April 8, 2015
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
When Adam Gotsis and his mates began playing American football the way Ted Roof would like to see the game played, it was something of a mystery and not only to the defensive tackle from Australia. Georgia Tech’s then-new defensive coordinator had new methods in mind for just about everybody.
The Yellow Jackets know more of the score now.
As defenders have become far more familiar with Roof’s ways since that 2013 season and with eight of 11 starters back from a defense that improved significantly last fall, Tech figures to enter the 2015 season more finely tuned and better equipped than in a while.
It would be folly to promise anything, of course, with the specter of injuries and roster adjustments that are indigenous to the game. The first game is nearly five months and dozens of practices away.
At the same time, there’s no denying that confidence is high even with some moving parts and deployments to be determined.
“We’ve got a lot of guys returning, and that’s always a help; they know the system,” Gotsis explained. “Once you get comfortable in a system, you can play without thinking.
“I’m comfortable with everything in the playbook. I don’t need to talk about the mechanics of things. You can play fast. If you’re thinking, you’re a step behind.”
The Jackets improved in most statistical categories last fall, when the first half of the season was hardly impressive other than in Tech’s ability to take the ball away, and/or make timely stops late in games.
Over the second half and in the post season, the Jackets were considerably more stout. Junior linebacker P.J. Davis, who led Tech with a combined 119 tackles and assists, is looking for more of that from start to finish in 2015.
“I definitely believe that,” he said. “We have a lot of returning players, a lot more experience. Guys know what they’re doing. Also, with all those returning players we have a lot more leadership. We can show the younger guys, and help them out.”
There are no guarantees the other eight starters will work in their same spots, yet they’re all expected to be in the mix. Nickel back Demond Smith, for example, has been working in Johnson’s strong safety spot, and there has been other player movement in the secondary.
Cornerbacks D.J. White and Chris Milton seem likely to stay put, and the same goes for free safety Jamal Golden. Lynn Griffin is a leading candidate at strong safety, and Lawrence Austin has worked at corner and safety.
“We’re going to look at all spots,” Roof told reporters after last Saturday’s practice. “Our job as coaches is to put the best combination of players out there, whether they’re freshmen, seniors, whatever they are.”
The Jackets hope to add numbers along the defensive line, where they were lean last season, as Jabari Hunt-Days and Kenderius Whitehead are working to become eligible. They’ve demonstrated in practices that they could help.
Where injuries have socked the offensive line this spring, and head coach Paul Johnson and his staff have considerable mixing and matching to do at all running back spots, there are fewer questions to be solved on defense although youth will be served on that side of the ball as well.
“Mentally, I think we’re there but we’ve got to get our bodies in the right spots,” Gotsis said. “With the new guys . . . we’ve got a lot of guys who didn’t play as much who are now in starting roles or with the second unit. It’s just getting them out there, getting reps.”