On Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium, Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof will coach for his alma mater’s team for the first time since he held the same position in 2001. With family, friends and former teammates watching, the former All-ACC linebacker will run out behind the Ramblin’ Wreck, tracing steps he took 30 years ago.
What thoughts will race through his mind in that precipitous moment?
Said Roof on Tuesday, “What’s going to be our first call?”
Business will be at hand when the Yellow Jackets face Elon in the season opener. Beyond victory against the Phoenix, Roof and his staff have objectives that they want to achieve, none of which have to do with reliving the past.
For example, Roof wants a good look at his backups, about whom he has voiced concern throughout the preseason. Of the six backup defensive linemen on the depth chart, three are redshirt freshman or freshmen, though freshman tackle Justin Akins may redshirt. The other three have a total of 27 career tackles. Roof was critical of the backups earlier in the preseason for not practicing with sufficient urgency to improve.
“Still not where we need to be,” he said of the team’s quality of depth, “not pleased with that. But you know what? We need a game. We need a game to figure that out, to see exactly where everybody is.”
Backups who will be watched closely: end Anthony Williams, who is training to be the top backup at the strongside and weakside spots, tackle Patrick Gamble, who has made steady improvement in the preseason, and cornerback D.J. White, who will be the third cornerback and will play in the nickel defense.
No. 2 strong safety Demond Smith is in a tight competition with starter Chris Milton. Likewise backup free safety Domonique Noble is challenging starter Jamal Golden, although Isaiah Johnson figures to claim the spot when he returns from his ACL surgery.
Playing with effort is another priority. Nose tackle Adam Gotsis said it has been a point of focus for the linemen to run to the ball and force turnovers. Roof got players’ attention after the first scrimmage of the preseason when they were required to do 75 or 80 “up-downs” as a disciplinary measure for several plays in which the entire defense didn’t give full effort throughout the play, Gotsis said.
“Once you do that, you don’t want to slack off anymore,” Gotsis said. “It’s not only that. You’re cheating yourself if you do give up on a play and you don’t chase after it. You’ve got 10 other guys out there that are working for that. If you slack off that one play, that could be the play that they bust and score a touchdown.”
Defensive players will go through their first game with Roof as coordinator and will see his game-day style. Defensive line coach Mike Pelton also will be in his first game with the Jackets. Roof will call plays from the field and not the coaches box.
“It’s going to be interesting to see Saturday how they respond,” Pelton said. “So I’ll learn a lot about them and seeing them in a game environment, seeing how they handle basically playing under the lights.”
Roof found a benefit in Tech’s open date in the second week following the Elon game. After assessing the mistakes and flaws in the first game of his tenure, he’ll be able to address them without having to immediately turn around and prepare for another opponent.
Mostly, Roof simply seemed eager to get a better gauge on what his defense, after 15 practices in the spring and another 27 in August, can do. Roof said he’s glad that players have said that they are playing faster than they had previously because of his scheme.
However, he said, “it’ll mean a whole lot more if they’re saying it after Saturday.”