Fourth in a series examining Georgia Tech coming out of spring practice.
New defensive coordinator Nate Woody has inspired excitement and hope for the Yellow Jackets as they move on from the five-year tenure of former defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
A defense that is said to be simpler, faster and more aggressive is on its way, having gone through four weeks of spring practice. Woody said that one goal for the spring was to establish a two-deep depth chart to establish competition for preseason practice. He was careful to note that he wasn’t establishing starters coming out of spring.
A look at a possible two-deep depth chart:
DE Desmond Branch, Tyler Merriweather
NT Kyle Cerge-Henderson, Chris Martin
DE Anree Saint-Amour, Kelton Dawson
In terms of experience, it’s a deep group, and more help is coming. Branch, Cerge-Henderson and Saint-Amour have all started at least seven games and played many more games in a rotation. And the six linemen listed here doesn’t even include Brentavious Glanton, who likely will play both end and tackle and started 10 games last season, or Brandon Adams, a backup tackle who saw plenty of action last season.
One of the big variables for this season will be how the line responds to playing in a new scheme, which calls for the line to play with speed and quickness. What should help is defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s preference for playing a lot of players, which is a departure from how former defensive coordinator Ted Roof used his lineup.
Among incoming freshmen, Quon Griffin (defensive end) and T.K. Chimedza (both nose tackle and end) have a good chance to contribute this season.
OLB Victor Alexander, Gentry Bonds
ILB Bruce Jordan-Swilling, Quez Jackson
ILB Brant Mitchell, David Curry
OLB Jaquan Henderson, Charlie Thomas
Much like the defensive line group, how this group takes to Woody’s 3-4 defense will go a long way to determining how the defense performs. This is the group that will have to be in the thick of making tackles and creating pressure. It’s a unit with a lot of promise; the possible starting quartet includes two sophomores, Henderson and Jordan-Swilling. Further, in the possible second four, Bonds, Jackson and Thomas are all freshmen.
Curry played well in the spring before suffering an injury. Thomas and Jackson caught Woody’s attention as early enrollees. Tre Jackson, a senior, seemed to adapt to the scheme as an inside linebacker this spring. Tyler Cooksey can play both inside and outside. Jakob Brashear is on the inside.
They’ll be joined in the summer by highly touted freshman Justice Dingle, who could play either inside or outside, and fellow freshman Jordan Domineck (outside).
CB Ajani Kerr, Tre Swilling
S A.J. Gray, Christian Campbell
S Jalen Johnson, Tariq Carpenter
CB Lamont Simmons, Jaytlin Askew
Gray and Johnson missed the entire spring recovering from injuries. It is hoped that their past experience will help them adjust to the new scheme, as well as the fact that responsibilities on the back end do not vary much. Simmons played a fair amount behind starters Lance Austin and Step Durham, but has yet to start. Kerr saw some time, but will make a big jump to the starting lineup. Perhaps the more significant concern is the backups, Swilling and Askew. Swilling is a redshirt freshman and Askew, a sophomore, did not play much last season.
There is, it appears, promising talent behind the first eight in the secondary. Safeties Kaleb Oliver and Avery Showell are redshirt freshmen who, at the least, figure to be special-teams contributors. Among the incoming freshmen are cornerbacks Jaylon King and Zamari Walton. Juanyeh Thomas likely will start out at safety. Another to watch is walk-on Devin Smith, a redshirt freshman cornerback.
Overall: There are eight seniors in this 22 and 11 freshmen or sophomores. This could be an impressive unit in a year or two. Particularly with the inexperience at the corners, it will be incumbent on the front seven to generate pass rush. Again, if that can happen, this defense can play the sort of style – aggressive, turnover-forcing – that has eluded the Jackets. This may be a gradual process. In Woody’s first season at Appalachian State, the Mountaineers did not show much statistical improvement. Notable gains were made in his second season, even after Appalachian State moved from FCS to FBS.
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