The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are a popular pick by many to defend their ACC Coastal Division title in 2015 and make another run at the conference championship. A major reason for the confidence in GT is the overwhelming experience that head coach Paul Johnson enjoys at many key positions on both sides of the ball. But the Yellow Jacket defense took a hit over the weekend with the loss of projected starting linebacker Anthony Harrell.
Harrell’s story remains muddled at the moment as there are conflicting reports on the schism between the senior linebacker and Georgia Tech. On Friday, the team announced via Twitter that Harrell had been suspended indefinitely, which Johnson confirmed in a text message to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was for a violation of team rules. The player had a different view of the situation, however, responding to the team’s Twitter account that he had not been suspended but would be joining the Florida Gators next season as a graduate transfer.
Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that Harrell is done playing for Georgia Tech and that’s a blow to the Yellow Jacket defense. Harrell looked to be slated into a starting spot at middle linebacker, replacing Quayshawn Nealy who graduated after recording 92 tackles in 2014. Harrell looked to be the heir apparent for the job as the most experienced linebacker off the sidelines with 54 career tackles, including 19 last season. Without Harrell in the mix, Georgia Tech will likely expand the roles of juniors Beau Hankins and Chase Alford this fall.
At Florida, Harrell will have an opportunity to compete for playing time at both middle linebacker and weakside linebacker while playing closer to his hometown of Tampa, Florida. The Gators lost a couple key contributors at linebacker this offseason due to graduation with both Michael Taylor and Neiron Ball moving on. The unit could still be one of the best in the SEC, however, in large part due to the return of Antonio Morrison for his senior season. The key for the Gators is surrounding Morrison with a supporting cast.
There will be plenty of competition as the Gator defense remains well stocked with elite talent but can Harrell make an impact in his one season in the Swamp? And will Georgia Tech be able to fill the hole at middle linebacker to get back to the ACC Championship?