With nearly every wide receiver returning for Georgia Tech coupled with a group of solid walk-ons in the program, there was not a need for a big WR class. The only loss from 2008 to 2009 at the WR position is Andrew Smith. There are two if you count the move of Correy Earls from receiver to defensive back.
Smith was a valuable reserve who worked his way from being a walk-on to receiving an offer in his final season at Tech. Though Andrew stood out in many scrimmages and spring games, his contributions on the field for GT came mostly though special teams. He actually began the year on the depth chart in the A-back position. After recovering from a shoulder injury, he returned as a receiver, where he played before Coach Paul Johnson brought his new offense to Tech. He ended his career with just a single reception and one start – in the last home game of this past year versus Miami perhaps as a reward for his efforts and that he was the only senior receiver on the team.
Due to a Tyler Melton injury, Earls was thrust into a starting role from the Virginia game on. The only exception was the Andrew Smith start versus Miami. Even when Melton returned, Earls continued to start. That doesn't necessarily suggest that Earls had beaten out Melton – Correy had no receptions in the first two starts against Virginia and Florida State but did have a 3-for-31 game in a losing effort at North Carolina. I suspect Melton was still not 100% in returning from his injury. Finally, there is the matter of the off-season move from receiver to corner. It may turn out to be a good fit for Correy but I think the move is a clear signal that things were not working out as planned at receiver. Regardless of who initiated the position change – the coaches either suggested it or allowed it – coaches must have been looking from more productivity or better blocking from Earls.
In the beginning of the recruiting season, the plan was to only take one receiver. At the time Andrew Smith was an A-back and Earls-to-defense wasn't in the plans, so there didn't appear to be any coming losses. With two freshmen redshirting, there would be plenty of young firepower carried into the 2009 season, so one was the number initially.
Spring Practice Report:
The most important receiver on the team, Demaryius Thomas, returns for another season after leading the Yellow Jackets in every receiving category in 2008. There really wasn't anyone who compared to "Bebe" statistically. He led in the following areas – receptions (36), yards (595), touchdowns (3), and longest reception (a fourth quarter 88-yard TD catch from Jaybo Shaw in the 27-0 route of Duke). Bebe had some memorable drops this past season but when he's on, he's one of the best receivers in the conference. He has great size and knows how to use his body to his advantage in getting better poisoning versus smaller corners. It will be interesting to see if he can expand his role even further in this offense in 2009. The team would be wise in creating more ways of getting him involved. He works so well in this offense though because he's a devastating blocker – a trait that goes unsung mostly, and when left in single coverage, he presents a considerable mismatch even against opponents' best cover corners.
Finally, Bebe threw his name in the hat for the NFL draft this past year to get a feel for where he'd be drafted. Rumors are that he was told he could be drafted as high as the third round. Nevertheless, he withdrew his name for consideration but it does bring up the thought that this could be his last season since he's had it in his thoughts since his sophomore season to enter "the League." I certainly think he was right in returning for next season because he could improve his draft position in comparison to where I suspect he realistically would have been selected this year. He does have NFL talent but I think the scouts would like another year to see who is really is as a receiver. His blocking skills at a minimum will increase his value with any team.
Tyler Melton is another potential big piece of the puzzle at WR. He's capable of so much more than his five catches for 53 yards last season. Additionally, he was beset by injuries throughout most of the second half of the season. We've seen him make spectacular catches in practice and display soft hands. Melton committed to GT in summer of 2006, but didn't enroll right away in order to maintain freshman eligibility another year after a leg injury in his senior season of high school. So, he was actually playing as a true freshman last season. Even though it seems he's been around a while, I think he's still picking things up. He has good size and toughness, which is a plus to have at receiver in this offense. I think Tyler has enough ability to hold off challenges from last year's other true freshmen who redshirted, but it's not going to be a sure thing.
