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Groh-ing Up On Defense

April 13, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Before you going jumping to the conclusion that Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Al Groh is going to do more scheming and gambling this fall just because his players will better understand his system in their second year playing in it, back up. Seriously, go backwards.

Part of this line of thinking is fine. Most of the players who will be on the field once the season begins will understand it a whole lot better than a year earlier. Even though every secondary starter is gone, all of the candidates to replace them – Rod Sweeting, Rashaad Reid, Louis Young and Isaiah Johnson chief among them — earned legitimate playing time last fall.

But Groh may have gambled more last fall to cover up for inadequacies.

If the Yellow Jackets keep tracking, their defense will be more sound rather than more salacious.

“The second year allows us to be more comfortable and it will allow [coaches] to make decisions they wouldn’t have made, but I don’t think we’ll do anything crazy,” said senior defensive end Jason Peters. “We’ll still have our responsibilities: playing hard, playing with passion, and tackling well. If we don’t do those things well, it doesn’t matter what scheme we play.”

Peters is part of a front line, including end Izaan Cross and nose tackle Logan Walls, that returns to Groh’s 3-4. Starting linebackers Steven Sylvester and Julian Burnett are back. Converted B-back Daniel Drummond has made enough of an impression that he’s been working with the No. 1 unit at inside linebacker. Freshman Jeremiah Attachou, who played quite a bit last fall, is a lock to start outside.

The hunch here is this defense can be considerably more effective.

In order for that to happen, three things figure to be essential: improvement in returning players, significant contributions from a to-be-determined number of newcomers (including freshmen and players who red-shirted last season), and a greater utilization of players – more depth deployed.

None of that will matter as much, however, as concept and commitment. The Jackets have to grasp what Groh is trying to achieve, he has to understand what his players are capable of achieving, and everybody has to buy into all of it.

To that end, Peters loves what he’s seeing so far this spring.

Where last year many players were so focused on trying to learn a new system and forge their role in it, (some, by the way, were balking) the goal this go-round is less about individual achievement and more on collective movement. The idea is to advance the concept via less individualism.

“I think you hit the nail on the head,” Peters said. “Last year in a lot of ways we were trying to figure out what we were supposed to do and what our responsibilities were. Now, we know how it works better, and how we can work with our teammates and how we can work to make the defense work as well as it can work. We understand that this . . . is about who can make this defense the best unit out there.”

That thinking is in line with the re-shaping of Tech’s entire psyche.

Peters carries his keys on a holder/chain that serves as a reminder of what last season was not. It’s from the Orange Bowl, where he and the Jackets ended up two seasons ago.

Their fabric frayed from the inside out last season. Leadership was insufficient and followers didn’t follow so well anyway. We’ll have more on that later this week as it may be the most important element of Tech’s rebuilding project. Just know that the esprit de corps was more like poor spirits.

For now, the simplest of Peters’ comments on the subjects (wait for more) seems to bode well.

“We’re finding a collective attitude,” the fifth-year senior said. “We have a better sense of togetherness and more excitement about what we can do because we’ve seen how we can get better. We want to sustain a higher level of defense, a higher level of energy, a higher level of passion.”

Who has hunches? Lemme have hunches. Send them to stingdaily@gmail.com. We’ll have more football later this week. Topics that several readers keep asking about: what is being done to improve the offensive and defensive lines? Is there a clear front runner at quarterback? Will there be a dependable wide receiver? Who’s leading the derby at B-back? Stay tuned.

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