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More Line Concerns During Offseason

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

 

May 24, 2004 ATLANTA — Persistent left wrist and hand injuries could end the career of rising senior guard Leon Robinson, who once was a stalwart of Georgia Tech's blocking schemes. The loss of Robinson, who has 19 career starts, would leave the Yellow Jackets extremely thin along the offensive line this fall. Robinson played last season with a cast on his damaged wrist, after surgery in the offseason. But he had to have another surgery this offseason to alleviate the pain, and nothing has worked thus far. He practiced early in spring camp but was unable to go for extended periods. If Robinson is unable to play this fall, the Yellow Jackets will have little depth at any spot on the line. The early departure of left tackle Nat Dorsey, a three-year starter who left after his junior season for the NFL, is now magnified more than anyone ever imagined. Without Robinson, the starting five would look like this in the fall: left tackle Kyle Wallace, left guard Andy Tidwell-Neal, center Kevin Tuminello, right guard Brad Honeycutt, right tackle Salih Besirevic. Tuminello and Besirevic haven't carried any significant playing responsibility to this point in their careers, although coaches singled out Besirevic as one of the pleasant surprises of spring drills. The only backup with any experience is tackle Kenton Johnson, who has struggled to build up his strength and endurance since transferring to Tech before last season. Matt Rhodes, a redshirt freshman, will be the backup at both guard spots entering August camp. And that's about it. Eddy Parker, another redshirt freshman, did not practice last year or this spring because of a shoulder problem. Tech hoped to build depth along the line via the recruiting trail, and the Jackets signed four offensive linemen in February. But expecting any first-year blocker to step in and contribute immediately is asking a lot, given the strength and technique requirements of the position. Kieran Delaney (6-5, 310), Andrew Gardner (6-6, 250), Jacob Lonowski (6-5, 290) and Nate McManus (6-4, 290) all have the necessary size, but offensive linemen usually take time — often lots of time — to develop. Not surprisingly, the offensive line is one place where Gailey did not use a single true freshman during his first two seasons in Atlanta. In 2002 and 2003, Tech played at least one true freshman at quarterback, tailback, wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker. Despite that history, and thanks to Robinson's injury problems, it will not be unexpected if one or two of the incoming freshmen play in 2004. Tech opens the season with I-AA Samford, a game that should provide an opportunity for young players to get plenty of game experience. Then Tech plays two league games on the road, before an open date and a home clash with ACC newcomer Miami. Recruiting: Watch Sapp, In-Staters Among the more interesting football recruiting stories to watch this year is Tech's pursuit of linebacker Marvin Sapp. A cousin of NFL superstar Warren Sapp, who played collegiately at Miami, Marvin is being coached at Sandalwood High School in Florida by Adam Geis. If that name rings a bell, it may be because Geis is the son of Tech assistant head coach Buddy Geis. Sapp (6-0, 215) recently called Tech the frontrunner for his services. "What I liked about the school is it has great balance between academics and athletics," Sapp told Morris News Service. "When I visited and I saw the facilities, it made me interested. It's hard to balance those two things, but they did it." The Yellow Jackets also seem to be making a bigger push in the state of Georgia this year, targeting as many as two dozen prospects from around the state during spring recruiting. Among those rising seniors who reportedly received an early scholarship offer from Tech were Columbus Pacelli linebacker Kalvin Baker (a Florida commitment), Columbus Pacelli running back Matt Dunham (a Florida State commitment), Columbus Pacelli offensive lineman Mike Harness (an Auburn commitment), Blakely Early County linebacker Dan Foster, Buena Vista Tri-County offensive lineman Charles Jackson, Warner Robins Houston County defensive back Brandon King, Milledgeville Baldwin defensive back Jarvis Kyles, Milledgeville Baldwin receiver Nick Kyles and Warner Robins Houston County defensive end Kyle Moore. Last season, 11 of Tech's 23 signees hailed from the Peach State. In Gailey's first true recruiting class, only six of the Yellow Jackets' 20 newcomers came from Georgia. New Gailey Deal Coming Soon? Gailey, who still is working for Tech under the terms of the original five-year contract he signed on Dec. 29, 2001, has not yet had his deal re-done. Thus, at a time when many ACC coaches are committed through the end of the decade and most coaches in America have at least four years of contract in front of them, Gailey is signed through only 2006. Both he and Tech athletic director Dave Braine said they have discussed a new deal, but apparently no decisions have been made. The Georgia Tech Athletic Board must approve any modifications to the contract. The existing contract calls