Georgia Tech's offensive line has looked like a very different unit from 2010 to 2011. Many of the same pieces are back from the 2010 squad like guards Will Jackson and Omoregie Uzzi and tackle Phil Smith, but the attitude and quality of play is very different.
Uzzi and Jackson have started every game this season along with center Jay Finch, but the Jackets are rotating three offensive tackles, Ray Beno, Tyler Kidney and Smith at left and right tackle, so there isn't really one thing that sticks out about why there is a difference in the level of play so far. Jackson says the Goon Squad mentality adopted by the line is the difference.
"I think our attitude is the biggest difference from last year," Jackson said. "We thought the attitude was good last year, but we came together in the offseason and said as a group that last year's performance wasn't going to cut it. We really focused on coming out and working hard and being focused and positive no matter what the circumstances are or how hard practice is or even how long the day is, we are just going to keep pushing through to Saturday."
All of the linemen contributing in the main rotation this season are in their third year or more in the program as opposed to last season when Jackson and sometimes Finch were thrown into starting roles as redshirt freshmen. Kidney came on at the end of the season as a solid back in 2010 down the stretch and ended up on scholarship and Beno finally found a spot on the field at offensive tackle after moving back and forth from center and guard during his first two season. Uzzi has been the rock of the line for the last two seasons while Smith is finally coming back physically and mentally from his traumatic leg injury in 2009.
"Last year I was the young pup on the line sandwiched between Nick Claytor and Sean Bedford who were both really seniors who are no longer here and now I am playing mostly with guys from my class," Jackson said. "We went through workouts, scout team and now practices together for three years and that has definitely paid dividends on the field. We still haven't played really well yet and while Uzzi is lighting it up every week, but we need to work on the backside and getting everything cut off and being consistent on the playside with the push on every play."
Those factors have all combined to make the 2011 offensive line look better in 2011. Health has also been a key. Jackson missed large chunks of several games last year with chronic ankle and shoulder issues.
"Last year I had an ankle that didn't get better all year and I never quite came back from that and it gave me issues all year. I also had an issue with my shoulder that lingered and I made a consistent focus on staying in the weight room in the offseason."
The Jackets are leading the nation in total offense and scoring this season behind the work of the Goon Squad.