With 16 starters returning for Georgia Tech’s football team, there may not be as much drama leading up to this season. But there are still a handful of positions that are undetermined and will be worth watching when players report for preseason practice.
The most obvious position is quarterback, were the gaping hole left by the departure of three-year starter Justin Thomas definitely will be felt. The Yellow Jackets miss his leadership and his ability to run the offense in a highly productive manner, along with his durability. Thomas missed only one start during his three years as a starter.
When the four primary quarterback candidates line up next month, junior Matthew Jordan will begin with the advantage. Even though he missed the entire spring with foot injury that required surgery, Jordan gets the early nod because of his experience. He has been a reliable runner in goal-line situations, often subbing for the smaller Thomas inside the 5, and Jordan stepped in and led the Yellow Jackets to an important win at Virginia Tech last year.
Of the other three quarterback candidates, sophomore TaQuon Marshall spent most of the time in the spring with the No. 1 group. But redshirt freshmen Jay Jones and Lucas Johnson showed their game-breaking speed in the spring game and made their case for playing time. Each of the three needs more time running the offense and gaining the confidence to pitch the ball or pass it rather than insist on keeping it and taking unnecessary physical abuse.
“Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones may actually be the most talented kids we’ve had at Georgia Tech since I’ve been there at quarterback,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said.
Here are four other intriguing position battles to watch as the Yellow Jackets get ready for their Sept. 4 opener against Tennessee at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Who will be the backup at B-back?
Dedrick Mills is unquestionably the No. 1 running back on the team, but he will need breaks. That leaves KirVonte Benson and Quaide Weimerskirch, who departed the spring as the leaders to replace Marcus Allen in that role.
“They bring different things to the equation,” Johnson said. “KirVonte had a good spring.”
Benson ran for 57 yards and Weimerskirch rushed for 26 yards in the spring game. Benson has an edge in quickness. Weimerskirch is bigger and more physical but must overcome ball security issues.
Who will be the No. 3 receiver?
Like the B-back job, the top two spots are secure with the underrated Ricky Jeune and sure-handed Brad Stewart. Other playing time will be determined by blocking skills and ability to catch the ball when given the opportunity.
The top name coming out of spring was Jalen Camp, who was one of six true freshman to play last season. Camp didn’t have a reception during the 2016 season but showed his skills with four receptions during the spring game. Antonio Messick didn’t play in the spring because of injury and he has more game experience. Jair Hawkins-Anderson could break through if he becomes more consistent and has fewer busted plays.
Who will kick and punt?
Veteran place-kicker Harrison Butker, a four-year starter who left as the program’s all-time scoring leader, and punter Ryan Rodwell, a two-year starter, both have moved on.
Place-kicker Shawn Davis and punter Grant Aasen have the experience. Aasen actually started a game last year when Rodwell struggled. Davis kicked three field goals in the spring game and Aasen averaged 41 yards on five spring punts.
The competition will come from a pair of incoming freshmen: place-kicker Brenton King and punter Pressley Harvin III. King, who kicked at Mill Creek in high school, booted 19 field goals as a junior and has range that extends past 50 yards. Harvin averaged 42.5 yards as a senior and was ranked as the No. 4 punter in the country by ESPN.
“We think we’ve recruited guys that can step up and do that, but until they do it in a game, you never really know,” Johnson said. “The key to that is let’s not punt much and hopefully we won’t have to kick many field goals.”
Who will replace leading tackler P.J. Davis?
There’s no doubt that the departure of Davis leaves a big hole at outside linebacker. Davis was a hard hitter who always seemed to be around the football.
Victor Alexander was the primary backup for Davis and has played in 25 games over the last two seasons. But he may get pushed by incoming freshmen Bruce Jordan-Swilling and Ja’quan Newton, a pair of four-star recruits.