Panther-lair - Around the Coastal: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
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Around the Coastal: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech's first season under Geoff Collins was a rough one, as the Yellow Jackets won just three games but showed promise in beating Miami and N.C. State.

Now Collins is entering his second year, and publisher Kelly Quinlan has an inside look at Georgia Tech in 2020.

Three prominent storylines

Who's the QB?
The 2019 season saw Georgia Tech go through musical chairs at quarterback starting the season with Tobias Oliver then going to Lucas Johnson before James Graham took over mainly by default. The Jackets now have Graham, redshirt freshman Jordan Yates and two true freshmen early enrollees in Tucker Gleason and Jeff Sims. Those four will battle possibly up to game one against Clemson for the job.

Offensive line rebuild gets a boost from grad transfers
The hardest part of moving away from the triple-option to NCAA spread was the lack of offensive linemen built for the type of blocking Brent Key uses and lack of experience in that system. The line has improved but Key also added two SEC starting OLs to the mix in Ryan Johnson from Tennessee at right guard and Devin Cochran at left tackle. The Jackets also return former All-ACC center Kenny Cooper who missed all but four games last year. This should be a much-improved area.

Defense gets bigger upfront
Through attrition and timing, Georgia Tech had a very small and inexperienced defensive line for Geoff Collins’ first season on the Flats. This year with Antonneous Clayton the former 5-star defensive end is eligible for his final season. That allows the Jackets to move Antwan Owens back to defensive tackle if needed or go big at end and redshirt freshmen Mike Lockhart and D’Quan Douse are two of the biggest defensive tackles in recent Jackets’ history. That should help improve that unit along with the return of redshirt senior Jahaziel Lee who was sidelined most of last season with a leg injury.

Three biggest departures

Tyler Davis
It wasn’t the season that graduate transfer tight end Tyler Davis envisioned statistically when he enrolled at Georgia Tech after Geoff Collins took over, but Davis became one of the leaders on the team and was a mentor to the young and new tight end group. Davis was a great leader for the new-look program and he was loved by his teammates and the staff as a key piece of the new culture at Tech.

Christian Campbell
While the Jackets are loaded at the safety position, Christian Campbell was probably the best defensive player in a small senior class and he was a good leader and smart defender in the Jackets’ secondary. Campbell had been a fixture of the Tech defense for four seasons playing safety, nickel and some SAM linebacker.

Connor Hansen
Hansen was a key cog in the Jackets’ offensive line despite missing all of the spring last year and most of the fall camp recovering from a shoulder injury. He was the Jackets’ right guard in the second half of the season and well-liked by teammates. He had to retire from football due to numerous injuries and he thins out the experience at guard behind Ryan Johnson and Jack DeFoor.

Three key returners

Jordan Mason
No running back in the country was as effective after contact as Mason. The Jackets leading rusher ran for 899 yards with 774 of them coming after contact. Defenses keyed on Mason all season and he played the year with a bum shoulder limiting his work on third-downs but he still managed to account for a huge chunk of Tech’s offense and with a more balanced attack he should be able to cross the 1,000-yard mark in 2020.

Jalen Camp
The number one receiver last season tried playing through lower-body injuries before shutting it down after the Temple game. Camp still finished in the top six in receiving yards last year despite playing in only four games. He has rebuilt his body and appears to be faster than before. He is an old-school big body receiver that could really dominate this fall with better quarterback production.

David Curry
While being the target of some scorn by Tech fans, David Curry is the heart and quarterback of the Jackets’ defense. This season marks the first time in his career he will be in the same position with the same defensive coordinator in his entire career. Curry led Tech in tackles just shy of 100 last year. He looked more comfortable in the system this spring and more relaxed. He said he played way too uptight last year and he thinks he is poised for a big senior season.

Three Biggest Additions

Devin Cochran
The former Vanderbilt standout left tackle was one of the highest-rated linemen in the SEC last season despite being on a terrible offensive team. Cochran gives Brent Key and the Tech offense a true NFL-level left tackle to protect the blindside for whichever quarterback wins the job.

Ryan Johnson
Ryan Johnson had a tough season at Tennessee inexplicably sitting behind inferior performing linemen. The Jackets call Johnson ‘Hoss’ and he looked tremendous in the two weeks of spring ball action he got at right guard. Johnson along with Jack DeFoor anchor those spots and should help an already dynamic rushing attack put up big numbers this fall.

Antonneous Clayton
Clayton was technically on the team last fall but the NCAA denied his waiver. The former 5-star end has one season to make an impression and get drafted. He looks the part and now he has to earn that money. Clayton is motivated by his young son and is a gym rat who seems very determined to make a major impact in 2020.

Expectations for 2020

Geoff Collins's team was competitive but often offensively inept in 2019. Fans understand the changeover from the triple option to the NCAA spread will take time so the win total may not be as important as the scoreboard and showing a more functional offense. The schedule is harder in 2020 then 2019 with Notre Dame, Georgia and UCF all on the schedule as well as the regular crossover with Clemson to open the season. A bowl game would be a huge step in the right direction, but another three-win season wouldn’t be surprising either.