It's no secret – quarterback is the single most important position on the football field. Even in this offense – especially in this offense – it is the case. In the triple option the quarterback needs to possess a high level of athleticism and an ability to think and react quickly while reading a defense in full speed. When recruiting high school players, the first part can easily be spotted by watching a few games. The other part is probably not fully known until the player has some time in the system. Because of the uncertainty in finding the next great quarterback and the position's importance, it's wise to keep the program continually stocked with capable prospects. A recruiting advantage for Georgia Tech is that if an athletic quarterback does not succeed at the position, he is likely physically able to play elsewhere on the field. All of that adds up to a recruiting philosophy where coaches are open to signing more players for the quarterback position than they would otherwise need in a pro-style offense.
Tech had five quarterbacks in the system last season and two have parted. Even though neither player lost would be considered an impact player, Tech needed to fill in those spots with new talent. In fact, the coaches could have added more players there, but getting two fit the minimum desired number for the 2009 class.
From the 2008 class, Tech loses a senior carryover from Coach Chan Gailey's offensive system who wasn't a great fit for the triple option and a freshman walk-on who had an early 15 minutes of fame before being buried in the depth chart once the season started.
The senior was Auburn transfer Calvin Booker. During recruiting in 2003, Booker stood out at Auburn's summer camp and it led to the Tigers giving him his first offer. Georgia Tech got into the picture with him later on but it was too late. On the field that year Auburn began the season as the #6 team in the country by the Associated Press. A 23-0 spanking by California followed by a 17-3 defeat to GT in Atlanta had the Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville answering questions about the direction of the team. Not only that, but recruits were getting asked questions as well. Since Calvin was in attendance for that September 6, 2003 game, Scott Kennedy at the time asked if the game made him rethink the idea of picking Auburn over GT. "I won't change my commitment," Booker told Kennedy. "I don't have any doubts. I made up my mind already. I thought the team was going to be better this year, but you just never know. My job is to get there and help the team win." It was an admirable and respectable attitude to take in the recruiting process but as it turns out, he eventually became a Yellow Jacket in the end.
Booker didn't throw a single pass for Auburn. He redshirted in 2004 and was a reserve in 2005. He sat out in accordance with NCAA rules for his transfer to GT in 2006. For his Tech career he played in thirteen games, starting just one – last year's nail-biting win over Gardner-Webb in a game where starter Nesbit and backup Shaw were inactive. Calvin's career passing stats were 15-35 (42.9 completion percentage) for 306 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. His top career highlight was throwing Jonathan Dwyer his first ever receiving touchdown in the Gardner-Webb game. The 79-yard passing play was Tech's only TD that game and 12th longest pass play in GT history.
Bryce Dykes peaked early in his short Tech career. The redshirt freshman will be best remembered by Tech fans as the unknown QB who put together a couple strong weeks of play last spring. He seemed to grasp the offense right away and showed great athleticism and toughness. I remember him getting his helmet knocked off of him in one scrimmage and he continued to fight for more yardage while team chaplain Derrick Moore, standing next to me, was yelling for him to, "Get down, get down." In that same scrimmage he broke off a couple of runs for over 25 yards and people were wondering if he could actually come from out of seemingly nowhere to being a force on the depth chart down the road.
Dykes saw action in two games this past season. He rushed for 16 yards in mop-up duty against Mississippi State then was Booker's backup in the Gardner-Webb game where he ran four times for eight yards.
Bryce has quit the team this off-season but will remain in school. He had some promising ability but was not likely to improve his status on the depth chart. The closeness of the Gardner-Webb game didn't do much for the future playing time for either Booker or Bryce – the only two active QBs in that game. They combined for only two carries (Booker against Miami) for the remainder of the season. It was a golden opportunity but was not delivered on.
Spring Practice Report:
Some may see it differently but heading into spring the depth chart for quarterback appears to be pretty clear. When healthy, Josh Nesbitt is the best QB on the team and probably the most dynamic player on the field. Jaybo Shaw showed last year that even as a true freshman, he could handle the backup role respectably. Though he still has a lot of room to improve, having a year of experience under his belt will give him more confidence next season and so will an improved physique. Jaybo's experience in a similar offense in high school gave him a leg up last year on Tevin Washington, who was the other freshman QB on campus for the 2008 season. This spring we will get to see what kinds of strides Tevin has made since last fall when we last saw him in practice.
