They may be young, but the players on the interior of the Georgia Tech offensive line are shaping up to be something special.
Center Kenny Cooper, left guard Parker Braun and right guard Will Bryan form the nucleus of what might be a strength for the Yellow Jackets this season.
“Those three guys like to play, and they’re physical,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “That’s a good place to start.”
The trio, which will be in front of a new quarterback and new B-back, needs to be at its best Monday when the Yellow Jackets open the season against Tennessee at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
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Braun is the most notable of the group. The sophomore (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) played in the final 12 games of the 2016 season as a true freshman and started the final eight games. He was good enough to be named to the ESPN All-True Freshman team.
Braun, the younger brother of ex-Yellow Jackets player Trey Braun, was named ACC Lineman of the Week after a win over Virginia Tech. In the eight games he started, Georgia Tech averaged 277 yards per game, a 52-yard per game improvement over the games he didn’t start.
Bryan is a 6-4, 281-pound junior from Franklin County who has played since his arrival with the program. He played 10 games and made six starts as a freshman and played 13 games a year ago, making 11 starts. He started five games at left guard, then moved to right guard for the final six.
Cooper is a 6-3, 307-pound sophomore from Calhoun. He played five games last year as a true freshman and started the Virginia Tech game when Freddie Burden was injured. The Yellow Jackets rushed for 309 yards that afternoon in Blacksburg and claimed a very important win.
Johnson isn’t prone to lavish his players with praise, but on last week’s weekly radio show, Johnson said, “He’s got a chance to be our best center since we’ve been here.”
The starting tackles will be Jahaziel Lee and Jake Stickler, who takes over for the injured Andrew Marshall.
Lee (6-2, 277) is a sophomore who played 10 games and started three times at left tackle. Stickler (6-5, 291) is a junior who played eight games as a reserve last year and became a regular on the kicking team in the second half of the season.
Stickler has had a good preseason and may be ready to take his place in the lineup.
“It’s an opportunity for him,” Johnson said. “He’s worked hard, he’s stayed healthy, and he’s stayed out there.”
The backups are going to be young. Charlie Clark, a 6-4, 286 freshman from Marist, and Zach Quinney, a 6-6, 265 freshman from Savannah Christian, are the backups at right tackle. Other backups are sophomores — Bailey Ivemeyer at left tackle and twins Brad and Scott Morgan at left guard and center, respectively. The most experienced backup is right guard Shamire Devine.
Johnson said Jalen Camp, a sophomore from South Forsyth, has had a good preseason and will be the third receiver. The door is open for backups Antonio Messick and Stephen Dolphus to make an impression.
Messick, a senior from Fayette County, has appeared in 19 games and has one reception in his career, that coming when he was a redshirt freshman. Dolphus is a redshirt freshman from Westside.
Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee
8 p.m., Monday