Quentin Sims and Daniel McKayhan, both coming off redshirt seasons, will immediately mount challenges to Melton as the starter opposite Bebe. Like Melton, both guys were kind of under-the-radar guys in terms of recruiting hype when they became Yellow Jackets. Sims and McKayhan have similar frames to Bebe and Melton respectively, with one big difference – weight. Sims is listed at a mere 40 pounds lighter than Bebe and McKayhan was about 20 pounds south of Melton. Hopefully the redshirt year and off-season workouts has made to duo stouter and more ready for the rigors of playing receiver in this offense. Both guys flashed some good ability to catch the ball and get separation in early practices last season, so I think both have the potential to move up the depth chart.
Another interesting player in the mix is former-receiver-turned-defensive-back-turned-back-to-receiver Willie White. Willie has the body that coaches seem to like at the position – he's pushing 6'4" and is between 190 and 195 pounds. Willie's position changes and injuries have stunted his contributions so far at WR, but he certainly has the ability and work ethic to overcome both. Willie had a knee procedure done early on last season but he was able to return fully from it in time to play by the end of the season. By then he had moved to receiver. He was working his way back into shape and suffered a rib injury thanks to a bone-thumping hit in pre-bowl practice courtesy of Sedric Griffin. In his favor is the fact that he's starting out on relative even ground with Sims and McKayhan in the sense that neither guy has played any live game snaps, though the two freshmen saw many more reps last year in practice.
The final names in the mix this spring is the walk-on gang of Zach Fisher, R.B. Clyburn, and Kevin Cone. It's a testament to the walk-on program that GT has three solid players of this caliber in the program. The 6-foot-6 Clyburn actually was Bebe's replacement as starter when he couldn't go for the Virginia Tech game. In that same game, Fisher had catches of 21 and 16 yards. It will be interesting to see how their reps are distributed in spring but the coaches never hesitated to insert Fisher or Clyburn at times last season when you might have expected them to turn to a scholarship player instead.
Overall the bigger story in spring for the receivers could be seeing if their usage in the passing game expands. In the final three games of last season, receivers accounted for seven total catches. Tech won six games this year in which they threw three or less completed passes to receivers. I suspect things will become a little more balanced next season in that respect but the offense in its current form is leading to successful results on the field. In other words, coaches at times will say, ‘stop our running game first then we'll think about making adjustments.' I also feel that developing a consistent alternative to Bebe – in the game against Duke he made all nine catches – could help free up some more action in the passing game.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Austin, TX (Johnson High School)
Other offers included: New Mexico, Utah, UTEP
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Todd Spencer
Scout.com Stars: **
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 176 (WR)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
From the outset Tech coaches only wanted one receiver in this class and they were going to be very selective in who they took. Knowing that and Tech coaches' propensity to look at in-state guys first, the fact that they locked in on Moore as their guy early on should tell you that he was well thought of internally. Continuing with the theme of having a preference for bigger receivers, Jeremy fits that description as well. He's a lanky 6'3" and will have to put on some muscle weight, but coaches like his potential physically.
Interestingly Moore, even though he's from Texas, has been a Tech fan for some time now. He told me back in June when he committed, "I've always really wanted to come to Tech. I told my mother that's where I was going to go when I was little. She didn't think so because she wanted me to go to school in Texas. She was like, ‘The only way you can go to Georgia Tech is if you get a full scholarship.' And I was like, ‘okay, I'll get a full scholarship' and God blessed me to go up there."
Moore showed up at GT's passing camp and impressed the coaches enough to get a scholarship. When he was offered, he committed on the spot. During the passing camp Jeremy was clocked at 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and jumped 37 inches in the vertical leap test. At the time he was going to be the only WR in the class. "They're only recruiting one wide receiver in my class and I'm that receiver," said Moore back in June. "So, when I do get the opportunity to get on the field then I'll be the go-to guy."
As we now know, another receiver came along later who was too good to pass on. Moore was told in advance of it and didn't object.
"I got the chance to see Moore first hand at a camp. I did not know who he was but I noticed this one receiver constantly beating every cornerback off the snap, getting release and finding the opening, of course making the catch. He is not a burner but he is not slow either, he can get separation from the cornerback and finding the opening in coverage. He has very good size for a receiver, he is taller than me and I am a shade over 6'1. He is more of the possession receiver type but that does not accurately depict his speed which is solid. He is very consistent also with his ability to get open and beat the coverage. At that one camp I don't remember any cornerback covering him half way decently."
