One of the biggest uncertainties concerning Georgia Tech’s transition from an option offense to a spread attack revolves around receivers. But for the first time in 11 years, the Yellow Jackets are going to need people — a lot of people — who can catch the ball.
The process began when the new staff arrived in January, carried through into spring practice and continued in earnest into preseason camp. Slowly but surely, wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon and others began to identify the prospective pass catchers most likely to find themselves “Above the Line” on the depth chart when the season begins.
Dixon said the improvement over the last eight months has been noticeable.
“It’s a testament to Coach Lew (Lewis Caralla, strength coach) and what they did over the summer,” Dixon said. “They came back here in way better shape, a lot stronger, running a lot faster. They understand the techniques we’re teaching them and it has allowed them to make some plays.”
The top candidates are starting to make themselves known:
Malachi Carter: The 6-3, 195-pound sophomore from Mountain View High School, may have the most upside among those on the roster. He had five receptions, one for a touchdown, in 2018.
“I’ve been around a lot of good receivers and Malachi could be really special,” Dixon said. “He’s got good speed, great length and his catch radius is off the chart. He’s still learning the game and the he understands leverage, the more he understands coverage structure, the sky is the limit. He has to continue to stay humble and continue to work hard all the time.”
Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude was effusive in his praise of Carter. “Malachi Carter is playing at an unbelievable level. I’m not trading that dude for anybody.”
Jalen Camp: The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior from Cumming is the most experienced receiver and a key leader on the team. Camp caught 11 passes last year for an average of 16.9 yards.
“Jalen is our leader,” Dixon said. “He’s helping the young guys out. He’s unbelievable in the (receiver’s) room. His leadership qualities have really helped.”
Ahmarean Brown: The true freshman (5-10, 155) from Tampa, Fla., was an early enrollee who had a good headstart in spring. He’s gained 10 pounds since reporting, but could still benefit from adding a few more.
“He understands his body a lot better, he’s seeing the defensive structure better and it’s allowing him to get open and make some plays,” Dixon said.
Josh Blancato: The redshirt sophomore (5-10, 180) from Marietta has earned a chance to play because of his work ethic and understanding of the offense. Brown and Blancato have earned extra attention for their ability to run their routes to the middle of the field.
“(Blancato) is one of the hardest workers on the team,” Dixon said. “I see it every day at practice. He cares. He’s a smart young man, he’s a great teammate and has great leadership qualities. He does a good job getting open and making plays on the ball.”
Others who bear watching include sophomore Adonicus Sanders, redshirt freshman Peje Harris, junior Stephen Dolphus and possibly incoming freshmen Zach Owens, Kalani Norris and Nazir Burnett.
Harris has a bigger body (6-3, 215) than most and has distinguished himself in the intermediate passing game. Dolphus, who played at Westside Macon, has been dealing with injuries. Sanders was on the fast track last season when he was sidelined with a broken collarbone.
There remains a chance that redshirt freshman Marquis Ezzard, a transfer from Miami, could receive a waiver and be eligible this fall.
“It’s all starting to sort itself out,” Dixon said. “We have an idea of who’s working above the line. We’re hoping some guys show up and do some things in the scrimmage and bring depth … or even break out.”