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By far the deepest and most talented position group of the Panther's defense heading in to 2012 is the secondary. Georgia State returns three senior starters, though one of them has changed positions. Behind those starters is a stable of talented players, most of which have already contributed in some capacity. Leading the group is seniors Brent McClendon, D'mario Gunn, and Demazio Skelton. Gunn and Skelton came to Georgia State last season from Georgia Military Colllege and had an immediate impact. McClendon has been a starter at cornerback in every game for the Panthers and while he doesn't wow you with numbers he is one of the most consistent performers on the team and plays a big time leadership role. Projected to start opposite McClendon at the other corner position is Demarius Matthews. Behind those two are juniors Nate Anthony and Jamal Ransby and sophomore Isaiah Howard. All three of those players have played significant minutes for Georgia State in their first two seasons. Rashad Stewart is junior transfer from Louisville who could start at the free safety position, allowing Gunn to play the hybrid wolf position. Providing depth behind Stewart and Skelton at safety is Jamaal May, Robert Smith, and freshman Ladarion Young.
Brent McClendon- "Buck" has been a model of consistency in his time as a panther. He has started in more than twenty games for the Panthers and is a leader on and off the field. While he hasn't put up flashy numbers in his time in the blue and white, he has been solid with career totals of 67 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. He is a very versatile defensive back as he has lined up at safety in certain packages and is one of the more sure tacklers on the team.
Demarius Matthews- After serving as primarily a return man in 2010, Matthews burst on the scene in 2011with 33 tackles while leading the team with nine pass breakups. He is one of the fastest players on the team and has great instincts which allows him to cut off routes and get his hands on the ball. However, he did not record any interceptions last season, something defensive coordinator Anthony Midget certainly hopes changes in 2012. He continued his impressive work into the spring where he was named most outstanding player on the defense. Matthews could be one of the most dynamic players on the field for the Panthers this fall.
Jamal Ransby- Ransby is GSU's career leader in interceptions with three over the last two seasons, which i'm sure is something defensive coordinator Anthony Midget wouldn't want him to boast about. Ransby was having a good spring before injuring his knee and missing the majority of camp. He is back to full strength now and will look to be an impacty player this season. There will be a heavy rotation in the secondary, but Ransby is one of the best in the bunch. He will line up with the starters opposite Demarius Matthews.
Isaiah Howard- Howard took a redshirt last season after switching back and forth from offense to defense a couple times. He played in five games as a backup defensive back in 2010, but he has been identified in multiple instances by his peers as one of the leaders of the team. Howard will certainly see the field more this season and will look to add depth behind the talented starting duo of Matthews and Ransby.
Nate Anthony- Anthony moved to defense in 2011 after spending the Panthers' inaugural season at wide receiver. The junior has made the biggest impact thus far on special teams where he plays on the coverage and return units. Look for Anthony to again have a presence in special duties and to add depth at cornerback when called upon.
Myles Morris- Morris signed with the Panthers in 2012 and will be a true freshman this fall. He has served as a return man in the past and could provide depth in that role for GSU this season. However, with the depth at cornerback already in place it is likely he will redshirt.
Chris Jenkins- Jenkins is an athlete that could play anywhere in the secondary and played quarterback in high school. He is one of the better athletes that GSU signed in 2012 and will be a difference maker when his time comes. As with Morris, Jenkins will likely redshirt.
D'Mario Gunn- Gunn moved to safety after starting at cornerback last season. He will also play some in the wolf but has tremendous ball skills that will make him a weapon at free safety. Both positions will allow him to free lance a little and will take advantage of his athleticism and good instincts more than the cornerback position did. Gunn will be one of the biggest difference makers on the field for GSU this season.
Rashad Stewart- The former Louisville transfer played in only three games last fall, but is very talented and has given D'Mario Gunn a battle for the starting free safety spot. During spring camp Stewart was running with the starters and Gunn with the number twos, but that has since been reversed. Stewart will still see significant playing time with Gunn also spending time at the Wolf position and will likely be a star on the special teams unit. He is one of the more talented players on the field at any time and hopefully Panther fans see more results from him in 2012.
Demazio Skelton- Skelton was arguably the best player on the entire defense last fall. He was second on the team in tackles with 61, second on the team in pass breakups with six, and led the team in interceptions with two. He has a knack for making big plays on a team that struggled to come up with those on the defensive side of the ball in 2011. Skelton needs another big year for the Panthers, but hopefully he won't be required to clean up missed tackles as much as he was last season.
Robert Smith- Smith joined the team as a walk on and has since earned his way into the rotation at safety. He will likely be a special teams contributor and provide depth for the top three players.
Jamaal May- May also joined the team after a tryout and has since earned his way onto the field. May will not see the field much, but has earned his stripes on the practice field.
LaDarion Young- The true freshman from Pensacola could make an immediate impact for the Panthers at safety. He is one of the more talented players to sign with the Panthers and will be a play maker throughout his career. However, this season's production may be limited due to the talent that is in front of him. Look for number 20 on defense to make a few big plays and show a glimpse of his bright future.
