Experience, continuity could bolster Georgia Tech offensive line

Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) fights off of the black against Georgia Tech offensive lineman Jordan Williams (54) during their game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, November 26, 2022, in Athens, Ga. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter (88) fights off of the black against Georgia Tech offensive lineman Jordan Williams (54) during their game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, November 26, 2022, in Athens, Ga. Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

This is the fourth installment in an eight-part series breaking down each position group as the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets continue their spring practice, which will culminate in the annual spring intrasquad game at 1 p.m. April 15 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

A year ago, Georgia Tech was figuring out how to replace three starting offensive linemen. The answer in the season opener included two starters who had never played a snap of college football and a third who had played in five games as a backup.

The line had games where it shined. The Yellow Jackets, for instance, roughed up Pitt for 232 rushing yards. That was more than twice the season average against the Panthers defense, which ranked seventh in FBS in rushing defense (98 yards per game). The Jackets front contributed centrally to perhaps the most symbolic play of coach Brent Key’s eight-game run as interim, helping drive a pile that included running back Hassan Hall for a 13-yard run that converted a third-and-11.

However, the team ranked 114th in FBS in total offense, and the line was a part of that. It was ranked 12th in the ACC in pass-blocking efficiency by Pro Football Focus, for instance. By PFF grades, among linemen in the ACC on the field for at least 200 run plays, Tech’s highest-ranking lineman was Fusile at 31st.

As the Jackets work through Key’s first spring practice as head coach – Tech practiced one week, was off this past week for spring break and will resume Monday with the fourth of 15 workouts – the offensive line likely will have to improve for Key’s first season to be the success that fans anticipate.

But now, there’s at least one good reason for progress. Where last season’s fivesome had little experience on the field or together, that situation has changed.

Corey Robinson, who never had played a college snap before transferring from Kansas, started all 12 games at left tackle. Center Weston Franklin also started all 12 games. Jordan Williams started the first eight games of the season at right tackle then moved to right guard, where he started the last four. Williams played 777 of the team’s 807 offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, most of any player on the offense. Jakiah Leftwich started the final four games of the season at right tackle.

The only key loss was left guard Pierce Quick, who started eight games and had eligibility remaining after his transfer from Alabama, but retired for medical reasons and is back at Alabama to complete his degree.

“It’s helping a lot, especially going on from where we were last year,” Williams said. “Like, me, Jakiah and Weston, our double-team blocks are a lot better, our chemistry’s all better. Really, everything overall is just better with those two, working with those two.”

Walk-on guard Joe Fusile, who started eight games last season, could slide into the left guard spot vacated by Quick. Fusile, who didn’t see a snap of action in his redshirt season in 2021 and vaulted into the starting lineup for the season opener, has a fan in Williams.

“Joe is a monster, man,” Williams said. “When it comes to the weight room and field activities, Joe would lay his life down just to finish, like, three more sprints. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t care what it takes. He’ll do whatever it takes. That’s what I love about Joe. So, shout-out to Joe.”

Williams also championed Franklin after his first season starting at center.

“Our biggest surprise has got to be, No. 1, Weston,” Williams said. “Weston has taken his game to a whole ‘nother level. Like, weight room-wise, mentality-wise, everything-wise.”

He added that Leftwich, who played six games as a backup in his career before starting the final four games at right tackle, has progressed similarly.

The line will be charged with being the foundational element for an offense that is playing a new scheme and lost its leading passer (Jeff Sims), rusher (Hall) and receiver (Nate McCollum) from last season.

Line coach Geep Wade is one of seven new coaches on Key’s staff, essentially replacing his new boss. Key had coached the Jackets’ line from 2019 until he became the interim head coach four games into last season, after which graduate assistant Nathan Brock was given the reins. (Brock has been helping coach the tight ends this spring.)

By the PFF grading, Wade’s line at Appalachian State acquitted itself well. The Mountaineers’ front ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference in pass-blocking efficiency. Of linemen in the conference with at least 200 snaps on run plays, Wade coached the players who graded first, second, sixth and eighth.

“It’s completely different, to be honest,” Williams said of having Wade as position coach. “When they’re coaching, the difference between the coaches, like, yeah, they’re both teaching the same mechanics and everything. But when it comes to the language they use, the calls (Key) he used, the calls coach Wade uses, it’s all completely different. But at the same time, coach Key and coach Wade did a good job of making sure that it’s easy for the O-line to remember everything, always know what they’ve got to do. We appreciate them for that.”


Part 1: Toughness a defining trait in Georgia Tech quarterback derby

Part 2: More new faces among Georgia Tech running backs

Part 3: New group to develop at wide receiver for Georgia Tech