, though not as clear cut as Morgan on the other side, seems like a pretty strong bet to be Robert Hall as spring begins. He has played at end in every game last season and was a strong contributor on special teams. He's been a big part of special teams ever since he arrived on campus in 2006, playing as a true freshman. He missed all but three games in 2007 before making the strong comeback last season. Though he'll be asked to significantly add to his 11 total tackles from last season and become disruptive enough that teams won't feel the need to focus solely on Morgan.

Jason Peters is another interesting choice to push Hall for playing time. Peters was a highly touted recruit from the 2007 class. He redshirted his first season then saw limited action last year. In the time he did play he managed two sacks and he'll certainly have more opportunities to add to that total next year. With Peter's size, around 6'4", 275 pounds, he could find himself playing tackle as well as end this season.

Anthony Egbuniwe, a redshirt junior transfer from Tulsa, has been a college athlete for three years now but 2008 was the first time he had the chance to actually play in a game. He redshirted for Tulsa in 2006 then sat out 2007 due to his transferring to GT. Anthony didn't make a significant contribution in his first season as an eligible participant and now will be asked to fight off guys like Hall, Peters and Emmanuel Dieke for playing time.

I'll go into more detail on Dieke below but with him being the only player in the class to enroll early, he'll factor in on the depth chart right away this spring.

Osahon Tongo, who I listed last week in the linebacker article, now appears to be headed for defensive end. Tongo, who has struggled with health, may have finally grown out of the LB position. Hopefully the move closer to the ball will work out well for him.

Finally, Antonio Wilson will be in the competition after redshirting his freshman year last season. He has a similar build to the aforementioned Darrell Robertson when he was a young player for Tech. Wilson, like Robertson, is tall and wirey. He was a signing day defection last year from Vanderbilt and is an intersting darkhorse in this competiton for playing time.

At defensive tackle spring will provide the opportunity to solve many unanswered questions. DT will be missing one very critical element as the Yellow Jackets head into a new season – experience. The spring roster includes the following scholarship players: a RS freshman, a RS sophomore, a RS junior and a RS senior. Combined, the group has not started a single game at defensive line and has an aggregate total of four career tackles.

The RS freshman, T.J. Barnes, is the one fans seem most intrigued about. At 6'7", 325 pounds, Barnes is the largest player on the team. The hype has built up around him after a redshirt year on campus where he's received glowing reports on his potential. The biggest fear with Barnes right now is that he won't be able to sustain his level of play for all downs. Coaches are looking for him to lose a little weight as a preemptive effort to solve that potential stumbling block to his game. Despite his size, it's been suggested that he actually carries a reasonable percent of body fat. It will be interesting to watch how his conditioning holds up in spring because if that is not an issue, he could step in and be quite a force.

Ben Anderson is the junior. He's the most experienced of the bunch. Like Anyaibe, he played minutes in every game backing up Richard and Walker. But unlike Anyaibe, Big Ben will have the chance to realistically compete for a starting spot on the 2009 team with the two future NFL tackles moving on. Ben redshirted in 2006 and fought his way into some playing time by the end of 2007. With a 2008 season in which he saw a lot of action, he has continued to grow and improve with each season. This could truly be a coming out party for Anderson this spring. We'll have to see how he and others react with the spotlight turned to them now.

Logan Walls got off to a slow start so far at Tech thanks in large part to a hereditary heart issue that has slowed him since his redshirt season in 2007. The heart issues Logan has is shared with his brother Levi who is a RS senior long snapper. After noticing a rapid heartbeat in 2007, Logan had to wear a heart monitor for a time before doctors allowed him to remove it. But a frightening incident last spring eventually led to a heart procedure on Logan (and Levi as well). Logan was cleared to play this past season and didn't seem to have any issues. He saw limited action, only playing in three games. Understandably, many fans have yet to get a really good feel for what Logan can contribute at tackle. Walls has good size and could be ready for a lot more action. Fans will first pray for his continued healthy but will also be rooting for him to make a name for himself on the field.

Finally, senior Jason Hill appears to be moving back to the defensive side of the ball – where he began his college career. He came to GT as a defensive end but was moved in his first season to offensive line. He has grown to around 300 pounds since then so this move back to defense will require him to be an interior lineman.


