It is not uncommon to see players sustain injuries during spring football practices, but they generally rebound in time for the fall season where the injuries are often pushed aside as athletes fight for playing time. However, Tech’s squad seems to be accumulating severe, sometimes season-ending injuries during the week at practice and on the field during games with no end in sight.
Despite a bruising matchup against reigning national champions Clemson to begin the season, Tech started the season relatively unscathed. Redshirt sophomore left guard Mike Minihan and senior center Kenny Cooper were both injured during the first few weeks of the season, weakening the offensive line, but the players were not ruled out permanently.
The Jackets’ injury luck took a turn for the worse, however, as senior offensive tackle Jahaziel Lee went down in the third quarter of the game against the Citadel in mid-September, putting a damper on Cooper’s return to action in the game. Postgame, Tech announced that Lee suffered from a broken tibia, ending his season. Redshirt freshman quarterback James Graham was also in a boot on the sidelines for an undisclosed reason, but Graham was back in action for the Carolina game.
While Cooper returned to action quickly against the Citadel, he was just as quickly taken out of the game against Temple with an apparent hip injury that ended his season, according to ESPN. Missing two impact players in Cooper and Lee, the offensive line was left with two huge sets of shoes to fill. Players such as redshirt sophomores William Lay III and Zach Quinney, along with redshirt senior Jared Southers have stepped up in their place but Tech’s protection has still struggled. Tech ranks towards the bottom of the country among FBS teams in sacks allowed per game at 2.6. With Tech’s move towards a more pass-heavy offense, the combination of inexperience and additional pass-blocking responsibilities has left the Tech offensive line.
Along with Lee and Cooper, quarterback Lucas Johnson was out against Temple and North Carolina due to a shoulder issue, as reported by USA Today. Tech’s QB depth has been tested this year with injuries to Johnson and Graham, as well as the transition of Tobias Oliver to wide receiver. True freshman QB Jordan Yates has jumped up the depth charts with Oliver moving to a different role in Geoff Collins’ offense.
Oliver himself has seen time all over the field as a result of Tech’s injuries. While recruited as a QB, Oliver has played every offensive position except tight-end for Tech this year in addition to serving as its best kick-returner. Oliver has to date rushed for 279 yards, recieved 19 yards, passed for 177 yards, and returned for 253 yards — serving as Tech’s swiss army knife on offense. Again, Oliver’s expanded, do-it-all role has come about as a result of Tech’s depleted depth charts.
Senior wide receiver Jalen Camp is also recovering from a season-ending knee surgery, a big hit to a Tech offense that has struggled in the air. Camp is an experienced player with one of the highest per-catch averages on the team at 20.8 yards. He started in 11 of his 12 game appearances last year and was one of Tech’s most reliable playmakers in Paul Johnson’s run heavy triple option — last year, Camp finished no. 2 on the team among WR in recieving yards behind then-senior Brad Stewart. As Camp has not redshirted thus far in his collegiate career and only played in four games this season, he would be eligible for a fifth year if he takes a redshirt.
As the season steamrolls onward, the top tier Tech football players seem to be falling to the sidelines due to an array of injuries. Yet, where one player falls, there is another that steps up, ready to roll — a part of Collin’s “Above The Line” philosophy that ensures that Tech has multiple players ready to play at any time in any position in a game. Collins has created a culture and a roster scheme that allows all players to step up to the challenge, which seems to serve the team well in this time of transition and struggle.