June 21, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Georgia Tech defensive line coach Mike Pelton has drawn a line in the sand for his unit as far as expectations for 2016.
It’s a kind of stubborn mindset and stalwart, unbreakable behavior that he wants to see on the field from his unit beginning on September 3 at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, when the Yellow Jackets open their 2016 season against Boston College. He believes the unit got off to a good start in spring practice, which concluded with defensive domination in the spring game.
The Jackets have room for improvement after finishing eighth in the ACC in scoring defense, total defense, and third-down conversions, 10th in rushing defense, and 11th in turnover margin last season. In addition, they need to replace their top defensive lineman, defensive tackle Adam Gotsis, who is aiming to play football on Sundays with the Denver Broncos, who drafted him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
But they also have lots of depth and plenty of hungry young players looking to push the upperclassmen.
Pelton recently met with the media and expressed some of his preliminary whos and hows in not only in replacing Gotsis but in leading the charge up front, rejuvenating the Jackets defense and stocking up the D-Line.
THE GOOD WORD: How did it feel to see all four starters from last season finish the spring as well as having depth at each position?
Mike Pelton: “It was not something you’re used to here with the depth, but we got a couple of things done this spring. I thought we really had a competitive spring with [Brentavious] Glanton, [Kyle] Cerge-Henderson, Pat [Gamble] and Francis [Kallon]. Of course, we have to do it on Saturday, but just the attitude and the technique that we were trying to execute with this spring in improving the pass rush, winning one-on-ones and understanding who we have to become to be an effective defensive line, I think we’re on the right path. We’re headed in the right direction.”
TGW: What do you lose in the locker room with Adam Gotsis’ graduation? Who do you see picking up the leadership mantle?
PELTON: “I think Pat’s trying to do that, but I think every guy has a different way they do that. I think KeShun [Freeman] is trying to be a leader, I think Pat’s trying to do it. Sometimes you’re pushed into that role just by who you are. I think a lot of guys look to Pat Gamble for that, because he’s been around, he’s played, he’s kind of the guy they’re looking to for that. But each guy contributes differently. Some of it’s vocal, some of it’s playing, some of it’s on the field, off the field. It’ll be interesting to see when we get involved in a real affair, who steps up and who listens to each of those guys. Three seniors, [Rod] Rook[-Chungong], Francis and Pat, it’s going to be interesting. I’ve never had that many besides the first year I got here, but it’ll be interesting to see who steps up to be the leader of the crew.”
TGW: What did you do in the spring to improve the pass rush?
PELTON: “We put an emphasis on it. We defined it for them. We defined what a successful rush is. I’m not saying we hadn’t done that before, but it was, ‘Hey, sack or quarterback hit or bust.’ Now it’s ‘You need to rush in your own lanes, understanding what we’re trying to do, understanding the concepts of the defense and where the quarterback escapes and keeping the quarterback in the pocket, and just affecting the quarterback, getting him off his spot, all those things. There’s not a better quarterback in the country to make you do that than Justin Thomas. He’s going to keep you honest with your rush lanes, because if you break down, he comes out of there. It was a great bit of emphasis on ‘Hey, front four, you’ve got to be those guys.’ By no means are we there, but we’re headed in the right direction with those things.”
TGW: Coach Johnson said at the end of last season ‘We’ll never have a year like this again.’ How did last season affect your off-season preparation?
PELTON: “I think it’s just a sense of urgency going. Nobody wants to go through that again. With the games that we lost, in seven out of nine with three minutes or so to go in the fourth quarter, we were still in the game. So it boiled town to technique, it boiled down to execution. How can we execute better? How can we coach better? You question all those things and you try to turn over every rock, try to find every minute detail that you can. Coach Johnson has put the pressure on the coaches, and therefore the pressure is put on the players. So it just rolls down hill. The urgency from him, the urgency to us, the urgency to them. I think he’s made it very clear that there is an urgency. It comes from the top. Nobody wants to experience that again — the fans, the coaches, the players — it was awful. But even in times like that, there’s something we can learn from and know that we have to improve. We need to establish being more physical. Coach Roof established fast and physical. I think we have to do a better job of getting them to third down and being more physical up front and attacking the ball. There weren’t a lot of turnovers last year, so that can tell you how aggressive we were. So I think all that has to improve. Everything from coaches to players to schemes. When you go 3-9 you look at all of it, and the first person you look at is yourself. How can I coach better? Did I have the right combination the field? Did I prepare them well through the week? Did I give them a good thought process of what they were going to see during the week? You research, you do all those things. You want to make sure that as a defensive line coach that you’re giving them a good plan to go out and execute and put them in good positions to go out and win … give us a chance to win.”
PELTON: “I tell them all, the best will play, and the best thing a freshman can do — I told the freshmen last year — ‘Sit down and shut up and put your head down and go to work, because I don’t want to hear anything you’ve got to say. I just want to see what you can do.’ In saying that, the last two years we’ve had KeShun start, and we’ve had Kyle start. So a freshman will get an opportunity if that’s what they want to do. The advantage those guys had was they came in in January. These guys coming in in the fall, they will get a look. It’s wide open. Now is it tougher? Yes, because you have basically two weeks to show what you can do. But if those guys are ready to play and those guys can beat somebody out, more power to them.”
BONUS: What is the hardest part about recruiting for Georgia Tech?
PELTON: “Recruiting is identifying what you want in your program then going and finding it. Certain kids fit the profile here academically. You could say it limits you, but there are some good academic kids out there. You’ve just got to find them, and it’s got to be a mutual interest. Georgia Tech has a lot to offer. It’s just identifying them and then getting in and recruiting. We have some good kids here we recruited. A lot of them people didn’t want. You’ve got to go out and see what you like, and what you think fits your profile and go recruit it. The first thing I do is I look at them, then the next thing is transcript. What’s his transcript look like? Next thing you want to do is the background. You have to do all those things because here you have to find the guy that academics is just as important as football. You also want to get that kid that can come here and go beat Florida State. So it’s a combination, but once you’ve been here long enough, it’s just like anything. You know the rules, you know the terrain, you just have to go find it. And you’ve got to live with it. Recruiting is like rolling the dice, you don’t ever know if they’re going to turn out. Some of them are better than you thought, some of them are not as good as you thought. But that’s everywhere in the country. There are challenges but you know it’s going to be challenging everywhere you go.”