Home Town (High School): Lithonia, GA (Miller Grove High School)
Other offers included: Boston College, Central Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Mississippi State, North Carolina
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean Marie
Scout.com Stars: *****
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 23 (WR)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): 209
Stephen Hill, after the dust settled, ended up being the highest rated player in the class for GT. Though Tech coaches found the one they wanted initially in Moore, it's easy to see why they wanted to take in one more even though the numbers didn't suggest that Tech should sign two. GT's fortune was at the expense of a couple of former Tech coaches. Hill was previously committed to UCF but he had to inform former Tech coaches George O'Leary and David Kelly he was instead going to the school O'Leary coached before he spurned the Yellow Jackets for a different team with a golden helmet.
"I just called my recruiting coach at Central Florida, Coach Kelly, and told him that I was de-committing," Hill told Jared Kimmel back in November. "Then I called Coach BJ (Brian Jean-Mary) at Tech and talked everything over with him and Coach Johnson. I told them that's where I want to be, and that's how it is now."
Hill is yet another big-bodied receiver in the program for GT. He certainly passes the look test as well. Like Emanuel Dieke on defense Hill is very impressive physically. Other teams agreed as his recruitment, not surprisingly, never really ended down to the wire. There was some serious flirtation with him and Georgia in the closing weeks of the recruiting season when they decided to reenter the picture. In the end he stuck with Tech and even told a few other Tech commits that he was only messing with Georgia. Whether that's entirely the case or not is unclear but he did seem to at least hear what they had to say.
Stephen told Chad Simmons after all of the excitement settled down, "I listened to (Georgia) and they said all the right things to me and my parents, but I just have love for Georgia Tech and I am very happy with my decision."
As it turns out, that drama, which played out very publicly in the Atlanta media, could have actually helped Tech recruiting efforts in the long run. I heard more than one talk show host suggest that Tech showed its recruiting staying power under Coach Johnson by being able to hold off the traditional power in-state. They went on to suggest that Tech would win more head-to-head battles against UGA going forward under Coach Johnson.
"Hill could be the steal of this class. He is one of the best athletes in Georgia and he is a guy that can make plays when the ball is in his hands. Improving his route running and consistency with his hands are two things he'll need to concentrate on, but he has all the tools to be special on the flats."
"A big-bodied talent at WR, Hill will be an instant asset to any team. Uses size well to seal smaller defenders and has exceptional hands. Shows incredible speed for a player his size, both on the track and on the field, and gets in the end zone in a hurry. Is a surprisingly good down-field blocker for his height. Could play a number of positions in college but skill set is best suited for WR."
The one who got away:
This is a position where it would almost make sense to list nobody as the one who got away. But in keeping with the idea that I will list one if there is one to list, I'll have to go with Jamal Patterson (Stanford). In truth though, Tech coaches were satisfied when Moore committed until Hill came along. Patterson was really the only other offered player who was talked about besides Braxton Lane (Oregon). In reality, neither was much of a possibility. Patterson received an obligatory offer and he visited several times but there really wasn't high level of interest from either side as some might have suspected. Lane is almost definitely going to end up playing baseball. He signed with Oregon but I suspect he'll never suit up for them.
The Tech coaches earn kudos for a nice job in recruiting the WR position this season. There were significant needs heading into the recruiting season but they not only met the desired objectives but they blew past expectations. They had the luxury of signing a blue-chip prospect to go along with the solid talent they had already identified and secured a commitment from. Both players seem to fit the profile coaches are looking for to succeed in this offense – guys with size, adequate speed, the ability to block and soft hands. There is no other way to call this one but to say this position was recruited with glowing success in this class.
Thanks to Alan Zepeda, Scott Kennedy, Chad Simmons, Burke Hayes, Jared Kimmel and Rod Mackenzie for contributions to this article!