ATLANTA – As the Georgia Tech football team goes through spring practice, head coach George O’Leary looks to continue adding to the depth and skill of a defense that showed remarkable improvement last fall.
Tech, which held its second spring practice session Saturday morning at Rose Bowl Field, returns nine starters and 22 letterwinners from a defensive unit that ranked 12th in the nation in rushing defense and 20th in scoring defense. The unit is still young, however, with only three seniors expected to be in the starting lineup.
“We’re not where we need to be yet, but I think we have a lot of young players who can run and enjoy hitting people,” said O’Leary. “We have the makings of a good defense, and 15 solid days will be needed to get that chemistry right.
“Obviously we have some experience back on defense, but you’re always looking to see if the experience can be beat out. That’s when you know you’re getting better, so I’ll keep the competition going there.
“I’m looking to better establish the line of scrimmage and also improve our pass rush and coverage elements, so that’s the focus this spring,” continued O’Leary.
Tech’s top returnees on defense are ends Greg Gathers (LaPlace, La.) and Nick Rogers (East Point, Ga.), a pair of all-conference selections who combined for 22 sacks last fall.
O’Leary made one position change to help bolster the defensive front, moving talented redshirt freshman Leon Robinson (Garden City, Ga.) from the offensive line to defensive tackle, a position the 6-4, 290-pounder played at Groves High School. Tech’s top returning tackle, senior Merrix Watson (Mt. Pleasant, S.C.), is being held out of spring drills following off-season knee surgery, but he is a three-year starter for the Yellow Jackets with 33 games started and 117 career tackles.
“I want to see what Casey Loesch (St. Petersburg, Fla.) can get done because he’s a transfer with the size (6-3, 275) and the ability to play inside,” said O’Leary. “We made the move with Leon Robinson to defense, and then we have two young players, Reggie Koon (Miramar, Fla.) and Alfred Malone (Frisco City, Ala.), that I want to look at. Plus we have Gary Johnson (LaGrange, Ga.) and Fred Wright (Lehigh Acres, Fla.) back, so we want to see who can develop into run stoppers and still be able to rush the passer.”
Tech’s linebacking corps returns in tact with starters Recardo Wimbush (Blakely, Ga.), Daryl Smith (Albany, Ga.) and Ather Brown (Macon, Ga.), as well as promising backups Keyaron Fox (Atlanta, Ga.) and Anthony Lawston (Baltimore, Md.). Four of those five are sophomores, with the junior Wimbush the lone upper classman.
“I’m looking to create more depth so we can play more linebackers and use them more in the specialty areas because a couple of those guys can rush the quarterback pretty well,” said O’Leary.