The quarterback position stands out as the main position fans will tend to quickly fall in love with the backup. That should not be the case with Nesbitt. He has demonstrated what he's capable of on the field and his performance can be stacked up against any quarterback Tech has trotted out in years. Though there is room for improvement in his passing game, Josh is a super general in Coach Paul Johnson's offense. He runs with authority and makes great decisions with the ball – decisions that have led to many long plays.
Despite missing two games in 2008 with a hamstring injury, Nesbitt turned in the second most rushing yards in a season by a GT quarterback. His 693 yards is eclipsed only by Joe Hamilton's 734 yards in 1999. His seven rushing touchdowns put him in a tie for second all-time for Tech quarterbacks. Though Jonathan Dwyer led the ACC with his 110.7 yards per game, Nesbitt was eighth with 63.0 yards per game.
Nesbitt broke Reggie Ball's single game rushing record last season. Reggie rolled up 130 yards against Troy in 2006. Not only was Josh's 151 yards enough to jump over the Tech record, it was done against Virginia Tech.
Should Nesbitt, a rising junior, have two more seasons similar to last season then he'll become the Tech career leading quarterback in both rushing yards and touchdowns – knocking off some names Tech fans are very fond of. Josh is currently 726 yards rushing behind Joe Hamilton and 12 touchdowns behind Shawn Jones.
Before being put in the same breath as those two legendary Tech quarterbacks though, Josh will likely have to figure out how to improve on his performances in the passing game. In nearly 100 fewer passing attempts last year, Jaybo threw for the same number of touchdowns as did Nesbitt – 2. Additionally, a 43.9 completion percentage is not going to cause teams to fear the passing game. Tech opponents' completion percentage against GT was 59.3% just to give sense for how it needs to improve. If teams cannot stop the run, then fine, Tech coaches will continue to run and run. At some point, in order to be a championship team though, I get the sense that the passing game will need improvement and that starts with Nesbitt. So spring will be interesting in terms of tracking his progress through the air. If Josh can make big strides there, the potential for this offense is to be one of, if not the, best in the country.
As for the backups, though Shaw is not the runner Nesbitt is, he has shown some ability in the passing game. It's a small sample size but Jaybo is 15-for-24 (62.5 completion percentage) with two touchdowns on the year. College football uses the Passing Efficiency rating as a metric. Shaw's rating is 194.0 versus Josh's 96.3.
Shaw wasn't the official starter for the Mississippi game last season but when Nesbitt injured his hamstring in the first series, Shaw played the rest of that game and started the Duke game after that. With Shaw at the helm, Tech finished with decisive victories over both teams. Tech won 38-7 against MSU and 27-0 versus Duke. Shaw ran for 61 and a score against MSU and threw for just 43 yards but tacked on another TD in the air to Demaryius Thomas. Against Duke Jaybo threw for 230 yards (a GT record for a QB in his first official start) and rushed for 13 – again scoring one on the ground and one in the air (an 88-yarder to Thomas). The 230 yard passing performance was easily tops for the Yellow Jackets last season. The next most was Booker's 120 yards against Gardner-Webb. Bebe did very well with Jaybo at the helm. All 230 of Shaw's passing yards in the Duke game were to Thomas (He had 627 total receiving yards on the year). And Bebe scored 2 of his season total 3 receiving TDs from the hand of Shaw in that 2-game stretch.
