ATLANTA -- A major weapon was removed from the Georgia Tech playbook when DeAndre Smelter suffered what turned out to be a season-ending knee injury in the final regular-season game against Georgia.
In two years, the wide receiver had emerged as the team’s go-to guy when it needed a big catch. Head coach Paul Johnson had nothing but praise for Smelter, who he admired for his toughness and skill.
Smelter was missed in the ACC championship game and won’t be able to play at the Orange Bowl, either. He had ACL surgery and won’t be in uniform. That means the Yellow Jackets will have to find a reliable target to fill the place that No. 15 has taken the last two seasons.
“We’ll just go play,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to block better. We’ve got guys who will determine their role.”
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Senior Darren Waller has shown a willingness to step up. Waller has good size (6-5, 230) but was considered an underachiever for most of his career and was suspended the first two games of the season because of a violation of team rules.
Waller played second banana to Smelter all season. He had five catches against Duke, but most came in the final quarter when the game was basically over. But since Smelter’s injury, he has emerged.
Waller had only one catch against Georgia, but it was an athletic grab for a 7-yard touchdown. He looked great against Florida State with five receptions for 73 yards and one touchdown.
For the season, Waller has 21 catches, an average of 29.8 yards per game, and five touchdowns. He’s the most obvious wide receiver target remaining on the roster.
The other primary option may be Micheal Summers. The redshirt sophomore from Statesboro has played in each game and started seven. He started 11 games last season.
But Summers has only five catches for 34 yards, compared to 11 receptions for 211 yards a year ago. He has gone seven games without a catch, the last one coming against Duke on Oct. 11.
Corey Dennis is the other veteran receiver. But Dennis, like Summers, has not been on the end of many throws. The senior has played in 53 games in his career at Georgia Tech but has only one reception, a 7-yarder at N.C. State last month.
With the options limited at wideout, the Yellow Jackets will rely on their A-backs to catch the ball. But even those choices have decreased with the injury to A-back Tony Zenon, who is out with a knee injury suffered against Florida State.
That likely leaves Deon Hill as the primary A-back target. The senior has 10 catches for 178 yards and has caught a pass in seven games. He came up with a big 27-yard catch and run against Georgia.
His biggest reception was the 13-yard touchdown pass that won the game against Georgia Southern in September.