Originally created 10/31/06

Undersized is the right size on Georgia Tech's lines



ATLANTA -- Darryl Richard epitomized the label "big man on campus" when he arrived at Georgia Tech three years ago.

At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, he looked like a defensive tackle who could play for Woody Hayes' Ohio State team or Tom Osborne at Nebraska.

Then came a mandate from coach Chan Gailey staff: Cut the weight.

The Yellow Jackets value speed, strength and athleticism over bulk and brawn along both their offensive and defensive lines. That is Gailey's philosophy, both in recruiting and in the offseason weight-training and conditioning programs.

And why Georgia Tech features two of the smallest lines in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"Size doesn't mean that much," said Richard, who is down to 285 but remains the Yellow Jackets' largest defensive lineman. "If you got the heart, it's going to replace those pounds."

Georgia Tech's offensive line is the Atlantic Coast Conference's second smallest -- ahead of Duke -- with an average weight of 293 pounds.

Tackle Mansfield Wrotto is the lone Jacket offensive lineman to strain the scales at over 300 pounds. Meanwhile, this week's opponent, North Carolina State features a line that averages 307 pounds.

Yet the Yellow Jackets' mites help the offense rank second in the ACC in rushing and have allowed the third fewest sacks.

"We said when we came here we were going to build our whole team on speed," Gailey said. "You choose. We'd like to have fast and big guys. That would be the choice, but we wanted to have people who can move."

The Jackets' defensive front can really move. They are the conference's fourth-smallest group, with a converted linebacker, Darrell Robertson, and a converted tight end, Michael Johnson, sharing one of the defensive end spots.

The smaller defensive lines are at Florida State, which has been ravaged by injuries; Wake Forest, which shares Gailey's speed-over-size philosophy; and NC State, which is still anchored by the appropriately named Tank Tyler, a 305-pounder.

Georgia Tech's quickness up front shows up in big plays. The defense ranks third in the ACC in sacks and forced turnovers.

Yet going small is a risk-reward proposition. The gamble is the Yellow Jackets can offset any size disadvantage with their speed.

Clemson showed 10 days ago how the Jackets' relative runts can be pushed around. The Tiger lines average 320 pounds on offense and 283 on defense.

The offense rushed for 320 yards and defensive front was able to put pressure on Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball without blitzing help from the linebackers or defensive backs.

"That game just showed you have to penetrate and create a new line of scrimmage when you can," Richard said.

Penetration is less vital to the Yellow Jackets' offensive line. The group is not your prototypical "file cabinets on wheels." The linemen pride themselves on fast footwork -- often debating whose feet are the fleetest -- and good blocking technique.

Rarely do they fire out of their stance at the snap and attempt to pancake defenders across from them.

Guard Matt Rhodes, who is listed at 280 pounds but is closer to 270, according to Wrotto, is one of the most fundamentally sound offensive linemen in the nation.

"Early on in camp I'd look at a guy like Matt Rhodes and think, 'This guy is really undersized to play guard,'" said Wrotto, who moved to offensive tackle from defensive tackle in the spring. "But he and the rest have excellent technique, and that makes up for a lot. I've seen Matt Rhodes at 270 or 275 go up against 300-pound tackles and dominate them with his technique."

Offensive linemen like Rhodes and tackle Andrew Gardner, who's put on 50 pounds the last three years to get to his present weight of 290, and defensive counterparts, Robertson (205 to 245) and Johnson (215 to 250), are why Gailey is not afraid to recruit small and develop big.

Or in Richard's case, recruit big and shrink down to size.

"I knew I needed to cut that weight or I wouldn't be able to play in fourth quarters," Richard said. "I'm moving so much better now."

As for the reclaiming the "big man on campus" label, Richard said he still has time. He is a red-shirt sophomore with two more years of college football ahead.

"I'd definitely like to get back up around 290, 295," he said. "I'm still young. I still have time."

Reach reporter Adam Van Brimmer at adam.vanbrimmer@morris.com or 404-589-8424.