One of the most consistent issues with the Panther defense last season was missed tackles and assignments in the linebacker corps. At first glance it doesn't appear the position should get any better considering Georgia State lost one of the most productive players and a team leader in now New York Giant Jake Muasau. However there are a number of talented play makers at linebacker this season that will be counted on to not only replace Muasau's production but his leadership qualities as well. Two sport athlete Mark Hogan is a model of consistency that has a knack for making big plays. Robert Ferguson is a two year part time starter that has never been in better physical condition. Those two will anchor the Panther defense and will be counted upon to seal up what was a porous run defense in 2011. However, the linebacker position is hardly a two man show. The primary candidates to see some reps this season are Jarrell Robinson, Allen McKay, Blake Wyatt, Cole Moon, Davis Knowles, and Kyle Vorster among others.
One of the most important positions on the Panther defense is the "Wolf" position. This is a safety/linebacker hybrid that will play close to the line at times as well as drop back in coverage. Former linebacker Dexter Moody was the primary candidate to fill this position, but he was dismissed from the team during Spring practice. Outside linebacker Akeen Felder was projected to be his replacement, but injuries hindered his progression as well. Therefore the door was opened for someone to step up and claim the position. No one would have predicted it, but that someone turned out to be walk on Mitchell Vinson. Vinson was the star of spring camp and came away having been named the starter at the wolf position... for now. It remains to be seen with a healthy Felder if he will be able to hold on to that position, or if another candidate could rise from obscurity much like Vinson did.
Robert Ferguson- Ferguson has started a number of games over two years of Panther football at outside linebacker, but now he has moved to the inside and will be one of the most important players on the field for Georgia State this fall. He has bulked up and is in the best shape of his career, something that will be used as he tries to plug up the Panther's run defense. Missed tackles and blown assignments plagued Georgia State last season and are things that have to be eliminated. Most importantly, though, the Panthers need a leader. The defense was pushed around in the fourth quarter last season and no one was seen stepping up and taking responsibility for rallying his teammates to get that last one stop. That kind of leadership will be Ferguson's primary assignment, and something he needs to excel at if Georgia State is to be successful.
Mark Hogan- Georgia State's two sport star is back with the football team after spending the spring and early summer with the baseball team and he spoke with the AJC this week. He lost some weight for baseball, but has been yet another Ben Pollard success story as he is now back up to 215 and has never been in better physical condition. Hogan is the second leading tackler in GSU history with 110 tackles. He has incredible instincts and a great nose for finding and making a play on the ball. The increased size and strength combined with those instincts should make Hogan a formidable force anchoring the Panther's linebacking corps. Hogan and Ferguson will both be utilized in a variety of blitz packages and should see their sack numbers increase in 2012. If they both can play at a high level and be the leaders of the defense, GSU could have a specihttp://www.sbnation.com/admin/entries/new_node/2872838?community_id=307al season.
Jarrell Robinson- The redshirt sophomore from Portal, Ga saw action in nine games last season, collecting 22 tackles and four for a loss. He is very athletic but has the size to go along with that athleticism to be a very productive linebacker. Robinson is one of the most confident players on the team and could be a special player for the Panthers, but he has to show the coaches that he has learned from mistakes and is ready to be a leader. He was having a breakout spring and seemed to have really turned a corner, but then was suspended and missed the spring scrimmage for a violation of team rules. Robinson needs to take that next step for the Panthers, and if he does then he will be an incredible asset to his team.
Allen McKay- McKay has spent the last two seasons backing up OLB Jake Muasau and was productive in doing so last season. He made 16 tackles on the season, including 3 for a loss and a sack. He was named the most improved player of the defense in spring 2011 and was having another productive spring this year before suffering an injury. McKay will likely be in the rotation at LB and see significant minutes again 2012.
Cole Moon- Moon came to Georgia State as a heralded fullback prospect, rated as a three star by Rivals.com, but has seen his GSU career largely defined by constant shuffling of positions and injuries. He started off as a linebacker and was a productive back up and special teams member in 2010. He was moved to tight end in 2011, but suffered a broken thumb and missed the season for surgery. Moon has no returned to the defense and looked to be one of the candidates to have a breakout spring before suffering yet another injury and missing the majority of camp. Moon is just flat out a great football player. No matter where he ends up he has the talent to be successful. If he remains at linebacker, and can stay healthy, then look for him to return to being a special teams ace and one of the key linebackers of the bench for the Panthers.
Davis Knowles- Knowles is a former walk-on that received an award this past spring for his hustle. He was one of the best performers the entire spring at the linebacker position and really shined in light of injuries to Ferguson, McKay, and Moon. Knowles is one of the most prototypical middle linebackers the Panthers have. He has very good instincts and is very skilled against the run. While he will likely be relegated to special teams duties and reserve duties, Knowles proved he is more than capable of seeing significant reps.
Blake Wyatt- Wyatt has been a do it all type player for the Panthers in his career, serving as a backup linebacker and on multiple special teams units. He missed all of this past spring due to an injury, but should be ready for fall and will likely be one of the leaders on kick coverage.
Kyle Vorster- Vorster joined the program in January after taking a grey shirt offer for fall of 2011. Basically that means he committed in 2011 but did not join the team until January and is counted toward the 2012 recruiting class.Vorster frequently played alongside Knowles this past spring and performed very well. He will likely also be relegated to special teams duties but will be a significant contributor in his time in blue and white.
