Aug. 3, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
More linebackers, one less lineman, a big nose tackle, all these new blitz angles . . . jeez, is there a new 3-4 defense at Georgia Tech or a breath of fresh air? Try both.
Yet for all the interest in the front seven as Tech swings to the plan of new defensive coordinator Al Groh, the view also is changing from the back. Fog is clearing.
“I’d probably say the biggest difference is that it’s going to be more defined whether [DBs] are in straight coverage or [run] support responsibilities on each play,” said Cooper Taylor, who missed much of last season with a heart condition that has been corrected.
“Last year . . . we put safeties and corners out there in a no man’s land. Pre-snap, you know you’re either 100 percent in the box for run or in man to man coverage. Everything is black and white now instead of having that gray area where you have to read it.”
Factor in moving pieces, and the secondary has kept pace with the to and fro movement between defensive end and outside linebacker as the two busiest parts of Tech’s program.
Jerrard Tarrant has moved from cornerback to safety, Dominique Reese from safety to cornerback, and safety Cooper Taylor is healthy again. Where last year Charles Kelly coached cornerbacks and former defensive coordinator Dave Wommack worked with safeties, Kelly is this campaign in charge of both.
“I’m really excited because last year we were split up with corners and safeties,” said Reese, who started at safety 12 games as a sophomore and six times last season in an autumn interrupted by injuries. “This year, everybody’s hearing the same thing so I think we’ll be on the same page.
“It was kind of difficult because we were putting in a lot of stuff. We would change defense from week to week to try to stop what our opponent was doing instead of just trying to do what we do best.”
Senior cornerback Mario Butler, who started every game last season, believes that Groh’s front seven might help his back four. “I think we might be able to roam a little bit,” he said. “I think the cover corner can be more aggressive with the outside linebacker out there some times, and maybe sit on [anticipate] certain routes.”
The Jackets didn’t work much on blitz packages in spring practice, but they’ve developed a sense of what lies ahead in that regard. Perhaps they won’t have to cover as long, and can gamble more if the rush picks up. “With Coach Groh, he’s bringing blitzes so the ball is coming out faster,” Reese said. “I like that better.”
There figures to be earnest competition at safety, where Tarrant – who started 10 games at corner last season – and senior Mario Edwards are listed as starters with sophomores Taylor and Jemea Thomas and freshmen Isaiah Johnson and Lance Richardson in the mix.
“I think people may count us down and out for losing those [Morgan Burnett and Derrick Morgan] guys, but I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. We return pretty much everybody else, and I’m so excited,” Taylor said. “I think we’re going to have an answer for everything. Having one more skill guy instead of a defensive lineman . . . you’re going to have more versatility.” Often, there is excitement associated with change just because it represents a break from monotony, from what you’ve been doing over and over. Not so in the case of the Yellow Jackets, who last season rarely seemed to do the same thing twice, at least on defense.
On The Flats, there should be cautious optimism because the previous plan(s) too rarely worked well.
Having Groh on the sideline during games rather than in the coaches box may help as well. Tech’s past two defensive coordinators, Wommack and Jon Tenuta, worked upstairs on game day.
“Definitely, because right when we come off the field we can go talk to him,” said Reese. “We don’t have to wait to get on the phone or everybody pass the phone around. He can get right there where all 11 guys are and get everybody around in a huddle and we can tell him what the problem is and he can address it right there on the blackboard.
“Coach Groh, he’s fiery but at the same time you can tell him what’s going on out there so you can make adjustments.”