Perhaps nothing illustrates the depth of this year’s Georgia Tech team better than looking at the offensive line that started in the Orange Bowl:
Down to seven players because of injury, one starter began his career as a tight end before moving to the line, one started as an A-back and one was a walk-on defensive lineman.
This year’s offensive line has four guards who could start, four tackles who could start and two centers. No position on the line, not even at center where Sean Bedford, the former walk-on who was All-ACC last year, is safe, according to coach Paul Johnson.
There is depth, not only on the line, but at every position. Other than at quarterback with Joshua Nesbitt and middle linebacker with Brad Jefferson, Rose Bowl field will be the proving ground for more than 100 players scratching for playing time.
“We’ve got pretty good competition at most every position,” Johnson said. “That usually makes you better.”
The depth has been accumulated by redshirting many of last year’s true freshmen, particularly on the offensive line, and by landing a useful 2010 Signing Day class that could have players contribute at almost every position with a few exceptions. Johnson already noted safety Isaiah Johnson will play this season, and that they are trying to find a way to get A-back B.J. Bostic on the field.
It’s a far cry from two years ago, when Johnson said he had to play true freshmen Marcus Wright and Embry Peeples at A-back because they had no depth.
Looking at the offense, Anthony Allen, who averaged 9.7 yards per carry last season at A-back, leads a four-deep fight at B-back, a position that was down to two healthy players by the Orange Bowl.
“You see guys out there trying to make plays because they know there’s a guy behind them that can come in there and take their space,” Allen said. “Last year you had prominent guys in prominent roles. There really were no big-time backups.
“This year, it’s a good thing because it pushes you more.”
On the offensive line, Bedford is experiencing a bit of déjà vu in his senior season. He beat senior Dan Voss last season for starting spot at center. This season, he’s trying to hold off Jay Finch, one of the players who redshirted last season.
Bedford jokes the line is so deep this season they have nicknamed themselves, “The Expendables,” after the soon-to-be-released movie.
“There’s no one person that we can’t succeed without,” Bedford said. “If one guy goes down we are very confident that the next guy can step up and take his place.”
The secondary is perhaps the deepest on the team, with a dozen players, including three freshmen, trying to get on the field for the Sept. 4 season-opener against South Carolina State.
Mario Butler, a senior who has started 27 games, said the competition breeds confidence rather than the nervousness that might be expected.
“It makes the team more confident as well because they know the best defense will be on the field,” said Butler, who intercepted two passes last season. “It’s not going to be someone who is complacent and possibly have you lose a game or put you in a bad position.”
Of course, Johnson points out that depth can be wiped out during a single practice, particularly if injuries to occur at the same position. That happened at a few spots last season. But for now, Johnson said the players know they must go hard every practice.
“When we came to practice in 2008, ‘We were saying what have we gotten into?’” Johnson said. “Now it’s totally different. Players understand the expectations, the understand the speed, they understand what we are looking for.”