Joe Peterson???- Peterson was one of two players signed from Dothan, AL that have yet to make it in to school. SB Nation spoke with Peterson via text last week and he said that there were some issues of certain credits transferring and that Georgia has a different grading scale than Alabama, thus lowering his GPA, but that he was still hopeful that he would be on campus in time for fall camp. Drew Champlin of the Dothan Eagle reported that OL signee Aaron Thomas will be attending Tuskegee University, and that Curry remains hopeful Peterson will be admitted. Curry also said that if he is a part of the team that Peterson will definitely be seeing the field this fall.
Wolf (Safety/Linebacker Hybrid)
Akeen Felder- Felder was the special teams captain in 2011 and was given the Leadership Award following the 2012 spring camp. With Moody no longer on the roster, Felder looked to be in line to secure the starting role at the Wolf position. With the new 4-2-5 offense the Wolf position is considered the fifth defensive back, but will also play close up to the line to stop the run. Felder is one of the more able players to fill the role, but was one of the many who caught the injury bug this past spring. Felder will likely be elected a captain again and will see significant playing time whether he starts at wolf or not, but he will have to beat out a slew of candidates in order to do so.
Mitchell Vinson- Vinson transferred to GSU after spending one season at West Georgia. He has been through a lot in his career, including overcoming an injury that he thought might have ended his football career. But he was finally healthy this spring and received a rare opportunity to see some significant reps. He made the most of his chances and was a major bright spot for the defense. He was constantly around the ball and making plays, whether it was forcing a fumble or grabbing an interception, Vinson was a continuous highlight reel. His play was noticed by the coaches and he was singled out as one of the surprises of camp and was told if he kept it up, he would be the starting wolf this fall. While he certainly has a long way to go to prove he is ready for that, Vinson is one of the hungriest players on the team and will be ready to perform in his final season as a Panther.
Kail Singleton- Singleton has starred on special teams for the Panthers in his first two seasons while collecting 36 tackles and making one start at safety against Houston last season. He is a very versatile athlete that seems to be productive no matter where he lines up. The rumors have been that Singleton has been working out at the Wolf position this off season, and honestly there may not be a better natural fit for that spot on the Panther's roster. He is very fluid and can cover well, but is a very hard hitter and would be a force against the run. The wolf position battle will be one of the most watched during fall camp and Singleton will definitely be a major factor.
D'mario Gunn?- Rumors have also circulated that D'Mario Gunn has been working out at the wolf position this summer. He was a starter last season at cornerback and had moved over to safety during the spring. For most of camp, however, he was running with the second team defense. He is one of the better athletes on the team, and it was somewhat puzzling not to see him with the first team. But more on that later... If Gunn truly does switch to the Wolf position then the battle could be over rather quickly. Gunn is a tremendous athlete and is not afraid to lay the lumber on a ball carrier. While I am not sure he has the size the play that close to the line consistently, it would be interesting to see how his athleticism would give him an advantage there. Certainly plenty of questions remaining to be answered this fall...
Bryan Williams- Williams was a signee in the 2012 class that will likely be the future at Wolf for the Panthers. At 6'3 and 199 pounds he has the perfect frame for the position and will likely take a redshirt this year to improve his strength and to get in better shape. Williams is also the younger brother of Arthur "Bully" Williams, who was the Panther's starting tight end the last two seasons.
Georgia State struggled mightily on defense in 2011 and the issues stemmed from poor play from the defensive front. The Panthers were gashed by opposing running attacks to the tune of 180 yards per game, which would have ranked them next to last in the CAA in 2011. The porous run defense led to long drives that gassed the Panther defense and directly resulted in opponents averaging more than 31 points per game.
The poor performance of the defense led many to call for action, including the possible firing of defensive coordinator John Thompson. But Thompson left Atlanta to take the same position at Arkansas State University, and Georgia State promoted defensive backs coach Anthony Midget to head the defense. Along with changing coordinators, the Panthers also changed defensive schemes and will run a 4-2-5 defense this fall. The idea behind the change is that the defense will be more athletic and be able to contain opposing offenses. However, this scheme will put a lot of pressure on to the defensive line. In addition to promoting Midget, the Panthers hire Ricky Thomas to coach defensive ends. Thomas has 15 years of NFL experience and has been a tremendous addition to the staff. But coaching can only go so far, and it will be up to the Panthers front four to step up to the challenge if the team is to have a better season.
That will be no small task for a group that lost defensive end Christo Bilukidi who became the first Panther to ever be drafted in the NFL draft in April. In addition to Bilukidi, Georgia State lost defensive tackles Kalan Jenkins and Khiry Karriem, who provided valuable depth on the inside, to graduation. Furthermore, the defensive front received two major blows this spring when defensive ends AJ Portee and Roderick Thompson were both dismissed from the team. The Panthers had so little depth on the defensive line during spring camp that offensive guard David Huey switched to defensive tackle and linebacker Qwontez Mallory to defensive end and coach Midget instantly said both could start at their respective positions. Georgia State did get some good news with the transfer of Kentucky lineman Nermin Delic to Georgia State, but the Panthers will rely heavily this season on players who have never played a snap for GSU.
Nermin Delic- The Bosnian national comes to Georgia State after two seasons at the University of Kentucky, one of which he missed due to number of injuries. Delic had to have surgery on his groin as well as his shoulder. He also battled blood clot issues and had a rib removed in order to help alleviate those problems. Now he is reportedly healthy and excited to join to former Kentucky teammates, Donald Russell and Alex Smith, here in Atlanta. Delic's transfer could not have come at a better time after the dismissal of Thompson and Portee. He can play defensive or defensive tackle and will likely be one of the more talented players on the defensive line this season.
