ACC: Giff Smith
“We wanted to try to get good athletes,” Johnson said. “ … We’re excited about the class. I think we got some really, really good players, good athletes, speed, guys who can run.”
Tech addressed every position group within the class, including five defensive backs, three defensive linemen, two offensive linemen and two A-backs.
They restocked on defense with three four-star recruits, and for any Jackets fans who are concerned about the depth up front, Johnson pointed out that he was able to redshirt four defensive linemen in last year’s class, which means a lot of talent most people are unaware of. Plus, if Georgia Tech makes the switch to a 3-4 defense, as expected with the hire of Al Groh as defensive coordinator, the staff won’t need as many linemen, though there are 16 players currently on scholarship who are defensive linemen.
Instead of losing any commitments because of the departure of former recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Giff Smith to the NFL, the addition of Groh actually helped Georgia Tech pluck two players from the Washington, D.C. area. Cornerback Louis Young and linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu were late additions.
“In the end he helped us pick up a couple of guys from D.C., and hopefully we’ll get our foot in the door up there,” he said.
One area the staff doesn’t need any help infiltrating is the state of Georgia, where 14 of the 18 players in this class are from. It’s the second straight year the staff has brought in 14 in-state players, the most the program has signed in 20 years.
- Georgia Tech's recruits are still committed, despite the departure of recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach Giff Smith to the NFL.
- Might Maryland and Notre Dame meet in 2011? FedEx Field is becoming a rather popular home away from home for the ACC.
- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is reaching back to Danny Ford's philosophy of recruiting -- and that philosophy worked.
- Former FSU safety Myron Rolle has gotten some attention at the Senior Bowl.
- Miami coach Randy Shannon will get an in-home visit with superstar recruit Seantrel Henderson.
- Former first lady Laura Bush and Bobby Bowden were both speakers together in Tampa on Wednesday.
Smith's decision comes exactly one week before signing day.
"I don’t see any disruption at all," Smith said in a prepared statement. "I told each of the recruits that I talked to that they made the best decision by choosing Georgia Tech."
Smith coached the defensive line during his six years and added the title of recruiting coordinator in 2006. He's right in that his decision won't have a huge impact, if any, on this year's recruiting class, but it could have an impact down the road. Smith made great inroads in the state of Georgia and developed strong relationships with the local high school coaches. It's a significant loss for the program, but not for this year's recruiting class. Not only did the Jackets lose their top defensive lineman from 2009, they also lost their defensive line coach.
- Monday was a big day for the Heels, who added two more players to their class.
- Virginia also added two commitments, including one player who was set to play for Mike London at Richmond.
- Clemson backup quarterback Willy Korn is still searching for a place to transfer to.
- A last-second call from the Senior Bowl sent former Maryland fullback Cory Jackson packing for Mobile.
- There have been several reports that Georgia Tech recruiting coordinator Giff Smith is leaving for the Buffalo Bills, and while I expect it to happen, I haven't talked to Smith about it yet and he hasn't officially handed in his resignation. Once those two things happen, I'll post it.
- FSU junior college transfer Mike Harris knew from watching the Noles they could use a little help in the secondary, and the cornerback plans on lending a hand.
- Miami running back Graig Cooper might be back in time for the 2010 season after all.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
At 6-foot-7, 325 pounds, and from the football-rich state of Alabama, massive Georgia Tech redshirt freshman T.J. Barnes wowed a lot of college coaches during his recruiting process as a potential offensive tackle or guard -- two positions he had absolutely no interest in playing anymore. Alabama and Louisville were among his suitors, as was Auburn, where his father, Terry Jones, was a defensive lineman and his cousins, Fred Baxter and Randy Hart both played.
"All my offers were for offense," Barnes said. "Nobody really believed I could play defense except for Auburn and Georgia Tech."
Georgia Tech had no doubt he'd have a future as a defensive tackle.
"That's all I wanted to do," Barnes said, "play defense."
That and make a name for himself somewhere other than Auburn, where expectations to continue the family legacy would be high.
This spring, Barnes will get his chance to do both.
Georgia Tech only lost six starters from last year's nine-win team that tied with Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division title, but three of them were on the defensive line and had combined for 87 career starts. That leaves the door wide open for Barnes -- and several other young players -- to win starting jobs this spring and summer. The unit lacks both depth and experience, and is easily the Yellow Jackets' biggest question mark heading into the fall, as junior defensive end Derrick Morgan is the only player returning with any starting experience.