Who GT signed:

J.C. Lanier

Height: 6-3
Weight: 324
Home Town (High School): Twin Cities, GA (Emanuel County Institute.)
Other offers included: Clemson
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Mike Sewak
Scout.com Stars: ****
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 25 (DT)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): 297

J.C. Lanier committed to Tech the very day after National Signing Day 2008. It was probably one of the biggest surprises of the entire recruiting season and it happened on what many consider the first day of the new season. Defensive tackle has always been a position where Tech fans wished the program could do a better job of recruiting. Getting big-time tackles to Tech was always tough because there were so few good ones, so all of the "football factories" seemed to have first pick. To land Lanier in February was quite a surprise. Most Tech fans were sure J.C. would be a player we'd have to work hard all season to keep, but that was never the case. J.C. never wavered in the slightest and he was never even involved in rumors about wanting to change.

"I made a commitment to them and I am sticking by that no matter what," Lanier told GAVSV.com writer Brandon Mellor in late February 2008. "You are only as good as your word and I gave my word to Georgia Tech when I committed to them."

As mentioned above, the depth is thin at defensive tackle as GT heads into the 2009 season. And we've seen it before with guys like Darryl Richard and Vance Walker – a stellar tackle who comes in ready to play will get the opportunity to play early, if deserving. It isn't much of a stretch to imagine Jerry coming in this fall and getting into the mix at the position.

Lanier told Dale McDuffie after he committed, "I want to work on staying in shape and getting even stronger so I can be ready to play as soon as I can. I know if I work really hard and focus on everything to improve my game, I can come in get playing time as a freshman."

J.C. has been a model commit. He's seemingly done everything you could ask for. He's helped recruit when coaches asked him to. He's stayed firmly committed. He's even done a great job of preparing his body for college ball. He dropped about 25 pounds from the first time we saw him early last year. I couldn't think of a better player to have started the 2009 class off with.

Scouting Report:
Chad Simmons:
"It will be nice to see Lanier concentrate on one side of the ball at GT. He played about every down on both sides of the ball at E.C.I. and he just ran out of gas at times on the field. He has good mobility for a guy his size, but he does not move well laterally. Lanier needs to get stronger as well, but he could be a solid lineman for the Jackets."

Scott Kennedy:
"Lanier is a massive defensive end and offensive tackle for his ECI team that will need to control his weight to reach his full potential on the next level. He shows an excellent first step and straight ahead quickness, but he struggles a bit with his lateral range. His size, power, and excellent first step make me think he'll maximize his potential as a road-grading offensive guard on the next level."

Izaan Cross

Height: 6-3
Weight: 249
Home Town (High School): Flowery Branch, GA (Flowery Branch H.S.)
Other offers included: Maryland, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Oklahoma, South Carolina
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Jeff Monken
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 57 (DE)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR

The GoJackets.com staff felt so confident in Cross ending up at Tech that we listed him first among all recruits in the annual staff guessing game articles. One of the wiser staff members wrote this at the time, "He may not be the next guy to commit but I'll be floored if he doesn't end up here. He could take a while to announce, like Uzzi last year but I think Cross will be in white and gold next season." Like Uzzi, only two commits followed Cross.

Since Cross didn't commit until around Christmas, fans did become a little antsy. Plus many other good football schools were coming after Izaan as well including Clemson and Florida (though the Gators never offered apparently).

Despite all of the good offers, GT stayed at the top of his list basically the entire time. In September he told Jared Kimmel why he liked Tech as much, "I'd definitely say Tech is my leader. The education is great, I have a great relationship with (defensive line) Coach Smith and (A-backs/ST's) Coach Monken. I know some people there, then I have some friends going there. My friend Daniel (Drummond) is heading to Tech. It's also not too far from home."

Cross continues the Flowery Branch pipeline. Starting with Jaybo Shaw then Drummond, Cross follows and perhaps Connor Shaw, Jaybo's brother, will be the fourth.

Izaan has been listed mostly as a defensive end but of the four ends in this class, he appears to be the most likely to play on the interior. I have a feeling he'll be at tackle by the time the first practice comes around. If that's the case, it will be interesting to see if he can contribute as a freshman. On one hand he'll need to add more weight – a redshirt year would certainly do him a lot of good in that scenario. On the other hand, the depth could be thin in fall and if he stands out in early practices could make it tougher to sit him.