CJ Stephens- Stephens saw time at both tackle and end last season and was rather productive in his reserve role, collected 12 tackles. His best game came against South Alabama where he recorded his lone sack of the year and three tackles. Stephens is athletic for his size and is probably better suited to play defensive end. However, the lack of depth at defensive tackle forced him to play there. He is reportedly moving back to end and will compete for a starting position there.
John Kelly- Kelly transfered to GSU last fall from the University of Nevada but did not see the field in 2011. But that did not stop him from being one of the more impressive players on the team for the first two weeks of spring practice. He was constantly around the ball during the team drills and was one of the better performers in the one on one drills as well. When asked about halfway through camp to identify who his starting front four would be, Midget identified Kelly as one of the starters at defensive end. But an injury kept him out for about the last week and a half of spring, and Kelly will definitely need to have added some weight in the off season to be ready for a starting spot this fall.
Qwontez Mallory- Mallory came to Georgia State from Georgia Military College last season and was a significant contributor at linebacker for the Panthers, collecting 27 tackles throughout the year. He moved to defensive end this spring and was very impressive in the spring scrimmage. But he is listed at just 215 pounds currently. That is just simply too small to be productive at this position with the level of competition the Panthers will face this year. If he can get up around 230 at least and still keep the speed that allowed him to be productive in spring camp then he could be a pass rushing machine in 2012.
Terrance Woodard- Woodard has shown glimpses of brilliance in his two years as a backup defensive tackle. He has a great knack for getting to the ball as evidenced by his five tackles against South Carolina State and four tackles and a forced fumble against Campbell. For a defensive tackle that is very good production and at 320 pounds he is by far the largest defensive lineman on the team. He looked to be in much better shape in the spring and was very productive. However he had a minor setback when he was withheld from practice for a few days for violation of team rules. There is no doubting that Woodard has the size and the talent to the be a dominating force in the middle, but the question has always been if he was in good enough shape physically and mentally to be a major factor on the for the Panther's defense.
David Huey- As mentioned previously, Huey moved from guard to defensive tackle a few practices into spring after taking a redshirt last fall. The result was immediate impact at a position where the Panthers were desperate for help. He was praised for his high motor and was consistently seen penetrating in the backfield. At 272 pounds he is one of the most physically ready to contribute at his position this fall, but will need to continue to work hard in the weight room to improve his burst and overall strength. He will likely be in one of the major players in the defensive line rotation.
McClain Head- Head also took a redshirt in 2011 and could be a darkhorse candidate for a starting spot in the fall. At 255 pounds he is a bit undersized for a defensive tackle, but he makes up for that with a tremendous high motor and relentless work ethic. He plays with a fiery determination and is quick enough to get past bigger opponents. However, the level of competition he will face this fall will be substantial, so it remains to be seen if Head is physically ready to be an impact player. He will likely be a rotation guy this fall, but has a lot of upside and four more years of eligibility.
Marcus Stetzer- The former walk-on received significant reps this past spring with the depleted depth at defensive tackle and made the most of his opportunity. He received the praise of coach Midgett and was in very much in the conversation with Head and Huey. Stetzer will need a big fall camp to hold off some of the new faces, but he has shown before that he can rise to the challenge.
Jon Marshall Sauls- Sauls has bounced back and forth from offensive line to defensive line throughout his time as a Panther and has yet to really form his niche in either. He is currently listed on the defensive side of the ball but will need to dramatically improve to crack the rotation in 2012.
Melvin King- King is a physical specimen at 6'3 and 220 pounds. He certainly has the frame to add some more muscle weight, and he might need to take a redshirt in order to do so. But he is a very promising prospect that could overcome is lack of size with incredible talent. He was identified by coach Curry on signing day as a freshman that could contribute right away, so keep an eye out for number 99 this fall.
Tanner Strickland- Strickland is a north Georgia product that is probably one of the most physically impressive players to have ever signed with the Panthers. At 6'3 and 250 pounds he has the athleticism of a linebacker. Coach Curry even said as much when he made quite the comparison regarding Strickland. He said that the prospect reminded him of Dick Butkus because of his size and how he moves despite that size. Curry also praised Strickland for his hitting ability. While Strickland's future could end up being at inside linebacker, he could instantly compete for a starting spot at defensive end, which is an area of greater need. He is a project type player, but you can't teach size and pure strength, of which Strickland has enough to spare.
Joe Lockley- Lockley was a highly sought after recruit that signed with the Panthers February 1st despite having coaches from Mississippi State in his home just the week before signing day trying to get him to switch his commitment. That kind of attention from an SEC program is enough to get Georgia State faithful excited about the Portal, Ga product, but rumors of his performance in the weight room this fall have left fans salivating. The Panthers have yet to have a dominant defensive tackle in their short history, and it appears they may have found one in Lockley. He was one of the few identified by Curry as potential contributors and there is a lot of buzz that he could be a day one starter for Georgia State.
