In the final few weeks of the offseason, we’re taking a look, position group by position group, at the 2011 Georgia Tech team. Coming off of a 6-7 season, Tech’s first losing season since 1996, the Jackets have questions to answer along with hope for an improvement on both sides of the ball. Let’s take a look at the roster…
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
Projected starters: LT Phil Smith (Jr., 6-5, 292), LG Will Jackson (So., 6-3, 285), C Jay Finch (So., 6-3, 283), RG Omoregie Uzzi (Jr., 6-3, 300), RT Tyler Kidney (So., 6-2, 262).
Others to watch: Ray Beno, Morgan Bailey and Catlin Alford will push for playing time at tackle. Guard J.C. Lanier will try to build on his first spring tackle on offense. Incoming freshmen Trey Braun, Shaq Mason and Errin Joe are candidates to get playing time immediately.
Key losses: The Yellow Jackets graduated two-time All-ACC center Sean Bedford and saw tackle Nick Claytor leave after his junior season for the NFL draft.
Key fact: Alford, Bailey and Beno were among those missing portions of spring practice, which hindered the line’s chances to develop cohesion. The absences opened room for walk-on Kidney and Braun, an early enrollee, to get useful practice time.
Key fact II: According to espn.com, Georgia Tech’s offensive linemen have the fewest number of combined returning starts in the ACC with 37. The league average is 73.4. Uzzi, a second-team All-ACC guard last year, and Smith have 25 of them.
Key question: Can coach Paul Johnson and line coaches Mike Sewak and Todd Spencer get this group ready to hold its own? In part because of the injuries, the offensive line was routinely outplayed in spring practice. Further, aside from backup center Nick McRae, the other four second-teamers have played a combined four games, which is a stunning number. From the moment fall practice starts, there’s a lot of coaching and drilling to do.
Recent developments: Finch has made considerable gains in the team’s summer strength and conditioning workouts. Lanier switched from defensive line in the spring after playing in just one game as a redshirt freshman.
Outlook: Fair to poor. Uzzi, Jackson and Smith helped the Jackets lead the nation in rushing, and Finch and McRae were key backups. The rest of the line is a considerable question mark. Injuries to Tech’s most experienced linemen will be costly. For what it’s worth, Johnson said he thinks the unit will be fine.
Your turn: How do you think the offensive line is going to look?