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#STINGDAILY: Defensive Players Confident Their Unit Has Improved

Aug 30, 2013

Gameday Central

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– As the time for answers arrives, Euclid Cummings is a little bit nervous. It’s not questions about today’s season opener against Elon that have Georgia Tech’s senior defensive end jumpy, it’s just … well, football is finally back.

The prospect of starting anew is invigorating and a bit nerve-wracking so Cummings has some jitters.

“Oh yeah, the first game of the season … that’s like what we put all our work for in the offseason. This is what we’ve been waiting for since January,” he said. “We talk about it, we Tweet about it. We’re tired of hitting each other; we want to hit somebody else.”

Tech fans (and coaches) want to know many things, like how will Vad Lee fare in his new role as starting quarterback? What will come of the Yellow Jackets’ youngish wide receivers? Is freshman kicker Harrison Butker really all that?

Outside linebacker Brandon Watts says he already has an answer to the biggest question: Will the Jackets be better on defense? That, after all, is the greatest of the unknowns, the query central to Tech’s chances of improving upon 7-7.

“I think we’re going to be a whole lot better,” he said. “We’ve got the guys. We’ve just got to go out and be consistent, get our assignments, and execute.”

Elon does not figure to provide all answers. The Phoenix are an FCS program coming off a 3-9 season with just four returning offensive starters, a quarterback (Mike Quinn) making his first career start, and this is just the sixth FBS opponent in school history.

The Jackets, though, have pretty much learned all they can about themselves without actually playing. It’s time. Today begins new defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s role as this season’s X factor.

To a man, Tech defenders have suggested that the new defensive system is so much easier to process that they’re able to play the game faster.

The former Jacket linebacker and defensive coordinator only wishes it was as easy as players are making it sound. Talk is cheap.

“I’m glad they feel that what, and they’ll have a chance to prove that,” said the new DC. “It’ll mean a whole lot more if they’re saying it after Saturday.”

Here are a few examples of what players are saying about Tech’s new defensive scheme ahead of time:

“I just feel like we have more overall focus. It’s simpler, just line up and play ball. It’s just line up, make a couple checks and play ball. When you think, that slows you down as a defensive player. The coaches have done everything in their power to slow things down so we can play full out.” – Cummings.

“It’s a whole lot simpler. I understood [Al] Groh’s scheme so it wasn’t bad for me, but it’s a whole lot simpler now for people to run around and make plays.” – Watts.

“[Roof] laid down the foundation of what the defense is based on . . . and I feel very comfortable about it. I think everybody else does, too. We just trust him. He’s got film showing that it works.”

Roof laughed when asked if his defense is so simple. He is not content.

“We’ve still got some things to polish up. We’re still not where we need to be [regarding depth]. I’m not pleased with that, but you know what? We need a game,” he said. “We need a game to figure that out, to see where everybody is once the whistle blows and the ball’s kicked off. We’ll have a better evaluation after Saturday.”

Anybody ever remember a coach saying he had all the depth he needs? Ever?

Elon may not be a powerhouse, as the Phoenix are playing just their sixth FBS opponent, but today will start answering some questions, and perhaps spinning off others. It is a start, but no more.

“We may not know exactly where we are until we’ve played four or five games. I’m not going to jump to any conclusions,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “Last year, we thought we were really good coming out of the first game [a 20-17 overtime loss at No. 16 Virginia Tech], and we saw how that worked out.

“I don’t think you can make any conclusions until you’ve played a little bit. We’d be hard pressed not to be better, I think. I hope we are. I think we will be. I have to reason to doubt that we are better from what I’ve seen in practice. You’ve still got to do it on the field.”

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