- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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Georgia Tech opens spring practice today, and the defending Orange Bowl champions certainly have a lot to be excited about in 2015. With star quarterback Justin Thomas back and a defense that returns seven starters, the Yellow Jackets will likely open the season as favorites in the Coastal once again, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few big questions that need answers this spring.
1. Who will Thomas be throwing to?
Tech's passing game really opened up last season with Thomas at the helm, but his primary targets, DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, are both gone now. Junior Micheal Summers is the most experienced receiver remaining on the roster, and he caught just seven balls last year. Perhaps the most intriguing name is that of sophomore Ricky Jeune. At 6-foot-3, he's an inviting target, and while his work was largely limited to special teams in 2014, he could be a breakout candidate for 2015.
2. Can the pass rush improve?
For all of Georgia Tech's success last season, the defense still had its share of problems, with the Yellow Jackets surrendering 6.3 yards per play -- good for 111th nationally. That number should suggest there are plenty of holes to plug, but the improvement needs to start up front, where Tech struggled badly to get pressure last season. Tech was 108th nationally in sacks (1.43 per game) and 118th in tackles for loss (4.36 per game), but the development of KeShun Freeman, the consistency of Adam Gotsis and the return of Jabari Hunt-Days, who missed all of last season because of academic issues, offers some hope that the D-line could become a strength for the Jackets if each can take a step forward and D-coordinator Ted Roof can find some depth behind the starters.
3. Is there still a chip on Georgia Tech's shoulder?
It's no secret Paul Johnson relishes the role of underdog. He's been shrugging off talk of his "high-school offense" for years, but things seemed to come to a head last summer, when talk of his job security was rampant and the Jackets were largely an afterthought in the preseason polls. That set the scene for an us-against-the-world run for Tech in 2014 which ended with a resounding Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State. Now though, the doubters have quieted and Tech figures to be the odds-on favorite to win the Coastal for a third time in four years, and so it will be incumbent on Johnson to make sure his team isn't resting on its laurels and leaders emerge to replace departed veterans such as Shaq Mason, Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Quayshawn Nealy.
Georgia Tech opens spring practice today, and the defending Orange Bowl champions certainly have a lot to be excited about in 2015.