The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets spring practice preview for 2017. Here are three storylines to follow leading up to the team’s spring game on April 21.
Georgia Tech is ready to kick off its spring football season on Monday fresh off of a strong 9-4 2016 campaign.
Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets finished the year on a four-game win streak and won six of their final seven games, including a 33-18 victory over Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville behind a career-high 169 yards from running back Dedrick Mills.
Can Georgia Tech, which will play its third consecutive game against an SEC opponent when it kicks off the new season against Tennessee on Labor Day night in Atlanta, seriously contend for an ACC Coastal division title this fall?
With spring football just around the corner, let’s take a look at the biggest questions facing the Yellow Jackets as they get set to prepare for their spring game on April 21 at Bobby Dodd Stadium as well as the 2017 campaign.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Spring Practice Storylines
1. Replacing the veteran Thomas
The Yellow Jackets must replace three-year starting quarterback Justin Thomas, who is being eyed by NFL personnel as a potential slot receiver or cornerback in the 2017 NFL Draft. He became the first GT signal-caller to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 2,000 in his career, and his passing efficiency rating as a senior was 157.01—which would have ranked No. 12 in the FBS had he recorded enough passing attempts. College football fans may have overlooked his ability to throw because his completion percentage sat at just 53. But many of his throws were often of the deep variety, and he certainly was the best passer of the Johnson era.
Enter Matthew Jordan, who seems very capable of keeping this run-heavy offense prolific. He’ll be working behind a young but talented offensive line, and we have already seen Jordan play well against a tough opponent. He rushed for 121 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Yellow Jackets to a 30-20 upset of Virginia Tech when Thomas was hurt in 2016, and more of that type of play will be expected in ’17. Jordan looks like he has the talent, but he has to own the huddle. That chore will continue this spring.
2. Developing a couple of pass rushers is critical
Georgia Tech hasn’t been known for its propensity to get after the quarterback. The Jackets have accrued just 30 total sacks over the last two years, and they lose three senior starters from their defensive line, including sacks leader Pat Gamble. Not only does defensive coordinator Ted Roof have to build depth up front, but new ways to get into the opponents backfield will need to be devised.
Veteran KeShun Freeman returns and has been starting since his freshman season. He has played well against the run but only had .5 sack in 13 starts last season. Can he develop as an edge rusher this offseason? Anree Saint-Amour showed improvement by the conclusion of last season, finishing second on the team in sacks with four, while Antonio Simmons led the team with 12 hurries off of the edge. If he improves as a run-stopper, he could be the best performer on the D-Line.
Meanwhile, Brandon Adams, Desmond Branch, Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Brentavious Glanton all have chances to see extended time inside at defensive tackle.
3. Improving the pass defense
The Yellow Jackets ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in pass defense in 2016, so making strides in the defensive backfield will be necessary if they want to compete for a Coastal division crown. A couple of their top commitments in the 2017 class were cornerbacks, including Tre Swilling out of New Orleans. Of course, father Pat played at Georgia Tech. The secondary as a whole would also be better served if the pass rush improves, so Roof certainly has his work cut out for him this spring.