NCF Nation: Ben Anderson

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 8, 2009
4/08/09
12:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Nothing like a few links for a mid-week pick-me-up ...

  • So what if Ben Anderson has short legs? He benches 460 pounds, the most of any player at Georgia Tech. And he's aiming to take over for Darryl Richard.
  • Apparently everyone but B.J. Raji has been told the former Eagles' defensive tackle failed a drug test from the NFL combine.
  • Andrew Carter of the Orlando Sentinel has been breaking down the Noles by position, and today he looks at the receivers. The Noles end practice Wednesday.
  • NC State picked up a commitment right out of Butch Davis' backyard.
  • With spring ball halfway over, the Terps are tinkering with their depth chart.

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

I got a chance to speak with Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who earned the ACC Coach of the Year award after a nine-win season that included a road win over rival Georgia. Here are the highlights of our recent phone interview:

Heather Dinich: What is the focus on recruiting for you guys at this point? Are there any specific positions you're going after?

Paul Johnson: I don't know that there is anything specific. We're going to take several linemen, offense and defense. We're almost finished. We've got about six or seven spots. We're looking at juniors now for next year.

HD: What's the deal with the scholarships now, because I know you played this season below the limit?

 
 Kelly Kline/Icon SMI
 Paul Johnson and the Yellow Jackets will face LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

PJ: I think we can sign 25 and get back close to the 85. We'll catch up.

HD: Can you help me explain to fans how much tougher it is to play under that limit?

PJ: It's unbelievable. Jonathan Dwyer, his backup, Lucas Cox, was a starter at another position. And then we had a freshman walk-on that was the next guy up. So when he gets the wind knocked out of him or needs a blow or whatever, you have to change two or three guys or just make him stay in. There were some positions we had no flexibility. We were down to walk-ons as backups. From a planning standpoint, being able to rest guys and all that, it created some problems.

HD: What's the ideal offensive lineman you look for in terms of athleticism and size?

PJ: It's not that much different than anybody else. The biggest difference is we're not looking for the real big slow guy that can't move. Our guys need to be athletic. Sometimes in a passing offense you can take tall guys with long arms that really can't move. We're just looking for good players. The guys that will be good in our offense will be good in others, too.

HD: As you're hitting the recruiting trail, are you getting a lot of questions about your offense from players and their parents?

PJ: No, not now that we've been here for a year. We've got most of all our offensive guys committed, really. We had two receivers committed really early. We've got three quarterbacks, we may even take another one. We've got three running backs committed.

HD: Where do you see the next step being in terms of progress for next year?

PJ: We'll try to be more consistent and continue to get better. I think we got better as the year went along. We still laid an egg a time or two and we have to be more consistent. With a young team that's always a problem. As we get more depth and keep working at it, hopefully we can challenge for the conference championship every year. That's the goal.

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