Five questions about the 2010 Yellow Jackets

Since the 2009 season ended, Georgia Tech has lost more than 2,500 yards in offense and 130 tackles when four underclassmen declared for the NFL draft.

Not exactly the kind of news that leads to optimism about defending an ACC title or appearing in another BCS bowl.

But Roddy Jones, one of the players who will be counted on to shoulder the load next season, had a curious take: Perhaps the Yellow Jackets were leaning a bit too much on B-back Jonathan Dwyer, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett, who left school after their junior seasons.

"It's going to take a bunch of guys to step up and replace them but it's going to be a team thing and I think we can come out of this a better team," Jones said.

If Tech is able to return to the Orange Bowl, or do better, these five questions probably need to be answered:

1. Who will carry the ball? Tech coach Paul Johnson doesn't seem worried that Dwyer, the ACC player of the year two season ago, is gone. He said he would be stunned if the B-back in next season's offense doesn't top 1,000 yards.

So, who will that player be? Anthony Allen, who rushed for 618 yards and six touchdowns as an A-back last season, will get the first crack. At 6-0, 230 pounds, he has the build to take the pounding that comes with the position. But he will be challenged by three players: Preston Lyons, who rushed for 139 yards in spot duty last season; Richard Watson, who had 37 yards last season, and Daniel Drummond, a Flowery Branch native who redshirted last season.

If Allen changes his position, there are numerous possibilities at A-back -- with Jones, Embry Peeples, Marcus Wright and Orwin Smith among the players who will get pitches from Josh Nesbitt. Of course, Nesbitt's return is the key to the offense. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 1,300 last season.

Johnson said if Nesbitt shows as much progress next season as he showed last season he could have a special year.

2. Who will catch the ball? If Nesbitt has that special year, it means that the Yellow Jackets found a replacement for Thomas, and it could mean that Jones' theory that the team might have relied on certain players too often was true.

Thomas caught 59 percent of the team's passes (46 of 78) and 65 percent of its receiving yards (1,154 of 1,774) last season.

The assumption is that Stephen Hill, who caught six passes for 137 yards as a true freshman, is the heir apparent. He has the size, hands and the speed to be the next "Bay-bay," as Thomas was known.

However, don't overlook Tyler Melton and Quentin Sims. Both have the size and hands to be good blockers and solid receivers. Melton, in particular, is a good blocker, and that is one of the reasons he started opposite Thomas the past two seasons.

3. What defense will they play? That was decided with the hiring of Al Groh as defensive coordinator. The team will run a 3-4, which means three defensive linemen and four linebackers. The team ran a 4-3 under Dave Wommack, who recently was fired.

The 3-4 usually requires very big defensive linemen who are there to take up as many blockers as they can so that the fast and athletic linebackers can make plays. T.J. Barnes (341) or J.C. Lanier (334) are large enough play the vital nose-tackle position. A wealth of talent returns at linebacker with Brad Jefferson, Julian Burnett, Steven Sylvester and Malcolm Munroe. Kyle Jackson, who missed last season because of a broken bone in his foot, also will return in August.

The depth chart for the season-opener could look like this: Izaan Cross/Jason Peters, Barnes/Ben Anderson and Lanier/Anthony Egbuniwe on the defensive line, with Sylvester, Jackson, Jefferson and Burnett at linebacker. Mario Edwards, Rashaad Reid, Dominique Reese and Cooper Taylor will compete at safety. Mario Butler, Jerrard Tarrant and Rod Sweeting will compete at cornerback.

Can they improve on last season's stats of 24.8 points and 360.3 yards per game allowed?

That remains to be seen.

4. Who will get the sacks? Morgan arguably will be the hardest to replace of the juniors who left. He had 12.5 of Tech's 25 sacks and made so many big plays in key moments. So, perhaps the more pertinent question is who will be the new Morgan?  Tech might not need one, at least not one who played the same position.

In the 3-4, linebackers often get chances to go one-on-one with tackles because the defensive line is occupying the rest of the offensive line.

Sylvester's three sacks were second-most on the team and led Tech's linebackers, so he's a candidate. It's possible that Egbuniwe and Emmanuel Dieke, who played defensive end in a 4-3, will play stand-up rush-ends in a 3-4 in passing situations.

Should Tech incorporate any zone-blitz schemes, which are often used in the 3-4, sacks could be spread among all the linebackers.

5. Can they repeat as ACC champs? The Coastal Division might be the best division in the country next season, with three teams in many prognosticators' preseason top 25 rankings: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami. So if the Yellow Jackets make it to Charlotte, site of next season's conference title game, they will have earned it.

The key goes back to whether Johnson can find the players to step up for those who have left or graduated, which included three starters: offensive tackle Brad Sellers, guard Cord Howard and outside linebacker Sedric Griffin.

If Nesbitt can stay healthy, and if Groh can teach and scheme a bit of improvement out of the defense, there's no reason to think that the Jackets shouldn't be in the thick of it next season.