for Gailey to receive five-percent raises on his $270,000 base salary annually, plus performance bonuses for graduation rates and postseason appearances. His total package already is worth an average of approximately $1 million per year, a number that ranks behind only FSU's Bobby Bowden, Maryland's Ralph Friedgen and Clemson's Tommy Bowden in the current nine-team ACC. Tough Academics Deterred Morris The Yellow Jackets' four-year recruitment of prep All-American center Randolph Morris, who played at Landmark Christian Academy in the Atlanta area, ended in surprising fashion, with the seven-footer committing to Kentucky. Tech was considered the frontrunner for Morris all along, but after narrowing the field to the Wildcats and the Yellow Jackets months ago he opted for the former. On the day of his announcement, he mentioned Kentucky's extremely impressive incoming class and Tech's tough academic reputation among the reasons for his decision. "(Kentucky) is not as rigorous as it is at Georgia Tech," Morris said during his press conference, which was held at an Atlanta restaurant. "It's ironic because Georgia Tech is a good institution, but I would not feel comfortable being a student-athlete." The academic angle turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the press conference. Morris' mother Patricia said it would take a different kind of Randolph to compete academically at Tech. "The variety of majors to choose from (at Kentucky) versus Georgia Tech, (which) is somewhat limited to the technology end," said Ralph Morris, Randolph's father. "I don't think he had an interest in that." Patricia Morris controlled much of the recruiting process for her son. She often served as a buffer between Randolph and the increasing public attention that followed him, and she allowed very few media members to speak with him in the final months of the recruiting process. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the whole thing for Tech coaches and certainly for Tech fans was that Morris kept his decision quiet for nearly a month, leaving the Yellow Jackets in limbo and costing them chances with other talented big men. Morris said he made his decision at the McDonald's All-American Game on April 13, after playing with Kentucky recruits Joe Crawford and Rajon Rondo. But Morris, for reasons he never really disclosed, didn't tell the staff at Tech. At his press conference, he said that those in attendance were the first to learn of his decision. In the days leading up the announcement, the Tech coaching staff had no good feeling for where he was headed. Tech assistant Willie Reese spent four years recruiting Morris, the longest of any college. Kentucky got in on the seven-footer during his junior year. Morris even admitted that the Yellow Jackets had put in the most time and effort, but that factor obviously didn't carry the day. Getting a commitment from 6-10 junior college forward Aaron Pettway, who had a strong interest in Tech this spring, could have lessened the sting of not getting Morris for the Jackets. But Tech decided to wait on its No. 1 target, given its time and investment in him, and Pettway grew tired of waiting and signed with Oklahoma State instead. Had Morris informed Tech of his decision earlier, Pettway would have been a real possibility. Now the Yellow Jackets likely won't use the scholarship they will have available during the offseason, because there are very few (if any) academically qualified and adequately talented prospects left on the board. Barring a Luke Schenscher-like summer surprise, the Jackets will hold over their extra grant for the Class of 2005. In a testament to how well-built the Tech program has become, the loss of Morris won't be devastating for the Yellow Jackets. The emergence of Schenscher — an unstated but important factor in Morris' selection of the Wildcats — means the team won't have a void in the middle. Reserve center Theodis Tarver, who likely would have redshirted next season had Morris attended Tech, now will be counted on to show the form he displayed at the end of his freshman season. Tarver, who dislocated a kneecap in the preseason last year, never totally recovered his timing during the Jackets' wildly successful 2003-04 campaign. Hewitt Also Enduring Slow Play Paul Hewitt agreed to a new contract with Tech on the eve of the NCAA Final Four. The Georgia Tech Athletic Board approved the parameters of the deal on April 28. A month later, however, the deal had not been finalized. There's no need to fret, Tech fans. Hewitt is not going anywhere. But with lawyers involved on both sides, and with the athletic department trying to defray as much of the contract as possible through radio and sneaker deals, it might take a few more months before everything is set in stone and details are released. The new contract, a six-year deal worth more than $1 million annually, will vault Hewitt into the upper echelon of ACC coaches in terms of total compensation. Even after the conference grows to 11 (this summer) and then 12 (next summer), he'll rank behind only Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Roy Williams of North Carolina and Gary Williams of Maryland in the league's financial pecking order on the basketball side.