Jahmai Davidson- Davidson was on the same team as quarterback Ben McLane that won a state championship at Brookwood High School, so he knows what it takes to be a championship caliber team. That kind of work ethic was clear when he attended the spring scrimmage and had his head in every play, dissecting his future teammates techniques and critiquing their decisions on the field. He was ready to suit up then and there, but had some work to do in the weight room this summer. He is listed at 274, but he reportedly is up to 285 and has been a workout warrior this summer. Davidson is a type of player that Georgia State has had too few of in their first two seasons with his tremendous knowledge and love for the game of football. If some of the returners don't perform then Davidson is more than capable of surprising and earning a starting spot.
The duo of Lockley and Davidson will be the anchors in the middle for the Panthers over the next four years and by the time they are done will likely be a force to be reckoned with, but they are not content with waiting around for that day to come. They are two of the hungriest players on the team and will push their older teammates and their level of play.
Summary- The defensive line has to play better in 2012. The importance of the addition of Delic can not be understated. He will be a key part to this unit in this fall and Georgia State has plenty of young talent around him. Nonetheless, it is very worrisome that the Panthers do not have a single player along the defensive line that have played at a consistently high level in their careers. In fact, it is questionable whether or not they even yet have the personnel to be productive. I personally am a fan of this group, particularly the freshmen, and believe they will step up to the challenge and become a strength of the team. But it doesn't make Panther fans rest any easier to rely so much on unproven talent.
Georgia State's offensive line lost four starters from last season and most would believe that is a sign of trouble for the Panther's offensive hopes in 2012. However, injury problems as well as discipline issues led to the unit struggling in 2011, and this year's group knows that those struggles directly correlated to poor offensive performances. While experience along the trenches would appear to be a concern for Georgia State, the Panthers actually have four players returning that have starting experience. The line will be anchored by two massive tackles, Ulrick John and Grant King. King has started every game Georgia State has ever played. John started games at three different positions in 2012 and is super athletic for a man his size. Harrison Clottey will likely take over the right guard position where he battled for playing time the last two seasons with the now depart Ladeven Kirkland. The biggest question for the offensive line is who will start at the all important center position. One thing that is not in question, however, is that this unit must improve over last season's production. They saw their number of sacks allowed increase, despite having a more mobile quarterback in Kelton Hill, from 2010 and consistently struggled against much smaller offensive lines. From talking to some of the players, this unit is aware of all this and has come together to put this season completely on their shoulders. If that is true and the offensive line can stay healthy, it will be a special year for the Panther offense.
Ulrick John- John is 6'8 and weighs 290 pounds. He certainly has the size to be a left tackle, but probably his best attribute is his athleticism. Coach Bill Curry as well as offensive coordinator John Bond both claimed that this year's offensive line is going to be much more athletic than the unit was in 2011. And when you watch John, it's hard not to see why. He is probably fast enough and can catch well enough to play tight end. Watching him peel out to make a block is quite an imposing sight. That athleticism gives him the versatility to play anywhere on the line and he proved that point last season by starting in three different positions. John had been the backup for Georgia Tech transfer Clyde Yandell the past two seasons.Yandell was hampered by injuries last season and when he was playing he was rather inconsistent. John will likely be a significant upgrade over his predecessor's performance.
Gabriel Hampton- Hampton received an extra season of eligibility because he was injured in the first game of the season last year and missed the rest of the season. That decision was tremendous news for the Panthers because it allows them to have depth, which can not be understated considering the injury issues of the season before. Barring injury John and right tackle King should start every game, but Hampton is a very capable of filling in as he did in four games in 2010.
Nick Nesmith- Nesmith certainly has been through a lot on his journey to Georgia State. But the walk-on has never complained and has been a tremendous influence on the team off the field as well. While playing time will certainly be limited, Nesmith can play any position along the line and served as the scout teams starting center in the past. If that position does not get a true starter or suffers a multitude of injuries, Nesmith believes he can fill that role for Georgia State.
Michael Davis- Davis is a player that has certainly had more than his share of the injury bug in his time as a Panther. He was slated to start at guard in 2010 before suffering a torn ACL. And then he played in the first three games of 2011 including starting a game at center before breaking his ankle in practice. Finally healthy once again, Davis could start at left guard if the Panthers' are able to find a viable option at Center. If that position struggles than Davis could easily slide over. The concern with that is that depth is a major issue for the Panthers' at guard. Davis' health is one of the biggest factors to Georgia State's success. As long as he is healthy and is able to play his natural guard position, then Georgia State's offensive line will be in tremendous shape.
Cade Yates- Yates has been a backup the last two seasons but could be thrust into a starting role if Michael Davis has to play Center. Yates is one of the smallest lineman listed at 280 pounds, but is again an improvement athletically to his predecessor Joseph Gilbert. He saw action in four games last season. While the ideal scenario would be for him to again backup the left guard position, if called upon he will be more than ready to step up and play significant minutes.
Tim Wynn- Wynn took a redshirt in 2011 after seeing action in four games at center in 2010. The redshirt sophomore is one of the most important players on the team. He needs to take a major step forward this offseason. Wynn struggles at time with the nuances of playing Center and needs to add strength as well if he is going to be a productive player. The coaches believe he shows promise but the light needs to come on for Wynn. Curry in particular is very hard on his Centers and will continue to expect the best out of this position.