Scouting Report:
Chad Simmons:
"Cross is an athletic end that pursues the ball well. He is strong in the pass rush, but will need to improve against the run. Athleticism is one of his biggest strengths and he will likely be a strong side end that plays around 265-270 pounds when all is said and done."

Scott Kennedy:
"A high effort player, Cross chases plays down from the backside and downfield well into the 4th quarter when most high school players his size are out of gas. Has good pass rushing moves, but can sometimes rely on them too heavily and will get caught in a spin move when a back is coming his way. Strong at the point of attack. Has a very bright future ahead of him."

Euclid Cummings

Height: 6-4
Weight: 227
Home Town (High School): Roswell, GA (Centennial H.S.)
Other offers included: Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Al Buzz Preston
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 51 (DE)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR

Euclid is the highest rated commit of Tech's four listed defensive ends. It is somewhat surprising considering he has only played football for two seasons. Obviously he's made a huge initial impression with recruiting analysts and most feel like he has vast potential and even a good frame to add some weight to.

The word "potential" in recruiting makes coaches perk up. Tech wasn't the only school to see that potential in Cummings as he was hotly pursued by other schools. Once he made his decision though, he ended the conversation with other coaches. "No sir, I am canceling my visits to Tennessee and North Carolina," said Cummings to Dale McDuffie after he announced he was going to attend Tech. "I haven't had a chance to tell the coaches just yet but I will. I am finished with my recruiting. I am very happy that I am going to Georgia Tech, very happy."

When narrowing his schools to GT and UNC, Euclid gave Burke Hayes a few reasons why he would eventually select the Yellow Jackets, "Basically, because of what they can give me as far as education is concerned, there is not much depth on the DL, it is close to home, and like the coaches."

Considering he is still pretty new to football, it wouldn't be much of a surprise if the Tech coaches decided to give Cummings a redshirt season to mold his game and put on some more weight on him. In a class with five defensive linemen, it's good to have all kinds of builds and skill sets. It's nice to be able to bring in someone like Cummings with such a high ceiling but not feel like he needs to be thrown into the fire right away. If he's ready to go from the outset, that's great but if he needs a year to refine his game, Tech coaches will be able to play it that way.

Scouting Report:
Chad Simmons:
"There is no doubt in my mind that Cummings best football is ahead of him. He has only played a couple of years of football and he still seems to get lost in the game at times, but once he becomes more consistent, he could be a good pass rush end for GT. He needs to add weight, strength, and experience, but he is quick off the edge, and a pass rush specialist."

Burke Hayes:
"An ultra-talented athlete with a ton of potential, Cummings has as much upside as anybody. Long and fast, he has all of the tools to be a prototypical DE at the next level and beyond. Has a huge frame and can hold 30-plus pounds. Has and plays with LB speed and technique will only get better with time"

Emmanuel Dieke

Height: 6-7
Weight: 220
Home Town (High School): College Park, GA (North Clayton H.S.)
Other offers included: Ohio State, South Carolina, Stanford
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Al Buzz Preston
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 66 (DE)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR

If landing a four-star defensive tackle as the first player in the class wasn't good enough, following that up with a defensive end with a Michael Johnson build was astounding. For a position that was such a need in this class, it really started ideally with Lanier then Dieke.

Even better news on Dieke followed later in the recruiting season. He had decided to enroll early and get a jump on the competition. He'll be the only player in the 2009 class to enroll early. "I know that we are losing three great players and I hope that with hard work and me coming in early that I can get some playing time as a freshman," Dieke told Dale McDuffie in October. "I am looking forward to getting in there and doing the best I can to play. It will be something I will work hard for and will make the most of my shots when I get them."

Like MJ, the guy Dieke will likely continue to be compared to throughout his career at GT, Emmanuel comes in needed to add weight to a very long frame. Johnson was actually listed at 215 when he was a senior in high school, so the comparisons physically, at least, are apropos. It will be interesting to see if Dieke is able to make contributions early like MJ did on special teams. His presence at spring ball will make for some good viewing. I suspect he'll insert himself directly into the competition for playing time at end. I wouldn't be surprised to see the early reps give him a great shot at playing as a true freshman.

Scouting Report:
Chad Simmons:
"Dieke is really fun to watch and it is fun to imagine what he could be like if all comes together for him in the future. He has to add weight, he has to increase his strength, and he has to working on using his hands at the point of attack, but the size, tools, and athleticism are there. How good he wants to be will be up to him at Georgia Tech."