"Coach (Giff) Smith instills in us we have to be the best group on the team," said Morgan, who cracked the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2007. "That's what we strive for. I know we're losing four seniors, but we're not looking at it as a lack of talent. We have talent. We don't want to lower our expectations coming into next year just because we're losing four seniors. We're setting the bar high."
Morgan has set the standard high for himself. He was second on the team and eighth in the ACC with seven sacks last year. He had 9.5 tackles for loss and was tied for second nationally in fumble recoveries with four. He led all of Tech's linemen with 51 tackles, but soaked up his teammates' knowledge on a daily basis.
Former starters Vance Walker, Michael Johnson and Darryl Richard often shared different pass rush techniques and how to see blocks. Morgan said he's still learning from the trio as they audition for NFL scouts, and give him advice on going through the NFL combine and handling his post-collegiate career. They've also added to the growing list of voices telling him he has to be a leader this season.
"I'll probably have a bigger leadership role amongst my teammates," said Morgan, a junior who recently turned 20 years old. "I'm ready for that. A couple of coaches have said I have to step up and become one of the leaders of our team, and I have no problem doing that."
He'll be anchoring a group that includes defensive end Robert Hall and defensive tackle Ben Anderson, both who played significant snaps last year. Defensive end Jason Peters returns, along with defensive end Anthony Egbuniwe, who played sparingly last season after transferring from Tulsa. Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke (D-A-K) enrolled early and has impressed the staff, and defensive end Antonio Wilson is a redshirt freshman who didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school. There's no shortage of bodies at end, but experience and the interior line is another matter.
"Anytime you lose guys that have played as much football as they have, there's an adjustment," Smith said, "but I think we've done a good job of keeping talent coming in. Although it will be a little bit inexperienced, I think it's a great challenge. It's like I told them last year, all the eyes were on us for one reason, now all the eyes are on us again for a different reason. I think they're excited about the challenge and I think people will be surprised when they see the caliber of players we have at Georgia Tech."
Morgan said he's heard all off-season about what the Yellow Jackets don't have coming back on the defensive line.
"I kind of expected that," Morgan said. "We're just going to take that with a grain of salt, work hard, and use it as motivation, which is kind of an advantage. Teams are going to probably underestimate our d-line and not take as much time to game-plan for us like they did last year. We're going to have to go out there and prove ourselves, which is no problem for us."
Like Barnes, Morgan, too, has something to prove. He said he wants to silence come critics who don't think he can be as effective as he was last year without the veteran lineup beside him.
"God-willing that's what I'm aiming for, that's what I'm working for," he said of a breakout season. "I know there are going to be skeptics who say, well, can he do the same thing he did last year without the three veterans? I want to go out there and prove I can do everything I did last year and more."
There's no doubt the Yellow Jackets will need him to.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Good morning, ACC fans. Sorry for the late start today. One thing I can address without finishing my coffee is squashing the rumor that Boston College and Georgia Tech might switch divisions. Not gonna happen. Now, without further delay ...
Luis, a Cane stuck in Virginia, wrote: Heather, just wanted to know what you thought about Mark Whipple potentially being promoted to HEAD COACH at the U if the canes have another lackluster season. I was never a fan of the Coker hire, I wasn't a fan of the Shannon hire either (at least Shannon has had success in recruiting), and Whipple just comes off as a guy who knows what he's doing when it comes to running a football team. Do you think this is even remotely a possibility? Or just a pipe dream for some of us cane fans?
Heather Dinich: If the Canes have another lackluster season, why would Kirby Hocutt want to promote anyone on staff? What if the offense is the reason they struggle? Here are my thoughts on Miami: I have no question about Mark Whipple's abilities as a coach, and I've heard he's a heckuva guy, too. It's only a matter of how quickly his players can learn -- and execute -- the offense. From what I'm told, they're doing well with it. If Miami struggles this year, it certainly won't be for a lack of talent, that's for sure.
John in New York writes: Should we take it as a vote of no-confidence in Dominique Davis and Justin Tuggle that Codi Boek was moved back from FB to QB? What is Gary Tranquill looking for in a QB? Does his scheme emphasize athleticism and running ability as much as Logan's did? Thanks!
