Georgia Tech spring preview: Offensive line

This is the fifth installment in a nine-part series that will preview Georgia Tech’s spring football practice, which begins Tuesday. Today: Offensive line| Yesterday: Defensive backsTomorrow: Tight ends

OFFENSIVE LINE
Who's gone: G/OT Jared Southers
Who's back: G Jamal Camp, G/OT Charlie Clark, C Kenny Cooper, G Jack DeFoor, G Connor Hansen, OT Harrison Jump, C William Lay, G Michael Maye, G Mikey Minihan, OT Zach Quinney, G Austin Smith
Who's new: OT Michael Rankins (early enrollee), OL Ryan Spiers (early enrollee), G/C Ryan Johnson (grad-transfer early enrollee), OT Jordan Williams (early enrollee)
Projected starters: Quinney, Johnson, Cooper, DeFoor, Clark

The group won’t fully come together until preseason practice, but Georgia Tech’s offensive line could be the most improved position group on the team. Usually, such a superlative means two things, both of which would appear to apply in this case.

One, the group is, in fact, getting better. Two, the group had significant room for improvement.

For offensive line coach Brent Key, the 2019 season wasn’t easy. Returning players were transitioning from a different style of play that used different techniques and relied on players of a different size than what Key has since recruited. He lost center Kenny Cooper and offensive tackle Jahaziel Lee to season-ending injuries and others for lesser periods of time.

The progress that the line made was evident in how the group progressed at picking up blitzes and line stunts on pass plays. Even in the 52-7 loss against Georgia, for instance, the line had its moments against the Bulldogs. While quarterback James Graham had extreme difficulty completing passes, he often threw from clean pockets. On run plays, what seemed to happen often was that four linemen would be able to execute their assignments, but the fifth could not, which would blow up the play.

Georgia clearly was the better team, but consistency seemed as much an enemy as the Bulldogs (though their quickness and size doubtlessly created some of the inconsistency).

This spring, though, while losing Jared Southers, who started 12 games at right guard and tackle, Tech will add Tennessee grad transfer Ryan Johnson, who has enrolled and will be eligible to take part in spring practice, which starts Tuesday. Johnson started 19 games for the Volunteers in three seasons and played 36. He is capable as both a run blocker and pass blocker and is agile for his size (6-foot-6, 310 pounds).

Tech also will add another grad transfer lineman, offensive tackle Devin Cochran from Vanderbilt, after his graduation in May. Cochran, from Greater Atlanta Christian, started 32 games in three seasons. With prototypical size (6-7, 320), good lateral quickness and a mean streak, he has the look of a tackle who can upgrade the Jackets’ pass protection.

Add in the expected return of Cooper, who missed the final eight games, and that’s five linemen with 109 career starts – Johnson, Cochran, Cooper and returning starters Zach Quinney at tackle and Jack DeFoor at guard.

That’s a sizeable jump from last season, when the starting five had 37 combined previous starts, 31 of them in former coach Paul Johnson’s offense. There’s also guard Mikey Minihan, who started six games in an injury-disrupted season, and walk-on center William Lay, who started eight games after Cooper’s injury.

The return of Cooper, who was able to claim last season as a redshirt season and return for his senior season, is no small piece, either. Going into last season, Cooper was a two-year starter, a player well capable of mixing it up in the interior of the line.

Beyond the talent addition and gained experience, the linemen figure to have added weight since the end of the season. Collins set a goal for the team to add an average of 10 pounds per player.

Tech also will have three early enrollees join the offensive line – Michael Rankins (Ruskin, Fla.), Ryan Spiers (Biloxi, Miss.) and Jordan Williams (Gainesville High). Tech has signed three more linemen – Wing Green (Lee County High), Cade Kootsouradis (Crestview, Fla.) and Paula Vaipulu (Channelview, Texas).

As was the case last spring and preseason, Key figures to cross-train the linemen to develop depth across the line, training that paid off when injuries hit and Key had to shuffle his players to fill spots.

THE SERIES

• Monday: Special teams
• Tuesday: Defensive line
• Wednesday: Linebackers
• Thursday: Defensive backs
• Today: Offensive line
• Saturday: Tight ends
• Sunday: Quarterbacks
• Monday: Wide receivers
• Tuesday: Running backs