Ronald Martin- Martin split time with Wynn at center during spring practice, but neither really separated themselves from the other. Martin could consistently be seen being pulled aside by Curry after blowing an assignment. Both of these players have the talent to be productive centers, but they have yet to live up to their potential. The number one priority for Martin as well as Wynn needs to be adding size and improving their reflexes. Centers have to have incredible awareness and flexibility, something both of these players need to improve upon. This position could be the Panthers' largest question mark coming in to the 2012 season.
Harrison Clottey- Clottey is an imposing figure at 6'5 and 310 pounds. He battled with Ladeven Kirkland for a starting role the past two seasons and with Kirkland's eligibility being used up Clottey will need to take the next step and become one of the Panthers' dominant lineman. He is one of the more talented players in his unit, but for whatever reason has not been able to take it to the next level. He performed well during spring practice but the team needs him to take on a leadership role this fall and be an anchor for the line. If he realizes his potential than the right side of the line will be one of the best around.
Kam Cheatham- With David Huey and John Marshall Sauls moving over to the defensive side of the ball, the guard position is in some desperate need of depth. Cheatham will look to add that depth at the right guard position. The Junior has never seen game action for the Panthers' but has the size and talent to do so if called upon. As with the right guard position, the ideal situation is for Clottey to remain healthy and for Cheatham to serve his backup role. But with the luck the Georgia State offensive lineman had in that area last season, all of the offensive lineman need to be prepared to step in at any moment.
Grant King- King has started and performed well in every single game Georgia State has ever played. He has been the model of consistency and will be the leader of the unit in every way this season. Having someone like King who has been through the battles is invaluable to a team. He will be looked upon to shepherd this young group and help them realize their full potential. As stated previously, as long as the two remain healthy, the right side of the line will be something special this season.
Rammel Davis- Davis is one of the enigmas of the Georgia State football team. He certainly has the physical tools to be an extremely dominant offensive lineman, but was consistently beaten by smaller more athletic defensive lineman during spring practice. Davis is an important player for the Panthers because he will likely be the primary backup for both tackle positions. He needs to improve his athleticism in order for Panther fans to be confident when he is on the field.
LT Garrett Gorringe- Gorringe is the probably the one player that is the most physically ready to play as a true freshman. He is known as being an incredibly hard worker and someone who will be a mainstay on the line for his career as a Panther. If health is not a concern for the Panthers then they would love for Gorringe to take a redshirt, but he is one of the few guys you could look at and know that he could play on the offensive line as a true freshman. Keep an eye out for #59 this fall.
RT Treavor Flannigan- Flannigan is the most likely redshirt candidate on the offensive line. He needs to add size as he comes in at just 265 pounds and will get the chance to do so. Hampton's extra year of eligibility allows for Flannigan to have that opportunity and keep his name in mind in a couple seasons when King and John have moved on. It would be a very pleasant surprise for Georgia State to find to tackle anchors in one class.
C Mark Ruskell- Ruskell is the dark horse in the battle for the center position. Wynn and Martin have given no indication that they have the position locked down. Ruskell is a very intelligent athlete who was an all-county selection in the super competitive Gwinnett County. He has the size already at 6'2 and 280 pounds. I am told he has already added muscle to his frame this off season and could be ready to play as a true freshman. If he does prove to be the best option at center, then that would free up Michael Davis to play next to him at left guard. The value of that can not be understated. Davis has not only played center, but he is the president of the leadership council and would be an incredible asset to a young center. It will certainly be an interesting battle this fall to see who will anchor down one of the most important positions on Coach Bill Curry's team.
Aaron Thomas- Georgia State has two signees that have yet to make it on campus. Guard prospect Thomas one of this two. It is unclear whether or not he will be here in the fall, and if he is not then that will be a big loss for the Panthers as Thomas could have been a candidate for early playing time at the left guard position.
Georgia State's offense enters the 2012 football season with as much depth as a team could possibly ask for at the skill positions. Last week the running back position and its six returning contributors were featured. This week the focus shifts to the wide receivers.
The leader of the receiving corps, and possibly the most talented player on the roster regardless of position, is Albert Wilson.Wilson is one of the fastest players on the team as well as one of the more vocal leaders. As was the case with running back Donald Russell, Wilson missed some time after suffering an injury against Jacksonville State. The Panther offense sputtered mightily without him and he burst back on the scene in a big way with his performance against South Alabama when he set a school record with 175 yards receiving on just five catches. Lining up opposite of Wilson is perhaps the Panther's most consistent performers in their short history, Danny Williams. Williams has caught a pass in every single game Georgia State has ever played. He is the career leader in receptions as well as receiving yards. Starting in the slot is Jordan Giles, who just came off a fantastic spring camp which led to him being named the Panthers' Best Performer on offense. Adding depth to the group are backups Nate Minor, Bo Carter, Darren McCray, and Lynquez Blair as well as incoming freshman Avery Sweeting.
The group's production was limited last season due to the revolving door of quarterbacks as well as poor offensive line play. Georgia State saw their passing production drop from 2,247 yards in 2010 to 2,039 in 2011. Many began to question the talent of the receivers because of such a drop in production. However, with Ben McLane having been named the starter (for now) and a improved and more athletic offensive line, Georgia State wide receivers are looking for a major bounce back season this year.
Albert Wilson- Wilson is generally considered to be the most talented player on the roster for Georgia State. His injury left the Panthers stagnant on offense and his return against South Alabama could best be described as simply explosive. His incredible 20.9 yards per catch on 37 catches for 772 yards proves that he was a highlight reel waiting to happen. Wilson's athleticism gives him the opportunity to take the ball at any part of the field and go the distance. His contributions were not only felt on offense but on special teams as well where he ranked 8th in the nation in punt return average at 11.9 yards per return.
