While Georgia Tech returns 16 starters, not leaving much room for new impact players, these three Yellow Jackets, none of whom played much last season, figure to help shape how the 2017 season unfolds.
Desmond Branch, defensive tackle
Branch is the rare player who came to Tech via a junior college, albeit one that he transferred to after one semester at New Mexico. Branch worked his way onto the field, switching from end to tackle and increasing his playing time as the season progressed. He likely will step into the spot vacated by Patrick Gamble and will play alongside Kyle Cerge-Henderson.
Others who figure to be in a rotation at defensive tackle include Brandon Adams and possibly Brentavious Glanton. With not much experience at the position, opponents figure to test the interior of Tech’s defense, Branch included.
Listed by Tech at 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, Branch is smaller but quicker than Gamble.
“Des isn’t that big, but he’s a great finesse-type of guy, so he uses his hands really well,” Cerge-Henderson said.
Jalen Camp, wide receiver
A late addition to the Tech recruiting class of 2016, Camp rose up the depth chart as a freshman last season as the No. 3 wide receiver. It wasn’t significant, as starters Ricky Jeune and Brad Stewart played a vast majority of the snaps. Camp did not record any catches in his first season. Still, he followed it with a solid spring practice to enter the preseason as the clear No. 3 ahead.
Camp, from Cumming and South Forsyth High, will have to continue to improve and develop consistency to earn more playing time and give Jeune and Stewart needed breaks. But his strength and big-play potential are pluses. Going forward, Camp can position himself to start for his final two seasons once Jeune graduates after this season and Stewart the year after.
It’s hardly unreasonable to think that he could develop into another deep threat for the Jackets over time.
Nathan Cottrell, A-back
A sophomore from Knoxville, Tenn., Cottrell made an impression on coach Paul Johnson in preseason practice, putting him in position to join the A-back rotation of Qua Searcy, J.J. Green and Clinton Lynch.
“Nathan Cottrell’s gotten better all the time,” Johnson said.
Cottrell played sparingly on offense last season, learning the scheme and watching Lynch, Green, Searcy and Isiah Willis perform. With more grooming, he may be ready to put his speed on display at a position where it can be devastating.
As a high schooler going into his senior year, Cottrell ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.4 seconds and wowed Tech coaches at an on-campus camp with that speed, leading to a quick scholarship offer (and commitment). After a slow start, Cottrell could turn on the jets this season.