July 28, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
Sometimes it can be difficult to put into writing what is going on in sports because a writer might be concerned that telling it like it is will be in some way offensive, or even that the simplest summation might not be politically correct.
So, as we’re just two days away from Georgia Tech football players reporting and three days from the first practice, it’s a good thing that Jeremiah Attaochu is a Yellow Jacket.
He can set everybody straight and not offend.
It’s no secret that the success of the Jackets’ season figures to hinge largely, though not entirely, on whether or not the defense improves demonstrably under the direction of new coordinator Ted Roof.
There will be few numbers trotted out here but a few scores. Really, there is no need for a sample size bigger than the Jackets’ consecutive losses last season to Miami (42-36 in OT), Middle Tennessee State (49-28) and Clemson (47-31).
Those are numbers enough. Cue the era of Roof 2.0.
The former Tech linebacker and defensive coordinator (1999-2001) has less of a plan for the Jackets, which is to say a scheme with fewer nuances or if/then loops to be processed by players. Attaochu, a senior linebacker-turned defensive end, told media at last week’s ACC preseason gather that less is more.
“We had a system last year that was geared to older players. It was an NFL system,” Attaochu said in Greensboro, N.C. “Coach Roof is kind of dumbing it down so young guys can come in, you can sub in and out, have guys still be aggressive. They’re not really thinking as much; they’re just playing.”
There was too much brainwork the past two-plus years.
Before anyone leaps to suggest that the Jackets have smarter players than just about anybody because Tech is a remarkably high-minded institution for not only students but all student-athletes, a few things should be pointed out.
Former coordinator Al Groh achieved considerable success at the NFL level most often running his beloved 3-4 scheme.
That system, though, requires players to fit it more than it fits to players. Beyond that, Groh tried to build in enough checks, audibles and on-the-fly changes to make your head spin unless you had hours and hours and hours to prepare not only on the field but in meetings and what would have equated to class time.
The Jackets didn’t have the bodies, nor the time. They’re students first, not professionals with 40 or more hours a week – like a pro – to commit.
It was never more difficult to see the players’ minds racing than in that three-game stretch, which culminated with an other-worldly number of busted assignments in the Clemson game. The Tigers rallied late while running through and around the dazed Jackets as if they were collectively concussed.
Head coach Paul Johnson saw the confusion, asked about it, didn’t like Groh’s response or a run of results that preceded the three-game skid, and fired him.
That doesn’t mean that Groh is any less a coach, but perhaps that genius-level football is a better fit at a level where people are paid to play it.
Johnson is not ready to assume improvement. That’s a right-minded approach. He’s done his part to foment a defensive revolution; now, Roof, the staff and the proletariat have to do the work.
“Not as much mental stuff going on with the new defense as there was, but any time you ask guys with a new coach or a new anything, it’s always going to ‘be better’ . . . because that pushes the accountability away from what happened the year before,” Johnson told ACC reporters.
“So we’ll see how it unfolds. I’m optimistic. I think the guys enjoy playing in the scheme we have, but I’m an old guy — show me, don’t tell me.”
Attaochu is ready to show, saying, “Coach Roof, his defense is going to allow us to go out there and be able to be more aggressive and less thinking.”
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