Freeman leads Georgia Tech pass rush that needs improvement

Georgia Tech defensive lineman KeShun Freeman is pictured during media day at the school, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Atlanta. is pictured during media day at the school, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Atlanta.

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia Tech defensive lineman KeShun Freeman is pictured during media day at the school, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Atlanta. is pictured during media day at the school, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Atlanta.

Georgia Tech wants to pick up its pass rush in 2017, and KeShun Freeman could be the key to that coming to fruition.

Once the freshman who burst onto the scene on 2014’s Orange Bowl team, Freeman, now a senior, has seen his production steadily decline each season for the Yellow Jackets. He finished with 54 tackles and 4.5 sacks his first season. Last season, he totaled only 39 tackles and was credited with one-half of a sack.

Still, there’s plenty of reason to believe Freeman can meet the expectations he provided as a first-year starter.

“I asked coach Pelton some questions about my season last year,” Freeman said Thursday evening at Tech’s annual preseason media day. “So I went through and watched each rep I was in, and I took notes of what I did wrong and who I was going against, looking at my feet and hands. Right now, I’m in the process of continuing to better my feet and hands.”

Some of the issues in 2016 could be attributed to injuries that hampered the start of his season. Freeman struggled to remain healthy and never found a rhythm as things moved forward.

“In some of the games you can kind of see (the injury), but I can’t use that as an excuse,” Freeman said. “I did continue to play so I can’t use it as an excuse. I’m feeling really healthy now, I’m having no pain. I’m banking on a really good season.”

Though the defense is returning eight starters, the defensive line will be the most inexperienced group with Patrick Gamble and Rod Rook-Chungong each graduating. Freeman still feels the current unit looks good going into practice.

“I can say this; our group is a conditioned group, he said. “We seem really conditioned. Guys like Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Brandon Adams have been working really hard in the offseason to get the weight down and get a little more conditioned. So I can say that guys will be able to move a little better. We’re excited about it. … It’s going to great.”

Last season, the pass rush possibly was the weakest aspect of the defense. In 13 games, Tech totaled 18 sacks, which ranked 110th in the country. They struggled to make plays behind the line of scrimmage too, ranking 120th with 4.4 tackles for loss per game. Freeman knows making those big plays early and often will help the unit improve.

“Most definitely, he said. “Every defensive end wants to get a sack because sacks are very important. And everyone who says differently doesn’t know football. We all want to get sacks and be a more productive group. If all of us are doing well, we’re going to be excited for each other and we’re going to keep going.”

Perhaps helping the defensive line will be the Tech secondary, which brings back all five starters. Though they struggled early, a change occurred after the North Carolina loss when Ted Roof simplified things for the defensive backs. They began to emerge as a strength in the winning streak that ended the year.

“Having (the secondary) back with them having so much experience, that’s going to help us out, Freeman said. “With them covering, it’s going to give us more time to rush. And with us rushing, we may force the quarterback to throw it and get them picks, so we’re working off each other.”

Senior safety Corey Griffin agreed with Freeman’s assessment about helping each other. He’s liked what he’s seen so far.

“The front end, those guys are coming in with (Freeman) and (Simmons) on the edge and those guys in the middle, so I think they have great experience,” Griffin said. “And if we get that pass rush up front, we can do our job on the back end … and if we do our job on the back end, they can do their job up front. Everything ties together. I’m ready to see them go.”

As practice begins and the season nears, Freeman wants to emphasize the defensive line working together to know each other on the field. The cohesiveness up front can help bring on a rush that helps the Tech defense turn things around.

“As a defensive line, we’re trying to get guys to know what kind of pass rusher they are,” he said. “There’s no need for one of the inside guys to mock what Dwight Freeney does if that’s not what they are. You may have to adjust what you do, but this is who you are, so stick to your basics. Antonio (Simmons) is a speed guy. I have to use my hands and use a little more power sometimes. I’m a technique guy, I’m not as fast as Antonio, but I have to get back there somehow.”