As the Georgia Tech football team continues spring practice, one of the key players on the field is versatile defender Gerris Wilkinson, who is making the transition from defensive end back to his former position at linebacker.
The Yellow Jackets continue spring practice through their April 17 Spring Scrimmage.
A rising junior from Oakland, Calif., Wilkinson moved to defensive end just prior to last season. He started every game, and the 6-3, 230-pounder collected 47 tackles with 12 tackles for loss and four sacks. As he returns to the strong-side linebacker position that he played the previous year, he is easily Tech’s most experienced player at linebacker, where the Jackets graduated all three starters, including all-stars Keyaron Fox and Daryl Smith.
“He’s the consumate team player,” said Tech head coach Chan Gailey of Wilkinson. “He didn’t fit the mold of a defensive end, but he went in there and played really well there last year. And he’ll come back and have a great year as a linebacker this year.”
Because of his versatility, Wilkinson should be employed by defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta in a number of different alignments.
“We’re trying to not sit him in one spot,” said Gailey. “We’re trying to let him do all the different things he can do – come up on the line and rush the passer, back off inside and run to the ball. We’re going to put him in position to do the things he does best.”
While Wilkinson welcomes his versatile role, he’s happy to be back at linebacker.
“The coaches figure I should be able to rush the passer because of my experience last year, so they’re trying to give me every opportunity to make plays in the backfield,” said Wilkinson, who was named to the 2003 ACC All-Academic football team.
“I enjoyed d-end, but linebacker just seems a little more natural to me,” he continued. “I didn’t mind playing d-end last year, as long as I was on the field, but it was a challenge to learn a new position on such short notice.
“The toughest part about d-end was playing low all the time, staying low and getting underneath the offensive lineman. It was difficult being undersized and going against all the big tackles. I’d much rather take on a running back than a tackle.”
Wilkinson also appreciates his role as the new leader of the linebacker corps.
“We know we’re young at linebacker and we’re the most inexperienced part of the defense right now, so we’ve got to pick it up.”
The Jackets will continue practice Friday at 4:15 p.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m.