Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker offered an insight into his approach to playing time earlier this week. To him and the Tech coaching staff, who starts the game isn’t that important, he said.
“Mamas and daddies and uncles and friends and everybody wants to know who the starter is, but for us, it’s who’s finishing the game,” Thacker said. “That’s the young man that’s executing at a high level, has great energy on the sideline, whether (the outcome) is good or bad, and the person we have trust in at the end of the game for us, that’s what’s important.”
To that end, coach Geoff Collins does not release a standard depth chart with starters and backups. Much ado has been made about his “above the line” approach, which, in place of a depth chart, lists the players deemed ready to contribute at each position.
That said, with apologies to Thacker, and in deference to said mamas, daddies and uncles (and aunts), here’s a look who could be first on the field on offense and defense when the Yellow Jackets open the season at Clemson next Thursday.
Offensive line: From left tackle to right tackle, the combination of Zach Quinney, Kenny Cooper, Scott Morgan, Jared Southers and Jack DeFoor seems a good possibility. Quinney and Cooper started last season, though Cooper was at center. Southers, a grad transfer from Vanderbilt, has emerged as a leader of the group. Mikey Minihan could figure in as well at guard or center.
Quinney: “After all the film we’ve watched, all the drills we do, we know what we’re doing now and we’re ready to go.”
Wide receiver: In sets with three wide receivers, Malachi Carter and Jalen Camp (or possibly Adonicas Sanders) are likely starters on the outside with freshman Ahmarean Brown at slot. This group could surprise as the season goes on. PeJé Harris, Jair Hawkins-Anderson and Josh Blancato are among those who could rotate.
Sanders: “We’ve got the weapons all across the board, to the slot, to the outside, to be able to make plays, and we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong this year.”
Tight end: Big, fast and skilled, Tyler Davis will be a focal point of the offense. When the Jackets go to two tight ends or Davis is subbed, Tyler Cooksey and freshman Dylan Deveney are likely options.
Tight ends coach Chris Wiesehan: “You could see as many as five to six tight ends play in a game, depending on if we’re home or away and what the travel roster will allow us.”
Running back: Jordan Mason, Jerry Howard and Dontae Smith all look like possibilities, and they could play in one- and two-back sets. Running-backs coach Tashard Choice has rolled his running backs liberally in the preseason. It’s a group that is multi-faceted in running style, speed, strength and pass-catching ability.
Mason: “Me, Dontae, basically all the running backs, we’ve grown so much, especially from running to pass protection and route running.”
Quarterback: Lucas Johnson looks like the No. 1, but Tobias Oliver and James Graham likely will see playing time, too. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude loves his group’s speed and running ability.
Patenaude: “These are guys who are elite athletes in the ACC. So if you have a package of things for guys, you may have two guys on the field, three guys on the field, no guys on the field.”
Defensive line: Jaquan Henderson and Kelton Dawson could start at end with Chris Martin and T.K. Chimedza at tackle. They’ll have to overcome inexperience. Martin, Dawson and Chimedza have played a combined 14 games. This group figures to be subbed a good bit with the likes of Antwan Owens, Justice Dingle and freshman Chico Bennett at end and Brentavious Glanton and Jahaziel Lee at tackle.
Glanton: “(Rotating players) gives us a better chance to rush the passer and also get some fresh bodies out there to play defense. I mean, who wants to play 70 plays a game where you can’t give your brothers your all? You want to put some guys in there who can also execute a defense and play at a high level at the same time.”
Linebacker: David Curry and Bruce Jordan-Swilling figure to be out with the first group, backed up by Quez Jackson, Charlie Thomas and freshman Demetrius Knight. The unit has been dinged up in the preseason, but appears healthy as the season opens.
Thacker on Knight: “He’s proved himself. The young man’s incredibly mature, he really is. He’s a freaky athletic kid.”
Cornerback: Tre Swilling is one of three returning starters on defense and looks ready to become a top-tier corner in the ACC. The other side may go to Zamari Walton, although Jaytlin Askew and Devin Smith also are likely to be above the line.
Swilling on cornerbacks coach Jeff Popovich: “His whole thing is energy. He’s running around and he’s always screaming, trying to get everybody going. But he’s also very witty and smart and knows the defense, between route combinations and when people are running certain routes, even just kind of signals that they give off.”
Safety/nickel: Junior Tariq Carpenter and sophomore Juanyeh Thomas figure to be a formidable pairing for the next two seasons, and sophomore nickel Kaleb Oliver can be included also. Christian Campbell and Jaylon King likely will be active subs.
Carpenter on the safety group: “We’re just really deep out there. I feel like we’re probably the most talented group.”