Thanks to a head injury and the return of a healthy Josh Nesbitt, Shaw was back to the bench. He did not play in the next three games and struggled at times when he did see game action. His one pass against Florida State was an interception. He also had trouble moving the ball on the ground averaging 2.8 yards per carry on 75 rushes. In a key moment from the Tech-Georgia game, Nesbitt had to leave the game briefly with a 38-35 lead due to an injury. Tech seemed to tighten up and Georgia defenders appeared to see the injury as an opportunity to turn the momentum back their way. Jaybo was stopped on a couple of one yard runs but did manage to make a few good choices running the option. He moved the chains once and gave Josh enough time to return to the game. Nesbitt answered with a sweep right to Roddy Jones that went for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Tevin Washington is the third quarterback to watch this coming spring. We really don't know much about what he's going to bring. He didn't standout well initially and many fans suspected he was heading for a position change before next season. It's still a possibility but not at this time. Not only does it make sense to keep three quarterbacks on the roster for spring, the coaches on signing day were very positive about his abilities in this offense and stated that he had made a lot of progress. They suggested he was very capable of pushing his way up the depth chart in spring. Despite the praise from coaches, it will be an important few weeks of practice for Tevin. He needs to demonstrate that he can be part of the future plans at quarterback. With two other highly-touted athletic quarterbacks entering in fall, he'll soon have challenges to his place on the depth chart as he's attempting to do to Nesbitt and Shaw this spring. Tevin is a good enough athlete to find a role elsewhere on the field but it would be beneficial for Tech if he could claim one of the top three QB spots by game one next season so that Luallen and Sims can be redshirted and given time to grow and learn the offense. This spring will be as important to Washington's future as just about any other Tech offensive player.
Who GT signed:
Home Town (High School): Greenwood, IN (Center Grove High School)
Other offers included: Cincinnati, Indiana, Iowa, Louisville, Maryland, Stanford
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Bohannon
Scout.com Stars: ****
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 26 (QB)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): 284
The first offensive player in this year's class to commit to Tech was Jordan Luallen. In terms of recruiting momentum, it doesn't get much better than beginning that side of the ball with a four-star prospect at the most important position. Jordan though has proven to be more valuable to the class than just relying on his press clippings and hype and hoping others will just automatically tag along to be part of his class. He actively recruited others Tech coaches identified as guy who could help make the class even better. Jordan seemed to be very effective in his efforts – particularly for other offensive players. In nearly every review I've done so far this year, I came across Jordan's name in articles on other players as a guy who has reached out and gotten to know another recruit.
A Few Examples:
"I had talked to him on the phone before, so it was good to meet him in person. And he's fast for a quarterback – I can tell you that much. I got to see him run, he was hauling some butt." – Jay Finch
"Yes sir, I am very much solid to Tech. I committed to them on a visit and Jordan Luallen had been talking to me about Tech for a while and I got to see what he was telling me in person and I felt I didn't have any reason to look anywhere else. Jordan is a big reason I am coming to Tech and it will be great to have a good relationship with some fellow recruits before we get to campus." – Will Jackson
"Also, Jordan Luallen sent me a text Friday evening and said welcome to the Tech family that he was looking forward to playing at Georgia Tech with me. That was cool. It's true what they say; the Tech players are like family." – David Sims
It's not surprising to see Jordan reach out to even guys who'll compete against him for his spot on the field. One of the first things that struck me about Jordan when I first interviewed him last April, before he even committed to Tech, was that he wasn't concerned about who was there or going to be there at his position. From the beginning he was more concerned about having great players and solid people surrounding him on the team. Even a top talent like Josh Nesbitt sitting atop the depth chart didn't have him lowing Tech on his list. In fact, it seemed to be a draw for him to be on the same team as Josh.
From our April 6th, 2008 interview, "Actually I watched him some last year. I was a big fan of his. I followed the recruiting game ever since I was younger. Nesbitt was one of the kids I was very familiar with. I've always liked watching him. I feel like he's a really good player. So I was excited to be able to come to Georgia Tech and, now that they offered me, I'm excited to maybe have the possibility to play with him."
As the leader of his Center Grove High football team, Luallen finished last season with 941 yards passing and 622 yards rushing. He had 14 touchdowns and 2 interceptions while carrying his team to a dramatic state championship. Jordan led his team to three touchdowns in the final six minutes of the game to win the championship in front of over 40,000 people – the largest ever crowd for an Indiana high school football tournament game. So add clutch player in critical game situations with everyone watching to his list of intangibles.
