April 2, 2018
THE FLATS — It will be nearly three weeks before fans lay eyes on Georgia Tech’s new defense, yet nobody need wait for the April 20 spring game to understand head coach Paul Johnson’s thoughts about the 3-4 being installed by coordinator Nate Woody and his staff.
Distilled into four words: more-doesn’t-mean-better!
The Yellow Jackets’ playbook on that side of the ball has shrunk. When Tech practices in full pads Monday afternoon for the second time, the defense will likely continue to trail the offense in comprehension, but only because everybody on that side of the ball is new to the game.
“Offensively, it’s probably a little easier because you’ve got nine or 10 starters who’ve played, but you can’t go too fast because then you lose the young kids,” Johnson said of the Jackets’ installation speeds.
“Defensively, they’re all starting over and I think what Nate and the staff want to do is get into the basics . . . I don’t want to run 40 defenses. I want to get good at a few and execute and play fast. So, we went about two ways today and that’s about the way we play.”
Surely, there will be more than two defensive calls to be made by the time Alcorn State visits Bobby Dodd Stadium on Sept. 1. Even then, there will not be a lot.
The Jackets may not finish installing defense in their 12 spring practices and scrimmages. That process could continue into preseason practices in August. Johnson does not seem worried, however. Tech’s new defense is not calculus; it’s a simpler kind of math, albeit new.
And he and Woody are more interested at this time in the numbers.
“It just depends on how fast they pick it up. We’ll get all the offense in [during the spring practices],” Johnson said. “Defensively, it will just depend. We’re not going to have a lot of it. We’re going to have way less defense, I can tell you that.”
The Jackets have plenty of moving parts, chiefly on defense.
Rising senior A.J. Gray will be the only returning starter among five in the secondary, and he’s not practicing in the spring as he rehabilitates. Potential starting safety Jalen Johnson is also out, as are projected starting offensive tackle Andrew Marshall and likely placekicker Shawn Davis.
Frankly, the parts take priority over the process in the spring.
These practices and scrimmages are more about evaluating players than installing systems, so that when the team goes to summer practice to prepare for the regular season, most pieces will already be in place. They’re prepping for summer.
In some ways, the regular season looks like vacation as all pieces and plans will be in place by then. Before vacation, though, you have to pack, and before you pack, you have to make a packing list.
Johnson, Woody and the coaching staff are working on lists and some older, established players already are on them.
“Some of those guys didn’t get as many reps [Saturday] because we wanted to look at a lot of young guys,” Johnson said. “On defense, they’re trying to evaluate all of them. Right now, we’re just running a couple formations on offense and one or two defenses so that’s it.
“You can gauge what’s going on individually. You can see who can block and who can tackle and who can make plays and who breaks tackles. I’m not going to evaluate scheme off the first day in pads.”
This is a different kind of spring for Georgia Tech football.
Beyond the installation of a new defense, Johnson may for a change protect his scholarship quarterbacks from contact because Tech has just three: senior TaQuon Marshall, redshirt sophomore Lucas Johnson and redshirt freshman Tobias Oliver.
Back on defense, players are moving around in what amounts to an experimental phase. There are safeties who might play linebacker, linebackers who might play safety, linebackers who might rush the passer more often than not, and so forth.
Senior linebacker Victor Alexander, for example, already looks like he might be a special fit outside, where he could frequently rush the passer. That will be a big deal this season, particularly since starting defensive ends KeShun Freeman and Antonio Simmons will soon graduate.
“Vic’s a good athlete – strong, fast. There’s not all the traffic and reads [outside]; he can just play fast,” Johnson said.
There is little scheming going on in practices. Coaches are more focused on creating match-ups, not taking advantage of them.
“We don’t worry about each other,” Johnson said of the offensive and defensive coaching staffs. “During the week the offensive coaches will tell the defensive coaches what’s going in and vice-versa. Nobody is trying to game anybody. We’re trying to evaluate the players.”