Last year was the offense’s most productive season ever under head coach Paul Johnson in terms of points scored and yards gained. Though the offense lost a lot of talent at the skill positions along with its standout guard Shaq Mason, the return of quarterback Justin Thomas and most of the offensive line should allow for this unit to continue its high level of production.
The team captain and 2014 Orange Bowl MVP returns for his junior season under center for the Jackets and should continue to be a driving force for Paul Johnson’s spread option offense. He led the team in rushing last season with over a thousand yards and contributed an additional 1719 through the air. He excels at reading the defensive front seven on option plays and usually makes the correct decision, resulting in an efficient offense that is exciting to watch.
The departure of three-year starter Zach Laskey leaves a big hole to fill at the B-back position. Tech hopes to do so with Stanford transfer Patrick Skov, who graduated this past spring and will be eligible to play in 2015. Skov did not have many touches during his career with the Cardinals, mostly seeing action in very short yardage or goal line situations. The 6’1”, 235-pound B-back is built for power running and should be able to push through the interior to gain yards. Behind him, junior Marcus Allen and freshman Marcus Marshall will also be tested at the position.
The Jackets lost five of their top six A-backs from a year ago due to graduation, depleting the unit of some much-needed experience. Senior Broderick Snoddy returns to the lineup after his 2014 campaign was cut short with a season-ending broken leg. Speed is paramount to success at the position, and Snoddy is perhaps the fastest player on the team, holding the school record in the 60-meter as a member of the indoor track team.
After Snoddy, there is little experience at this position, with junior Isiah Willis and freshmen Qua Searcy, Clinton Lynch and Matthew Jordan rounding out the depth chart.
Expect a lot of A-backs to see equal playing time at the start of the season, with the starters emerging after the first few games are in the books.
Tech lost two NFL-caliber wide receivers to the draft in DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller. This year, the two starters are projected to be junior Michael Summers and sophomore Rickey Jeune. At 6’1”, 195 pounds, Summers is built more for speed than physicality and will use his skills to gain separation downfield. From what he showed in 2014, he has the potential to grow into a consistent playmaker for the Jackets.
Meanwhile, at 6’3” and 214 pounds, Jeune should be able to fight defenders in jump ball situations and hold his ground while blocking on option plays. Sophomore Antonio Messick will also see some action, especially in the first few games.
With the amount of talent lost from 2014 and the inexperience of the current receivers, do not expect the offense to produce similar passing numbers as they did a year ago. Unfortunately, this will also affect the running game, as opposing defenses will not focus on the receivers as much as they had to a year ago and dedicate more resources to stopping the running game.
In Paul Johnson’s system, the offensive line is perhaps more important to the team’s success than the running backs. Though the departure of Shaq Mason will certainly impact the team, this experienced unit returns four of its five starters that propelled the Jackets to being the best rushing team in the nation in 2014.
From left to right on the line, Bryan Chamberlain, Trey Braun, Freddie Burden, Shamire Devine and Errin Joe will be the starters, with several more players seeing some time as part of a seven- or eight-man rotation.