Observations and notes from the release of coach Geoff Collins’ first “Above the Line” list.
1. The class breakdown of players on the offensive and defensive lists: 11 seniors, 13 juniors, 16 sophomores, nine redshirt freshmen, 11 freshmen.
The 11-member senior class is the third smallest in FBS, according to Tech’s game notes for Thursday’s season opener against Clemson. The 2016 signing class, members of which are largely either seniors or redshirt juniors, was pared by a number of departures.
The six highest-rated members of the 2016 signing class (247 Sports composite) all left the team at various points since enrolling — guard Parker Braun, defensive end Jordan Woods, linebacker Emanuel Bridges, running backs Xavier Gantt and Dedrick Mills and quarterback Jay Jones. The seventh was the late Brandon Adams.
The 2015 class also lost several players who might otherwise have been redshirt seniors this year, including defensive backs Dorian Walker, Dante Wigley and Meiko Dotson, among others.
2. There’s 33 above-the-line players on offense and 28 on defense. Of the 28 on defense, only three are seniors — defensive tackles Jahaziel Lee and Brentavious Glaton and safety Christian Campbell.
Further, nine are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen – ends Chico Bennett, Justice Dingle and Sylvain Yondjouen, tackle T.K. Chimedza, linebacker Demetrius Knight, safety/nickel Jaylon King and cornerbacks Jordan Huff, Kenan Johnson and Zamari Walton.
Yondjouen is noteworthy as one of the 11 freshmen to make the initial list. Yondjouen is from Belgium and began playing football at the age of 16, learning the game at the Brussels Football Academy.
That said, Yondjouen looks the part at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds with a wingspan of 6’11” and a 40-yard dash time clocked at 4.6 seconds. He helped himself considerably by enrolling in January, which enabled him to go through spring practice. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said that “he is what an ACC, power-five defensive lineman should look like.
He’s put himself in position to play despite facing challenges few, if any, of his teammates have.
“He speaks great English, but there’s just football parlance and verbiage that made no sense to him,” defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said. “We would be yelling at him on the field with great, loud communication and gestures and choice words, and he would smile and say, ‘Yes, sir’ and he’d come off the field and he would say, ‘Coach, I have no idea what that means.’”
3. Of the 12 players in the secondary, there’s only one senior (safety Christian Campbell) and only three juniors (safeties Tariq Carpenter and Ajani Kerr and cornerback Jaytlin Askew). Likewise, there’s only one senior among the eight wide receivers, Jalen Camp.
On the other hand, four of the 10 players in the offensive line group are seniors — Jahaziel Lee, Kenny Cooper, Scott Morgan and Jared Southers.
4. The “flex” position is a hybrid running back/slot receiver spot that is filled by Omahri Jarrett, Jair Hawkins-Anderson and Nathan Cottrell, who was back on the practice field Sunday after returning from an injury.
Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude likes that spot as it can present a matchup problem for defensive coordinators. Since they can line up in the slot as easily as the backfield, defenses have to face the decision of whether to bring in a defensive package for a two-back offense or a one-back offense.
Jarrett and Cottrell were previously A-backs. Hawkins-Anderson was a wide receiver.
“Anytime that you can change the picture for a defensive coordinator, it’s going to be more challenging for him,” Patenaude said.
5. Jahaziel Lee is on the list twice, with the offensive line and the defensive line. Thacker said that the offense will take priority in getting snaps out of Lee, “but selfishly, we are trying to steal as many reps as possible, because we feel like he’s an elite defensive tackle.”
6. There are four walk-ons on the offensive and defensive lists — slot receiver Josh Blancato, center Chet Lagod, tight end Dylan Leonard and defensive tackle Djimon Brooks.
All but Leonard, a freshman, caught coaches’ attention in the spring and have continued to be noticed in the preseason. Blancato is a sophomore, Brooks is a junior and Lagod is a junior, and the three have played a combined two games, but all are in position to earn playing time this year, particularly Blancato and Brooks.