Heather Dinich: Definitely not. That move will help the depth at the position AND the competition. Boek was a dual-threat quarterback in high school. I talked to Montel Harris recently and he said they're opening up the playbook a bit, there's a wider variety of plays to choose from, and that it's been pretty difficult to learn. I'll have more from that conversation for you later.
Greg in Greenville writes: Heather would like to know what you think of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets this year and for years to come. You think we have a chance at winning the ACC this year?
Heather Dinich: Yes, definitely. I spoke with the Jackets' D-line coach, Giff Smith, recently, and he seems confident in the guys who will be taking over there. Georgia Tech's success (much like everyone else) will be determined by how they fare up front. They've got to replace three of four starters on defense, and the offensive line simply has to get better. Other than that, they've got all of the ingredients they need.
Somebody wrote: Heather Is the ACC losing the Champs bowl to the Big East?
Heather Dinich: No, that relationship is as solid as ever. However, the conference is expected to announce soon a new bowl partnership to replace the Humanitarian Bowl. The EagleBank Bowl will move up to the No. 8 spot and a ninth bowl will be added.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Just wanted to pass along some signing day info for the schools that will have announcements broadcast over the Internet or will have other activities fans can attend:
CLEMSON -- Dabo Swinney's 2 p.m. press conference will be broadcast on clemsontigers.com.
FLORIDA STATE -- The Seminoles' recruits can be tracked here all day. FSU will host a signing day gathering for fans at 6:30 p.m. at the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum. All 10 of FSU's coaches will discuss the recruiting class.
GEORGIA TECH -- The Jackets will be posting an updated list of signees on the Web site, www.ramblinwreck.com. Georgia Tech's Signing Day Celebration will be held at 6 p.m. in Atlantic Station's Twelve Hotel. Coach Paul Johnson and his staff will discuss and preview the newest additions to the roster at the event.
Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. with the program beginning at 6 p.m. There is a $10 charge for admission, light appetizers and a cash bar. Atlantic Station offers two hours of free parking in its underground lots.
Johnson, recruiting coordinator Giff Smith and the rest of the staff will talk about every member of the recruiting class and video highlights of each player will be shown.
MARYLAND -- The Maryland Gridiron Network (MGN) will serve as host to a Recruiting Celebration in the Riggs Alumni Center. The event runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and is open to all Maryland football fans. The news conference in Gossett is closed to the public.
MIAMI -- Hurricanes fans are being invited to the Countdown for Signing Day party at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday in the Knight Sports Complex adjacent to the Hecht Center. UM football coaches, including head coach Randy Shannon, and student-athletes will attend, and game day fare will be served. Fans are asked to wear their orange and green and should RSVP to the Hurricane Club at (305) 284-6699. Following the event, the Miami men's basketball team will host No. 6 Wake Forest at 7:30 p.m.
NC STATE -- Gopack.com will have everything on its Signing Day Central site.
VIRGINIA -- The Virginiasports.com Web site will be updated throughout the day as the signed NLIs are returned.
VIRGINIA TECH -- hokiesports.com will have its signing ticker with bios of each player as their NLIs are received.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Our experts at Scouts Inc. put together this package for you on everything you need to know for signing day. You'll notice we have UNC coach Butch Davis lined up for an interview on ESPNU, and at the bottom of that page, we did a breakdown of the best of the BCS conferences.
I picked Clemson recruiting coordinator Billy Napier as the league's best recruiter based on the talent he has helped lure there in recent years, but this is a really tough call because each school has different academic standards, different philosophies, different needs and a wide variety of things to offer. It's not really comparing apples to apples.
Wake Forest, for example, is not going to get a lot of the highly touted athletes Miami is, nor does the coaching staff necessarily want the same players. If you consider the job Jim Grobe and his staff have done there with the unheralded recruits they have brought in, you might argue Ray McCartney, their recruiting coordinator, or quarterbacks coach Tom Elrod is the best recruiter in the league. Georgia Tech defensive line coach Giff Smith is another coach that comes quickly to mind for consideration. Paul Johnson did a tremendous job in his first season, but Smith lined up plenty of talent for him to work with. Former Virginia assistant Mike London was a heck of a recruiter, but now Richmond is reaping those benefits.
