On the evening of Nov. 5, following a loss to North Carolina, Georgia Tech stood at 5-4. While it was an improvement on the disaster that was the 2015 season, it was not where the Yellow Jackets had hoped to be.
But the next week, Paul Johnson’s crew beat then-No. 18 Virginia Tech on the road, sparking a four-game winning streak that included victories over archrival Georgia and a TaxSlayer Bowl win against Kentucky. Now, spring has sprung and the football Jackets are out on the field again hoping to build on their end of 2016 success.
5 Storylines to Watch During Georgia Tech’s Spring Practice
1. The Quarterback Position
Like every other Coastal team besides Duke, Georgia Tech needs to find a new quarterback. Justin Thomas’ outstanding career is over and junior Matthew Jordan has the best opportunity to be the next starter. Jordan, who engineered the victory over Virginia Tech when Thomas was out with an injury, will be challenged by two redshirt freshmen, Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones.
2. The Passing Game
Coupled with the quarterback battle is the passing game in general. Just about all the pass-catching options, led by leading receiver Ricky Jeune, return. But there will be a step back from the quarterback perspective as Jordan – assuming he is the starter – is not on Thomas’ level as a thrower. The new quarterback will have to develop a rapport not only with the receivers, but also the offensive line, which brings back four starters.
3. Dedrick Mills
The Waycross, Ga., product had a big freshman year, leading the Yellow Jackets with 771 rushing yards and 12 scores. Mills, who was suspended for two games late in the season, now needs to take another step forward both on and off the field. Like at receiver, Georgia Tech returns nearly all of the running back production and B-Back Mills should be the leader of this group.
4. Defensive Tackle
From 2013 through ‘15, Patrick Gamble did some nice things for Georgia Tech. Last fall, he exploded, registering 54 tackles, 10.5 for lost yardage, and 7.5 sacks. He’s now hoping for an NFL future and another tackle, Francis Kallon, has used up his eligibility as well. That means a battle will ensue this spring for playing time on the interior of the defensive line. Kyle Cerge-Hendeon has starting experience but others need to emerge to develop a solid rotation.
5. The Kicking Game
In a division that looks to be evenly balanced, special teams could be very important. Tech loses a major weapon in Harrison Butker, who was 15-of-17 on field goal attempts and didn’t miss an extra point. Butker had a long of 52 yards and was a perfect 8-for-8 on attempts over 40 yards. Also, punter Ryan Rodwell and his 43-yard average needs to be replaced. Last year’s backup kicker, Shawn Davis, will be the guy this spring before Brenton King enrolls this summer and tries to overtake the sophomore. Similarly, punter Grant Aasen will be challenged in the fall by freshman Pressley Harvin.
Pre-Spring Outlook for Georgia Tech in the ACC
Georgia Tech has a big loss on each side of the ball. The production the Yellow Jackets got from quarterback Justin Thomas and defensive tackle Patrick Gamble was significant. The defense also has to find a way to move on without P.J. Davis at linebacker, making the front seven a bit of a concern. But there are a lot of nice pieces to this team. The offense brings back all of its playmakers besides Thomas along with the bulk of the offensive line. The secondary will be very experienced and though there will be changes up front, there is a great deal of talent. Plus, every team in the Coastal has to deal with significant losses this coming season, especially at quarterback. If Matthew Jordan – or someone else – can make the right decisions at quarterback, Georgia Tech should challenge for the division crown.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.