Hill, Luallen and Sweeting
"Luallen played in a Wing-T, but he showed when he needed to, that he can throw the football. He has some work to do in that regard because he didn't pass as much as other kids at this stage, but he brings a tremendous combination of skills to the position. He is very mobile and has a knack for making plays on the run. He also is a smart player who is a good leader and will be a fine locker room presence for the Yellow Jackets. He has a lot of the physical tools and nearly all of the intangible qualities you look for in a quarterback."
Luallen scouting himself:
"I know my stats aren't that impressive to a lot of people, but we run a wing-T offense and I think I did pretty well. I'd say my biggest strength is my rushing ability. I'm a good double threat and make the defense worry. I'm also very accurate and make smart plays. I still have a lot of room to grow. I'm trying to improve my arm strength and technique. At quarterback there's always a lot you can continue to work on. I also want to work on my speed and footwork. I'd like to get a bit bigger too."
Home Town (High School): Saint Matthews, S.C. (Calhoun County High School)
Other offers included: Michigan, Florida State, Oregon, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina State, South Carolina
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 54 (QB)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
David Sims' recruiting story took several turns this past season. Early on Tech was kind of in the background as a team in the mix. Then the Jackets moved up to the top spot on his favorites list. He told Dale McDuffie on March 31, 2008, "Georgia Tech is my leader right now. I really liked the trip. The players and coaches really were great people to be around." After an April trip to Alabama, Tech still held "a small lead", he said. Next, his high school coach Walt Wilson reported to the Michigan site that the Wolverines had offered Sims. Tech still led according to his coach but the FSU site was hearing it told differently. Sims told Nate Greer of NoleDigest.com in late May, "Today I got offered from Florida State, Michigan and Oregon. I already knew the offers from Michigan and Oregon were on their way, but I didn't know the offer from FSU was coming." In late July Sims told James Henderson of Pack Pride, "I really can't say if I have a leader because they are all about even. If I had to say, in no particular order it would be NC State, Tennessee, and South Carolina with Georgia Tech maybe a little behind them." In August Sims told Wes Mitchell of GamecockAnthem.com that Kentucky and South Carolina topped the list followed by NCSU. And by September he was committed to Kentucky. Of course it didn't end there. In November he switched his commitment from UK to GT and that was the end of it. At times I was sure Tech was out of the running and at times early on I thought he'd be a Yellow Jacket at any minute. He certainly kept it interesting.
Sims became a Yellow Jacket for several reasons, not just because Tech liked him as a QB and Kentucky as a RB. He told McDuffie just before the switch, "I saw where they picked up commits from Antonio Foster, Demond Dennis, Orwin Smith, and Stephen Hill. The fact Georgia Tech is recruiting me as a quarterback and then getting guys like that makes them more attractive."
After announcing his decision to come to Tech, Sims gave Dale even more good insight on a big reason Coach Johnson was able to steer him to Atlanta. "I knew Kentucky was a good team but Coach Johnson has Georgia Tech already of the verge of taking that next step to being great in just one season. I don't think Kentucky can reach that level. I'm not knocking Kentucky, it's just that Georgia Tech has all the pieces falling in the right places at the right time and they are working hard to improve not only from season-to-season but from game-to-game. That shows how much Coach Johnson and the Tech players want to win. I wanted to be a part of that and I was planning on waiting but I know I'd better take my offer now and not wait."
Since different schools envisioned Sims at several different positions, some may be quick to assume he won't stay around at quarterback for long. But people had those same thoughts on Josh Nesbitt when he was a recruit and, physically, Josh and David stack up pretty similarly. I spoke with another recruit from David's signing class this week, Lance Richardson, and the subject of Sims came up. With Lance and David being the only commits from South Carolina, I asked if they had crossed paths. Lance told me that they went against each other in a passing camp last summer. Lance wasn't ready to predict what position Sims would end up at, but he did say that Sims had a great arm.
Sims, a member of South Carolina's North-South All-Star team, passed and threw for over 1,000 yards as a senior. He'll have to make an early splash in fall practice in order to avoid getting redshirted in his first season at Tech.
"David Sims may not be your normal quarterback, unless you are a school like Georgia Tech where his skill set fits in very well at several different positions. Sims is certainly not a pure passer by any means, but he has the velocity to scare a defense enough to honor the deep pass and open up things underneath where he can pick a defense apart a little easier. It is still in the running game where he could be the biggest asset. Running in an offense with more of a spread read-option rather than a true veer, Sims is very powerful when he can run the draw or keep it off the option and pound the defense with his low center of gravity and tire the defense out. If things do not work out at quarterback, Sims is also athletic enough to grow into a bigger running back."