Georgia State may look to limit Wilson's playing time on returns, however, in an attempt to keep him healthy. He is too important to the offense to risk being hurt on a kick return. However, there was a moment during spring practice when the returners muffed three kicks in a row, causing great frustration to head coach Bill Curry. Wilson saw this happen and stepped in to return the kick and immediately took it to the house for a long touchdown. Therefore, if the Panthers' struggle in the return game, don't be surprised to see Wilson put himself in a position to make a play.
Danny Williams- Georgia State's career leading receiver seemed to struggle at times last season. Williams enjoyed such a good connection with 2010 starter Drew Little that it seemed as though he was out of sync with the quarterbacks in 2011. Presumed starter Ben McLane recognized this and said he has worked hard with Williams this off season to build the kind of chemistry that he had with Little. One thing is for certain, the Panthers need a productive Williams in order to be successful. Wilson will certainly garner the attention of the safeties with his ability to stretch the field, and where Williams excels is in the mid range routes where timing and precision route running are key. If Offensive Coordinator John Bond is able to stretch the defense and keep them aware of Albert, thus opening the middle of the field for Williams 6'4 frame to roam without fear of annihilation from a safety over top, then it will be a very much improved passing attack for the Panthers.
Jordan Giles- Giles is one of the more popular players on the team and a consistent performer in every way. With an admired work ethic and plenty of skill, Giles could be set for a breakout season. He was fourth the fourth leading receiver on the team last season with 16 catches for 264 yards and four touchdowns. As mentioned before, Giles had an excellent spring camp and seemed to have really good chemistry with Ben McLane. McLane likes to check down to the shorter routes frequently rather than throw the deep ball and risk an Interception, so look for Giles production to increase this season.
Nathaniel Minor- The former walk on from Brookwood High School is certainly no stranger to catching passes from Ben McLane. The two led the Broncos to a state championship just two seasons ago and now Minor will be looked to provide some depth to a very talented receiving corps. After impressing many during fall camp, Minor contributed minimally in his first season only recording five catches for 33 yards. But after another productive spring he is projected to be the back up to Albert Wilson in the X receiver position. Minor is a tall target with solid hands in traffic and is definitely someone the Panthers want to see develop over the next two seasons in preparation for losing Williams, Wilson and Giles in 2014.
Lynquez Blair- Lynquez is another candidate for possibly fastest player on the team. Blair came to Georgia State with the reputation of being a burner and possibly a contributor right away considering his big play potential. However, he did not catch a pass in 2011 and he developed a small reputation for being a poor pass catcher. Blair still struggled dropping the ball at times during the spring, but much more often than not him and McLane did hook up for the big play that most predicted. He was by far one of the standout players on offense this spring and will look to add a spark to a passing attack that struggled mightily last season.
Darren McCray- McCray was hampered by a injury for the first half of 2011, but came back to catch five passes for 55 yards and return five kicks for an average 22.6 yards per return. He was the first person in Georgia State history to return a kick for a touchdown and also had an electrifying 41 yard touchdown run on a reverse against Jacksonville State in 2010. With him and Wilson being out last season the Panthers lacked a target with the speed to stretch the defense. However, McCray was another guy that the coaches identified as being one of the standout players this spring. If he can stay healthy look for him and Parris Lee to be the main kick returners and I would expect at least one or two big time plays out of McCray this season with limited playing time.
Bo Carter- Carter is another former walk on that has seen limited playing time over his first two season with the Panthers, but is a tall and reliable target. He rarely drops balls and is known as a leader on the team despite his limited production.
Avery Sweeting- Sweeting was the lone signee for the position last February. He was an all area selection by the Brunswick News and is known for his blazing speed. Avery qualified for state in the 100 and 200 meter events each of the last two years and returned five kickoffs for touchdowns in his career at Brunswick high school. Barring injury, Sweeting will most likely take a redshirt in 2012, but if Lee, Wilson, or McCray become unavailable to return kicks then he could be called upon to fill that void for Georgia State.
Any time a football team returns its top six players at a position, there is going to be a lot of optimism for excellent production. That is the case for Georgia State at the running back position. Former Kentucky transfer Donald Russell leads the group and returns for one final season as a Panther. He will be backed up primarily by juniors Travis Evans and Parris Lee. Rounding out the depth at the position for Georgia State will be fifth year senior Malcom Smith, senior Roosevelt Watson, and sophomore Rendell Wilder.
Georgia State’s backfield will be one of the deepest and most talented units on the team. Along with the efforts of mobile quarterback Kelton Hill, the running backs were able to increase the team’s rushing production on the season from 1,356 yards in 2010 to 1,847 yards in 2011. This season the running game will be relied upon more than ever to add stability to an offense that has struggled to find an identity over its first two seasons.
Donald Russell- The transfer from Kentucky, lovingly referred to as "The Donald" by the Panther faithful, was the team’s leading rusher last season, finishing the year with 665 yards despite being limited by injuries. Russell started off the season splitting carries evenly with Travis Evans and impressed right away by scoring 4 touchdowns in the team’s first three games. Russell then missed the Houston game with an injury, but would return against Murray State where he would begin a four game stretch where he would carry the ball 73 times for 386 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and 5 touchdowns. However, another injury would limit him against St. Francis and West Alabama before he closed the season with a season high 146 yards.
