Tech defensive line signees will have chance to play early

020216 ATLANTA: Grayson High School defensive tackle Chris Martin is all smiles sporting his Georgia Tech hat and bow tie during national signing day at the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, Feb, 3, 2016, in Atlanta.    Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Grayson High School defensive tackle Chris Martin is all smiles sporting his Georgia Tech hat and bow tie during national signing day at the College Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday, Feb, 3, 2016, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

One of Georgia Tech’s top priorities coming out of the 2015 season was to improve its pass rush. Whether any of them can be the type of player who can consistently win one-on-one matchups and get into the pocket remains to be seen, whether in 2016 or beyond. But at the very least, they appear to have the potential. And at the least, they’ll also help fix Tech’s depth shortage.

With four signees, the position group is now up to 16 scholarship players. Compare that with 2014, when there were only 11 defensive linemen and one of them (Kenderius Whitehead) was ineligible to play after having transferred and just four of them were tackles. The 2014 season, you may recall, followed the offseason departures of several players, including defensive linemen Kevin Robbins, Darius Commissiong, Jimmie Kitchen, Justin Akins and Anthony Williams. At the time, defensive line coach Mike Pelton said it was “nothing short of a miracle” that the season went so well with the lack of depth at such a critical position.

“Defensive line is always an area that you want to look for guys, and we were able to get some guys in that area who we think can come in and compete early,” coach Paul Johnson said.

The four signees

Johnson made the observation that it was a strong year for defensive linemen. Johnson said that defensive tackle Chris Martin from Grayson recruited Tech as much as Tech recruited him and “had a lot of good offers.” Defensive end Jordan Woods “could have gone pretty much anywhere he wanted,” according to Johnson. Defensive tackle Brandon Adams had been committed to Vanderbilt, “and then when he came to us, he got hit by two or three more (SEC schools), and he kind of held steadfast in his recruiting,” Johnson said.

Pelton said the recruitment of defensive lineman Desmond Branch was initiated by an e-mail from Branch’s older brother Alan, a defensive tackle with the New England Patriots.

“We get thousands of e-mails,” Pelton said. “Most of them, you just delete. Anytime a d lineman sends me one, I check it out.”

Tech typically doesn’t recruit out of the junior-college ranks because it is difficult to find players who can be accepted. Branch, who had the grades and transcript, was the exception. He impressed Pelton with his versatility.

“You saw him at end, you saw him at d tackle, but you always saw a motor,” Pelton said. “You saw a kid that just ran to the ball.”

Now in his third year of college (with three years of eligibility remaining), Branch would appear positioned to help most quickly, and his versatility could also help him see the field. Johnson said he likes the potential that Woods has to be a speed rusher. Adams, 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds, is already the heaviest player on the line. Johnson said that, in speaking with high-school coaches in Nashville (Adams is from nearby Brentwood, Tenn.), three told him that Adams was the best player in the city.

“It doesn’t guarantee he’s going to come in here and be an All-American, but it makes you feel good about him because other people assess him where he’s at and not just his coach talking about how good he’s going to be,” Johnson said.

‘Some good young guys’

The group loses All-ACC tackle Adam Gotsis, Jabari Hunt-Days and Tyler Stargel, but returns starters Pat Gamble, Rod Rook-Chungong and KeShun Freeman. Tackle Kyle Cerge-Henderson should make strides after being thrown into the lineup halfway through his first-year freshman season. End Anree Saint-Amour showed playmaking ability, particularly late in the season. Brentavious Glanton and Scott Morgan will come off their redshirt seasons. Tackle Francis Kallon will enter his make-or-break senior season.

“We think we’ve got some good young guys,” Johnson said. “Because of injury or because of whatever, some of them had to play probably before they were ready. But we’re excited about that group as a whole.”

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