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Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Georgia Tech spring wrap

By Matt Fortuna

Three things we learned in the spring about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets:

1. New defensive scheme. Second-year coordinator Ted Roof moved from a 4-3 to a 4-2-5 base, building off last season as Georgia Tech tries to develop a better pass rush on the edge and create more opportunities for its defensive playmakers. It's a unit that sacrifices size for speed for the sake of the many spread offenses it will face.

2. Tim Byerly emerges. Justin Thomas is the starting quarterback, but Byerly has given the Yellow Jackets some much-needed insurance -- and maybe even more than that. The Middle Tennessee State transfer will earn a scholarship this summer, and his impressive spring game further cemented himself as a legitimate game option for this fall.

3. Strong special teams play. Georgia Tech brings back one of the ACC's best kickers in Harrison Butker, but its biggest lift came in March, when the NCAA granted Jamal Golden a fifth year of eligibility. Golden was one of the top punt and kick returners in the nation in 2012 and gives the Yellow Jackets another scoring threat.

Three questions for the fall:

1. It is Justin Thomas' job … right? Paul Johnson praised Byerly for closing the gap with Thomas, and Byerly will likely see the field a good amount this fall regardless. Still, neither Thomas nor Byerly has ever started a collegiate game, and as impressive as both have been, little will matter until they live up to the praise.

2. Can the D-line reload? No group took a bigger hit after last season than the defensive line, which said goodbye to three starters, including All-ACC performer Jeremiah Attaochu. Adam Gotsis is the leading returner up front, and he'll need help from fellow pass-rushers to excel in the 4-2-5. Jabari Hunt-Days moved from linebacker to end to help get some more athleticism on the edge.

3. Will the O-line help improve the run game? Johnson has said that his team will be better at running the football this season than last, which was the worst of his Georgia Tech tenure. That will depend in large part on the growth of a young offensive line, which lost three fifth-year seniors from last season's squad.

One way-too-early prediction:

Thomas and Byerly will make many people forget about Vad Lee. Sure, Lee's decision to transfer was a bit of a surprise, and neither of his potential replacements boast much meaningful college experience. But Thomas and Byerly have said and done all the right things this spring and, more important, Georgia Tech brings back what may be the best receiving corps of the Johnson era, led by DeAndre Smelter, Micheal Summers and Darren Waller.