As for the best closer, it was a toss-up between FSU coach Bobby Bowden and Miami coach Randy Shannon. I went with Shannon in part because of the obvious -- he has brought a wealth of talent into the program and has a knack for sealing the deal. Bowden was a heck of a closer when he was in his prime, but I'm not sure if Jimbo Fisher hasn't taken on more of that role since he has been named the head-coach-in-waiting. Grobe was another top choice for this one. Think about the players he has recently landed -- Alphonso Smith, Aaron Curry, Riley Skinner, Chip Vaughn -- they won an ACC title, and with the exception of Smith, they were unknown in the recruiting world.
As for the other categories listed there, have fun with that.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Coincidently, Georgia Tech recruiting coordinator Giff Smith also coaches the defensive line, and that's where the Yellow Jackets' most pressing need was during this recruiting class -- up front.
Georgia Tech will lose three starting defensive linemen -- all of whom are projected to go onto successful careers in the NFL -- in Darryl Richard, Vance Walker and Michael Johnson. So far, the Yellow Jackets have five commitments from defensive linemen. Aside from that unit, this was one of the youngest teams in the ACC.
Despite Georgia Tech's success running the football in the first year of Paul Johnson's triple-option offense, the Yellow Jackets were in need of an overhaul on the offensive line. They're looking to recruit big, fast, athletic linemen, not small and quick players. Georgia Tech is expecting commitments from at least three guards and a tackle.
The staff was also looking to add two or three quarterbacks and more depth at the position. With so many injuries in 2008, young players were forced into roles they weren't necessarily ready for, and the Jackets are working hard to make sure that doesn't happen again. Getting closer to the 85 scholarship limit this year will certainly help.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
The attention on them is the very thing that has allowed Morgan to shine.
"You know how good a player Michael Johnson is, so they're just double teaming him which is going to leave me with some one-on-one battles," Morgan said. "It frees me up a lot more in the pass rush and all the attention and focus has been on Mike and the other d-linemen because they already know about them. It's definitely been helpful."
Morgan enters Saturday's game at Virginia Tech leading the ACC in sacks (2.5) and has one fumble recovery. Richard leads in tackles for loss (four), and Walker earned the Yellow Jackets' first safety since 2004 last weekend when he tackled Boston College quarterback Chris Crane in the end zone.
"If there is a strength of our football team," coach Paul Johnson said, "it's probably the front four."
Georgia Tech's pressure on former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux and Crane contributed to its 2-0 start and rising expectations. Regardless of who takes more snaps for Virginia Tech on Saturday -- Sean Glennon or Tyrod Taylor -- more of the same can be expected.
"I'm very impressed with Georgia Tech, that front four," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said, rattling off their jersey numbers. "I mean they're good up front. They're very, very good up front."
"They're not afraid to blitz," he said. "They come all out. They're not shy about that."
The defense doesn't zone blitz as much as it did under former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, and can rush more and get pressure on the quarterback while keeping seven in coverage instead of six.
"This is more diverse," Beamer said. "You get more fronts and coming at you out of all the fronts. I think this is tough."
In the Yellow Jackets' 19-16 win against the Eagles, it was four-man pressure most of the time, sometimes five. Very seldom do they bring six or seven. Not only is this arguably the best defensive line in the ACC, it's also one of the most experienced. Richard, who graduated in three years, should have his master's by the end of the season. Their leadership has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team.
"You've got to have senior leadership and I think he puts that on the defensive line that they've got to be leaders when they're out there," defensive line coach Giff Smith said. "I think the difference in us right now is we play together as a team. Everybody believes in each other whether you're a senior or a true freshman, you've got GT on your helmet and everybody has to carry their own load."
Walker has been a consistently good player for the Yellow Jackets, and Johnson, an extremely gifted athlete, is still adjusting to his new role. He was a pass-rush specialist and special teams contributor last year. Now he is in his first season as a starter and playing more than 20 snaps a game. Richard might have been the most impressive of the group at Boston College, but Morgan has the most sacks.
"Derrick, he can hold his own in any situation," Smith said.
Morgan said he's learned a lot from playing alongside his veteran teammates, watching game film with them and discussing Xs and Os in the locker room.
"I feel privileged," Morgan said. "We like to think we're one of the best in the nation but we've got to go out there and prove it."