And Johnson isn’t ready to say the Jackets have the players to match their defensive ambitions.
“We will see,” Johnson said. “We haven’t played a game. I think the 3-4 is probably easier for us because we don’t have to find as many defensive linemen. You can play more “tweeners” and hopefully guys that can run. Get a lot of speed on the field.”
That makes sense, in theory. Yet it’s hard to shake the feeling that, if the Jackets have players who could be more disruptive, then Roof would have used them that way. I can’t think of a reason why the coordinator of a struggling defense wouldn’t do so (or why a head coach wouldn’t make them).
Maybe some of the younger players can help. Most of Tech’s better recent recruits are defenders, and a few of them are listed on the two-deep depth chart in the preseason. Woody wants to play more players, and Johnson said the Jackets have enough depth to do it.
A simpler scheme might help the young talent hit the ground blitzing.
“A lot of the young guys will play,” Johnson said. “But the older guys are going to have to carry the load. You can’t play in this league with freshmen and sophomores.”
Woody’s task will be to find aggressive playmakers from among a group with no history doing it.
Stating with the 2014 season, Football Outsiders has compiled a “havoc rate” that measures the combined percentage of plays that result in tackles for loss, forced fumbles and passes defended (including interception). Tech’s national ranks under Roof: 67th, 123rd, 120th and 109th.
Woody was hired after establishing a track record for fielding attacking units during five seasons as coordinator at Appalachian State. Those team’s “havoc rate” national rankings since moving to FBS in 2014: 65th, 39th, 62nd and 15th.
Tech’s offensive players say they’ve seen the difference in style.
“They are a lot more aggressive with the blitz,” B-back Jerry Howard said.
“It’s different,” quarterback TaQuon Marshall said. “A lot of teams don’t really blitz, especially off the edge with the corners and stuff. They’ve been doing that a lot.”
Aggressive schemes are always a risk-reward proposition. The Jackets didn’t make many disruptive plays when Roof was coordinator, but until last season, neither did they allow an inordinate among of big plays. The conservative defensive approach worked when Johnson’s option was humming and holding the ball.
Now the Jackets will have linemen slanting, linebackers blitzing and cornerbacks coming off the edge. Will they allow more big plays than can be justified by the turnovers, three-and-outs and tackles for losses? Would Johnson have Woody call off the dogs if his offense keeps needing to come from behind?
Woody is Johnson’s fourth defensive coordinator in 10 seasons. Roof’s units were never better than mediocre but, then again, he produced Johnson’s three best defenses by measure of Football Outsiders. Woody had better (opponent-adjusted) results over the past three seasons, but it could take him time to figure things out with Tech.
Since its high-water mark of 2014, Tech's offense has been a middling unit in the ACC. I predict the Jackets will be better than expected this season because they'll have more experience on offense and -- this is key -- Johnson said he's not worried about his quarterback group. He'll sort out the offense.
That would mean Tech’s defense doesn’t need to be great. It just needs more tipped balls, forced fumbles and takeaways to go along with the usual bend-but-don’t-break. The Jackets say that’s what they’ll do, but that’s what they all say when they get a new coordinator and scheme.
Soon, we’ll see.
Georgia Tech linebacker Victor Alexander led the Yellow Jackets in tackles in 2017, with 60, and had two sacks. Tech linebacker Brant Mitchell recorded 51 total tackles in 2017, the second most among players returning for 2018. Tech linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling recorded 34 tackles as a freshman in 2017. Tech defensive end Anree Saint-Amour ranked second in sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (5.5) in 2017. Tech defensive lineman Desmond Branch produced 3.5 tackles for loss in 2017, the third most on the