Scott Kennedy:
"A defensive end prospect with a huge frame, Dieke's size is a plus, but it's also something he'll need to work on to add muscle to the 6'7 frame of his. He plays with outstanding effort, and his lateral quickness and change of direction will improve as he fills out his frame and gets stronger. It's easy to picture him right now being more of a strong side defensive end that holds the line rather than a a big pass rusher."

Chris Crenshaw

Height: 6-3
Weight: 242
Home Town (High School): Louisville, GA (Jefferson County H.S.)
Other offers included: Mississippi State
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Giff Smith
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 68 (DE)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR

Crenshaw received his first offer over the summer from Mississippi State. Shortly afterward he camped at Georgia Tech and was a real standout. The coaches actually put the pressure on Chris prior to camp. Coach Giff Smith told Crenshaw that if he did perform well at the camp, they might extend him an offer. He performed well, got his offer and committed on the spot.

There was some controversy that seemed to have been generated along the way about overtures from South Carolina. But in the end Crenshaw didn't take any visit and stayed true to his word. As he told Dale McDuffie at the end of those rumors, "I am going to tell them that I am solid to Georgia Tech and that I am not interested in playing for any other team. I'm firm with my decision."

Crenshaw was looked at as a linebacker/defensive end hybrid by some analysts in the recruiting process. He continued to add to his frame throughout the year and looks like he'll fit in nicely as a DE. He could require a redshirt year in order to fully developing into a solid end but his size would also be ideal for a possible early contribution on special teams. He's an interesting case for me. I think he would have generated a lot of hype if he were the type to drag out the recruiting process into the new year, but he didn't and I think he'll be a good player for Tech.

Scouting Report:
Chad Simmons:
"Crenshaw really came on in 2008. He was a solid player in 2007 as a junior, but he elevated his game and became one of the top ends in Georgia in 2009. He could play either end position in college and he is just now starting to fill out his frame. I like his first step off the edge and he has a lot of upside."


The one who got away:
Defensive Tackle:
I'm very pleased with this class and really don't see a big miss from the other defensive linemen. But, I haven't copped out of make a pick yet, so from the group of others offered, I'd have to select John Drew.

Drew was an early commit to Tech so that makes him a good fit. On the other hand, when he bolted for Duke, of all places, I didn't get the sense that the coaches were going to put much pressure on him to try and win him back. He was a project of sorts and when he went his own way, the Tech staff quickly moved on and found a great group of players to round the class out with.

Another interesting tackle was Tay Irvin (UCF) but he wasn't a perfect match for GT academically. Other tackles who received offers at points along the way included: Dallas Lee (Georgia), Frank Souza (Wake Forest), Tyler Stockton (Notre Dame), Jamar Travis (Auburn).

Defensive End:
At this position there were some good players who received offers, including: William Ming (Alabama), Jonathan Newsome (Ohio State), Craig Roh (Michigan), Tyler Shatley (Clemson), Jonathan Stewart (Texas A&M). However, GT wasn't really realistically involved with any of them. So with four ends committed, we'll leave the one who got away with just the one for the entire line.


Final Analysis:
The 2009 defensive line class will be looked back on as a group that successfully filled some huge shoes. It is tough replacing Johnson, Richard, Walker, and Anyaibe as a group, but these five commits have all of the ability be just as good in the long run.

One thing the group has going for them in addition to their natural talents is coaching. Defensive Line Coach Giff Smith deserves a lot of credit for the development of his players over the years. We've seen at Tech where some guys haven't developed like we hoped they would at some position in past years, but the defensive line has turned out good players who'll have pro careers playing football. I'm confident that as long as coaches like Giff is around we'll continue to recruit well and coach up the players we get at defensive line.

As for the short-term, I think it will be necessary to play at least a couple of these guys early on. With numbers being low at tackle, Lanier jumps off as a good possibility to see early playing time. Cross could too or any of the others if they are able to play tackle. I see Cross being the most likely. At end we don't really need the numbers but if one of those guys is a standout in early practices, you never know. I think Dieke, by enrolling early, has the best shot to sneak into the depth chart as a true freshman, but it won't be easy. Other might find special teams as a good way to get on the field early and learn the speed of the game.

Thanks to Scott Kennedy, Chad Simmons, Brandon Mellor, Burke Hayes, Dale McDuffie, Jared Kimmel and Rod Mackenzie for contributions to this article!


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