ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 30: Chazz Surratt #12 of the North Carolina Tar Heels is sacked by Desmond Branch #99 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on September 30, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by )
Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Georgia Tech defensive line finds better fit in new scheme

Georgia Tech’s new defensive scheme is a break from the one run by former defensive coordinator Ted Roof. And as coach Paul Johnson noted in the first week of spring practice, players tend to be excited anytime there’s something new.

“That’s just the nature of the beast, and it’s all going to come down to the results,” he said.

With that caveat, after six sessions of spring practice, Tech’s defensive linemen appear to be genuinely hopeful about the impact that they can make in new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s 3-4 defense.

“I’m really excited,” Kyle Cerge-Henderson said. “I think everybody across the board is pretty excited.”

Tech’s defensive line often was overpowered in coach Ted Roof’s 4-3 scheme. That’s one reason why the Yellow Jackets, after ranking 18th in yards per rush defense in 2013 – Roof’s first season – did not fare better than 79th in the next four. Linemen frequently were driven backward and turned aside by bigger and stronger opponents.

Players believe this scheme is a better fit for who they are – perhaps not as brawny as the typical ACC defensive lineman, but quicker.

“It fits my body type, it fits how I play,” defensive lineman Desmond Branch said. “No disrespect to the previous defensive coordinator, but it’s just a better fit for me.”

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Branch mostly is playing at defensive end. In Woody’s 3-4, ends can line up anywhere from outside the tackle to in between the tackle and guard. When Branch learned that Woody would be taking over the defense, he looked for video of how Woody’s defense played at Appalachian State and liked what he saw.

“I’m looking at this, like, ‘Oh, I might really like this,’” he said. “When he came in, I kind of had an idea, and when they explained it, that’s when I really got excited about what we got as a defense.”

Specifically, Branch likes that linemen “are causing havoc,” he said. A star of Woody’s defense in the past two seasons was defensive end Tee Sims, a two-time all-conference pick in the Sun Belt. Last season, he accumulated 13.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in only 10 games. In Woody’s last four seasons at Appalachian State, at least one defensive lineman made all-conference each season.

Cerge-Henderson simply likes that it’s a new start.

“Kind of like you’re going to a new school, I guess,” he said.

Cerge-Henderson started seven games in 2016 as a sophomore, but saw his playing time dip last season. He is mostly playing nose tackle, lining up over the center. He now has a new coordinator and a new line coach, Jerome Riase, who has replaced Mike Pelton.

“Everybody’s just like, OK, let’s see who’s best, and we’re all going to compete,” Cerge-Henderson said.

One player who may benefit most from the re-set is Chris Martin, who barely saw the field as a redshirt freshman last season.

“Chris Martin, this is his defense,” Branch said. “He’s definitely having his way.”

As Johnson said, though, it will come down to results. Roof’s lamented defense was still effective enough to enable Jeremiah Attaochu to become an All-American in 2013 and to help Adam Gotsis to pile up 26 tackles for loss in his final three seasons.

But so far, the linemen like what they see.

“Movement, quickness, tackles for loss, flying around,” Cerge-Henderson said. “A lot of what we’ve wanted to do in the past.”

Further, he said, the play calls are simpler and fewer. Cerge-Henderson said that a play call in the previous scheme might have been five words long. Now it’s two or three.

“I think when everybody knows what they’re doing, it’s a lot easier to play quicker,” he said.

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