Today, let’s discuss the player of the season. Since I’m making up the awards, I’ll also make up the criteria. The player needed to play most of the season and can come from either side of the ball.
Had Joshua Nesbitt not suffered a broken arm, this would likely be a much livelier discussion.
As it stands, I’m not sure that anyone other than Anthony Allen, or perhaps Julian Burnett, would, or should, win.
5.5 yards per carry
101.2 rushing yards per game
He also had three receptions for 88 yards and a touchdown.
If you’ll remember, Allen got off to a slow start. He had 330 yards after five games. He also didn’t have a touchdown.
Coach Paul Johnson said after the win against Wake Forestin which Allen carried 10 times for 63 yards, that Allen needed to be a more punishing ball-carrier.
“He’s broken through the line three or four times. He’s got to finish them,” Johnson said.
In the next eight games, the senior rushed for 986 yards and all of his touchdowns. Had he played in one more game, he likely would have rushed for more yards than Jonathan Dwyer’s (1,395) 2009 total.
On defense, there are two candidates to consider: Inside linebackers Brad Jefferson and Julian Burnett.
Jefferson, a senior, finished second on the team in tackles (84) to Burnett (89). However, Jefferson did lead in sacks (4). Amazingly, those were the first of his career. The knock against him is that he didn’t make many game-changing plays.
What’s somewhat shocking about Burnett is he didn’t start until the sixth game of the season against Virginia. At that point he had 20 tackles and that included an 0-fer against Kansas. So, doing some quick cipherin’ (socks and shoes off; Holly, where’s my abacus?), he had 69 tackles in the next eight games.
With Jefferson now out of eligibility, I would imagine you can pencil Burnett into one of the inside linebacker spots for next season.
Rookie of the year
Burnett isn’t eligible because he did play last season.
The candidates to consider are safety Isaiah Johnson, outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, offensive linemen Jay Finch and Will Jackson, and A-back B.J. Bostic.
Bostic was exciting, but really didn’t get to play enough to qualify in my made-up scenario. Johnson started off the season very strongly, but was eventually moved into a nickel-back position. Attaochu had three sacks, which isn’t a big number but is impressive because he played mostly in pass-rush situations.
I would say that Finch and Jackson are the newcomers of the year. I know that offensive linemen rarely win anything other than awards that are specific to offensive linemen (don’t ask me what they are, I don’t watch that contrived season-ending awards show), but consider that Tech led the nation in rushing with a 327-yards-per game average, pre-bowls. Those two linemen were on the field for much of it (though they had trouble being on the field together because of various injuries. At one point Paul Johnson said they should just share a helmet).
Players I look forward to seeing next year
Aside from those already mentioned, I’m excited about seeing these players, some of whom redshirted and some of whom have given us glimpses of their potential:
Linebackers Quayshawn Nealy and Brandon Watts (Watts competed for a starting spot in August, but then lost ground to Burnett);
B-backs Richard Watson, Charles Perkins and Daniel Drummond (Watson had a difficult time getting onto the field because of the depth at B-back. Two of those players will be gone);
Defensive linemen Shawn Green, Denzel McCoy, Anthony Williams, J.C. Lanier and Emmanuel Dieke (Dieke had 0 tackles this season playing mostly in pass-specific situations, Lanier couldn’t get off the scout team);
Quarterback Synjyn Days;
Offensive linemen Catlin Alford and Morgan Bailey;
A-back Deon Hill;
Secondary players Rod Sweeting, Ryan Ayers, Louis Young and Fred Holton (Sweeting has played the past two seasons, but I think he’s going to have a breakout year next year; Young and Holton played on special teams this season)
Kicker Justin Moore (had a few impressive kicks early in the season, but then was benched in favor of Blair. Tech will need a kicker next season);
Punter Sean Poole (when he was on, he was very good. Unfortunately, he was erratic. An injury sidelined him).
Players who we need to see more from next year
This is another category I made up and is reserved for players who perhaps had a bit too much expected of them too soon, played but didn’t stand out, or were important players in previous years but disappeared for whatever reason this season. However, they could be important players for next season:
Nose tackles T.J. Barnes and Logan Walls (if Barnes can learn to stay down he could be a force in the middle; he could also be one heck of an offensive lineman);
Wide receiver Stephen Hill (the team’s leading receiver, but he dropped way too many passes);
Defensive back Rashaad Reid (he started the Independence Bowl, but had a five-game stretch in which he didn’t make a tackle in limited duty);
A-back Marcus Wright (an injury sidelined him toward the end of the year, but before the injury he wasn’t the explosive player like he was in 2009);
Outside linebacker Steven Sylvester (got off to a fast start with two sacks against Kansas in week 2; had just one more);
What say you? Who are you looking forward to watching next season? Who are you predicting will step up and lead next year’s team?
– Doug Roberson, AJC