Russell arrived on campus last season and some doubted whether or not he would be productive as he appeared to be slightly overweight and out of shape. He proved the doubters wrong however with an extremely productive season that was marred by knee and ankle injuries.
"The Donald" responded to those injury issues by becoming quite the workout warrior in the off season. He appeared in fall camp as a chiseled specimen with tree trunks for legs. While he may not have elite top end speed, he has tremendous agility and ball carrier vision. Russell needs to continue to build his strength in the offseason to build his durability and be able to become an every down back. If he were to get 20 carries per game, then he could be a Walter Payton candidate. However, concerns with his durability as well as the depth for the Panthers at running back probably will not allow that to happen.
Travis Evans- Evans, junior, has been a model of consistency for Georgia State over his first two seasons in the blue and white. He was the team’s second leading rusher in 2010 and the third leading rusher in 2011, finishing behind mobile quartertback Kelton Hill both seasons as well as Donald Russell in 2011. He has averaged 4.6 yards per carry over those two seasons and contributed in the passing game as well by recording the third most receptions on the team in 2011. His best performance of the season was when he rushed for 70 yards against Houston in Russell’s absence. He also missed a limited amount of time due to injury last season and was slightly banged up during spring practice.
Evans is a fearless runner who slams through the smallest of holes and has great speed to get to the second level. He is one of the more complete backs on the team in that he excels at carrying the ball, catching the ball out of the backfield, as well as blocking. Evans will likely be a consistent target of presumed starter Ben McLane, who consistently prefers to check down rather than take a chance on a risky pass down the field. One of his more important qualities, however, is that he is one of the vocal leaders of the team.
Evans will continue to spell Russell and will likely finish somewhere in the 300 yards rushing mark with 15-20 catches. If Russell were to again have problems with durability, Panther fans can rest easy knowing #21 will be there to fill in.
Parris Lee- The junior from Jacksonville, Florida is one of the most talented players on the roster and was one of the first three star athletes, as rated by rivals.com, to sign with Georgia State. However, other than recording the first touchdown in Panther history, Lee’s production has been rather limited.
Lee came to Georgia State as a slot wide receiver, but was moved to running back before the start of the 2010 season. He is a tremendous athlete and has made his most significant contribution on kickoff returns, where he averaged 23.2 yards per return in 2011. His four yards per carry average on 40 attempts in 2010 was good enough for third on the team, but his production dropped in an injury shortened 2011 as he rushed the ball just 19 times for 58 yards (3.1 yards per carry).
Nonetheless, the fact remains that Lee is one of the best athletes on the field any time he is in the game. He has the ability to break open a big play at any time and is a versatile threat out of the backfield. Look for Lee to be the Panther’s main kick returner in order to protect Albert Wilson and his production as a receiver, and for him to get some chances as a change of pace to Russell and Evans.
Malcom Smith- Smith is a former walk on who has been relied upon to add depth at the running back throughout his Panther career. However, when given the opportunity to be one of the leading backs while Evans, Lee, and Russell being injured towards the end of the year, he responded with 37 yards on eight carries against West Alabama and 34 yards on five carries against Campbell including a 12 yard touchdown run. He continued that production into the spring and recorded 17 yards on four carries in the Spring Scrimmage.
Smith was rumored to be considering leaving the team in 2012 and just focusing on school, but decided to return for one final season. Offensive Coordinator John Bond said that due to the roster limitations for travel in the CAA, there will only be three running backs taken to away games. Russell and Lee seem like sure bets, therefore Smith will be battling with three others for the final spot. If Lee continues to struggle with inconsistency or durability, Smith is a capable option to fill that final spot, as he showed with his performance towards the end of last season.
Roosevelt Watson- This senior was the Panthers starting running back during the inaugural season, but was less productive than Lee and Evans and therefore losing a grip on that position. A preseason knee injury limited Watson to just two games in 2011 just one rushing attempt.
Unfortunately, the best memory most have of Watson is a 39 yard trick play touchdown pass to Danny Williams in a loss against NAIA school Lambuth in 2010. Watson came back from the injury this spring and was very productive. That productivity showed in the Spring Scrimmage where he ran the ball for 34 yards on just six carries. Watson will see a very limited number of carries throughout the season and will be counted on as more of a leader off the field rather than his production on the field.
Rendell Wilder- Wilder finds himself entering 2011 as the only scholarship running back that will be an underclassman. He took a redshirt during the 2010 season and contributed mainly as a kick returner in 2011, returning 8 kicks at an average of 16.6 yards per return.
Wilder will be buried on the depth chart most of this season and next, but his athleticism will allow him to continue to contribute on special teams in preparation for his day to become a productive ball carrier for the Panthers. He showed flashes of good talent during spring practice and the future certainly looks bright for the Decatur native.
All six of the Panthers returning running backs have seen game action and all have productive in some capacity. This is one of the deepest units on the team and will be relied upon to ease the pressure of having a freshman quarterback.
As Georgia State prepares the enter the CAA in 2012, this series will look at the depth chart for the Panthers and identify who has the inside track to see the field this fall. This edition focuses on the quarterbacks.
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