ATLANTA -- When Georgia Tech began this season, the Yellow Jackets had several questions to answer. There were players to replace, either because of graduation or attrition. There were holes that needed to be filled. There were issues.
As the season has progressed, many players have stepped forward when called upon. Some have developed into difference-makers, while others have become steady contributors. The development has been a key component as Georgia Tech has blossomed into a nine-win team.
Three of the players who have shown the most development this year have been defensive end KeShun Freeman, linebacker P.J. Davis and center Freddie Burden.
Freeman, a true freshman from LaGrange, was able to enter school in January and go through spring practice. He started the season as a backup but got plenty of playing time. He joined the starting lineup against Georgia Southern and has started the eight games since that one, as well.
Freeman has made 41 tackles and shares the lead with eight tackles behind the line. He has 3.5 sacks, with two hurries, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
“He’s getting more comfortable, and he’s playing faster,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said. “I think he’s got a bright future if he continues to work and continues to improve. He’s great off the field and on the field.”
Davis, a sophomore from Cairo, has stepped up to become the leading tackler on the team. Davis leads the team with 90 tackles, 64 of them solo stops. Davis leads the team with four sacks and shares the team lead with eight tackles for loss. Davis has an interception and has forced three fumbles.
Last week, Davis was named the ACC Linebacker of the Week for the second time this season. Davis had 13 tackles against Clemson, his second double-digit tackles game this year.
“Personally he’s really kind of a quiet kid away from the field,” Johnson said. “I think he likes to play the game. He’s got good speed, and he’s got a good skill set. Like a lot of guys, the more he plays the better he gets.”
Burden, a redshirt sophomore from Statesboro, has been the starting center all season. He moved into the lineup when Jay Finch, a steady, reliable performer for three seasons, graduated. Burden has been reliable with the center-quarterback exchange and has helped the team rush for an average of 327.9 yards per game.
“I still have a lot of work to do,” Burden said. “I definitely have to keep working and keep going forward.”
He isn’t a surprise, but wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, a former Tattnall Square standout, has continued to improve and impress. The senior from Macon was named the ACC Receiver of the Week after his five-catch effort against Clemson that netted 77 yards and one touchdown.
Smelter has 32 catches this season for an average of 21 yards and seven touchdowns. He became the 21st receiver in program history to surpass the 1,000-yard career mark. He now has 53 catches for 1,016 yards in 24 games.