Calhoun County head coach Walt Wilson:
"The thing I take highly most is his high IQ on the field. He is a student of the game and this day an age, it is hard to find. He is my leader, my coach on the field that will see things that we coaches do not see on the sidelines. We let him sometimes call the plays because we go no huddle quite a bit so he has command of the entire team. He is that all-around athlete that can help be an asset to any program he decides to attend."
The one who got away:
This was one of the easier calls I've had to make for this section. Aycock is one player in the entire class I think of when thinking of who got away. As we have all heard, he had committed to Coach Johnson privately. He was told not to commit until he was done looking elsewhere. He said he was done looking and held a spot on Tech's commit list then went back on his word. Coach Johnson did not. Dontae's scholarship was pulled after he visited Auburn, the team he eventually ended up with. Aycock's brother, who tightly ran Dontae's recruitment, claimed later on that it was going to be Auburn anyway. I have been told however that he did in fact contact Tech coaches after the scholarship was pulled to try and get it back. It could be the case that he'd have chosen Auburn, it could be them saving face.
There was much debate on both sides of the issue following that decision by Coach Johnson. It is one thing to stand on principle on an average recruit, it's another to hold onto that stance with a guy as good as Aycock potentially is. Some argued that we had enough scholarships to allow him to look around and others said that number of scholarships wasn't the point; we couldn't change the rules for different people. Which ever side of the argument you fall on, it certainly received more attention in the media than I expected it would. One of my private complaints was that even if it was the right thing to do, other recruits in future years wouldn't know anything about it and the lesson would be lost. But several of the local sports talk shows lauded Johnson for his stance for a good couple of days so perhaps more people paid attention to it than I even suspected.
The situation was certainly a bummer but decisions were made and both sides have moved on. I doubt this is the last time people will wonder what might have been.
A couple of other names were prominent as possibilities for Tech. Courtney Dalcourt (Western Kentucky) and Everett Proctor (North Carolina State) were seen as realistic options. The desire to be away from home never struck Dalcourt with much impact and he passed up a few very nice offers to go with a team better known for March upsets in basketball. Proctor was brilliant at Tech's passing camp last summer. He wasn't the biggest name on the list heading into the camp but we sure did look up who he was half way through it. Unfortunately, GT will have to play against him down the road. The other QB with a GT offer along the way was E.J. Banks (Notre Dame) but Tech wasn't heavily in the mix there.
There is just no way to be negative about pulling in a duo like Luallen and Sims. Both guys by all accounts are terrific athletes capable of running Tech's option offense. Having a guy like Aycock or even Dalcourt would have made it one of the better classes around for the QB position, but I really like the way Tech finished nonetheless. Tech is able to handle a good number of quarterbacks simply because the type of QBs they use typically means they are athletic enough to play elsewhere should QB not work out. In that sense I was hopeful for a larger class and I think that will be the case down the road with a larger allotment of scholarships to dole out.
Fall could be very interesting for the QB position. The key to Luallen and Sims chances of playing as freshmen depend a lot on Tevin Washington's spring and injuries. Should all three QBs on the roster leave spring healthy and with Tevin having performed well, I think both incoming guys will redshirt. Any other scenario could lead to a Luallen-Sims battle for a spot on the depth chart. In the long-run, one of Washington, Luallen or Sims will be at another position. It may be some time before it happens but making a great early impression will go a long way for them to prove they are the QB of the future.
And finally, speaking of future, there is a sense that Tech coaches have locked in on their main QB target for next season in Connor Shaw, Jaybo's brother. So, it looks like Tech could have talented option quarterbacks in the pipeline for the foreseeable future. The future seems very positive at this position.
Thanks to Allen Trieu, Miller Safrit, Dale McDuffie, Pack Pride Staff Writer, James Henderson, Nate Greer, Wes Mitchell, Scott Kennedy, and Rod Mackenzie for contributions to this article!