Gone are the days of Ted Roof and the 4-2-5 defense at Georgia Tech. Roof has moved on to North Carolina State, and has hopefully, taken inconsistent defensive play with him. During Roof’s tenure at Georgia Tech (2013-2017), the Yellow Jackets defense gave up 379 yards per game. At their best, under Roof, the defense finished the season as the 27th ranked total defense (2013), and at their worst finished 79th in total defense (2014). The remaining years under Roof tell a similar story, which is one of inconsistency. Georgia Tech will have to overcome that inconsistency if they want to catch up to the upper echelon of the ACC.
New Defensive Coordinator and Scheme
In January of this year, Georgia Tech announced the hiring of Nate Woody. Woody has spent the last several seasons as Appalachian State’s defensive coordinator where he utilized the 3-4 defense. This is something that he has packed up and brought to Atlanta. During Woody’s time at Appalachian State, the Mountaineers led the Sun Belt Conference in total defense three times, and ranked in the top 30 each of the last four seasons. That is the consistency the Georgia Tech defense needs!
Woody will have his hands full implementing a new defensive scheme in year one, but he was impressed with work his new defense put in during the spring. At his second press conference since joining the Yellow Jackets, Woody stated “Guys are working really hard. They are hungry. As a coach that is what you want; you want [guys] to buy in.”
Woody also has to be happy with the performance of his defense after the first intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday, August 11th. The team battled for 18 series. Out of the 18 series, Georgia Tech’s defense recorded seven three-and-outs. The defense also stopped the offense on the one-yard line at the end of the scrimmage. Also, Desmond Branch finished the day with three sacks. That is the good news. The bad news, the defense gave up several big plays which consisted of a 54-yard touchdown pass, and two runs of 39 and 56 yards.
Big, momentum plays are something the Georgia Tech defense will have to avoid this year if they hope to finish atop the ACC Coastal division.
Strong Front Seven
Georgia Tech is only returning four starters from 2017’s squad. Branch, Anree Saint-Amour, Victor Alexander, and Brant Mitchell. The silver lining in that otherwise, troubling stat is that all four starters are strong, smart seniors with a plethora of snaps under their belt. These four men will need to be verbal leaders for the rest of the young defensive unit.
Saint-Amour and Branch will be the pillars of the defensive line in the new 3-4 scheme, and their importance cannot be overstated. With a young, inexperienced secondary, Woody will be looking to his seniors to provide some real pressure up front. Branch was a standout during the first scrimmage of the 2018 fall camp.
The nose guard position will see several Jackets switching in out and out. Look to see Kyle Cerge-Henderson, Brandon Adams, and Brentavious Glanton on the field at different times throughout the season. Teams who are successful in the 3-4 scheme have always had a strong nose guard plugging the middle.
Alexander and Mitchell both finished in the top five in team tackles this year. They are two quick linebackers who should make an effortless switch to Woody’s 3-4 scheme. Look to see them flying all over the field this year making tackles and leading a strong linebacker core.
A potential breakout star this year is Bruce Jordan-Swilling. He saw time in all 11 games last year at the inside linebacker slot. For a freshman, Jordan-Swilling made some big plays throughout the year, including a pick-six against Virginia. Look for more of that big play potential in 2018.
Jaquan Henderson looks to fill out the linebacker core this year, but he will have to fend off true freshman Charlie Thomas. Henderson saw time in all 11 games in 2017, but the bulk of that time was spent on special teams. He does have the type of speed that Woody could use in a 3-4 defense. Thomas was recruited as one of the nation’s premier safety prospects, but the Yellow Jackets have moved Thomas to the outside linebacker position. Fans should see both players getting reps early in the season.
Young, Inexperienced Secondary
A.J. Gray was slotted to be the lone returning starter and a big-time leader who appeared in 31 games over the course of his Georgia Tech career. But in May of this year, coach Paul Johnson announced that a heart condition has prematurely ended Gray’s career. While this is a huge blow to the Yellow Jackets, a player’s health is always more important than a game. Gray will be allowed to finish out his academic career at Georgia Tech.
This is college football so it is business as usual with the next man up. Tariq Carpenter is looking to be that man at safety during his sophomore season at Georgia Tech. Carpenter saw limited time last year with most of it coming in the latter half of the season. But, he played well during the spring and saw plenty of reps while Jalen Johnson and Gray were absent. His athleticism should allow him to take his play to the next level in 2018.
Johnson will line up with Carpenter as the second safety in Woody’s 3-4 scheme in 2018. He played in all 11 games in 2017 as a reserve defensive back and was a stand-out on special teams. Johnson spent the spring recovering from shoulder surgery but says he is ready to go for the fall.
The cornerback slots will be filled by Ajani Kerr and Lamont Simmons this season. Kerr has amazing potential that should be featured under Woody’s new defensive scheme. Simmons saw time in all 11 games last year and has the most experience of any corner coming back for the 2018 season. Simmons is a big, strong corner (6’2″, 202 lbs.) and Woody will be looking to put him in better positions to make big plays this year.
Georgia Tech has, arguably, one of the toughest schedules in 2018. Actually, there is no argument, it’s a fact! Georgia Tech has Clemson and Georgia on the schedule every year. Add on to that nightmare, their Coastal division rivals Miami and Virginia Tech. Also, the Yellow Jackets are looking at a battle from week two against South Florida through the end of November when they face-off against Georgia. Oh, and do not forget a new defensive coordinator and scheme.
Fans have to know that the inexperience in the secondary is going to be exploited this year. Georgia Tech plays too many talented, experienced quarterbacks. But, Georgia Tech is a resilient team and they will use every opponent as a learning opportunity. But, do fans really want to hear that their defense will have great “learning opportunities?” Fans want to hear that their team is dominating all sides of the ball. Georgia Tech fans might have to wait another year as the secondary grows, and Woody’s new 3-4 defense sets in on a chemical level in the players’ minds.