April 16, 2019 Atlanta - Georgia Tech defensive back Tre Swilling (3) breaks up the pass intend to Georgia Tech wide receiver Peje' Harris (18) during a practice session at Georgia Tech's football outdoor practice field on Tuesday, April 16, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A new coverage style has Tech cornerbacks excited

Georgia Tech cornerback Jaytlin Askew has been limited to an observational role during spring practice as he recovers from shoulder surgery. As he watches his teammates go through practice, though, he likes what he has seen, particularly in how defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker has the cornerbacks playing up on the line in press coverage.

“It’s way more competitive now,” Askew said. “Especially when people throw hitches and stuff, we’re right there. It’s a lot more fun than watching us play eight yards back and cover people.”

In the defenses of former coordinators Ted Roof and Nate Woody, it was typical for cornerbacks to be stationed back off the line of scrimmage. It enables corners to see more of the field and could be considered safer. But in the vein of coach Geoff Collins’ attack-minded schemes on offense and defense, the Yellow Jackets’ corners have lined up close to the line for man-to-man coverage frequently this spring, making contact with receivers at the line of scrimmage.

“It’s been fun,” cornerbacks coach Jeff Popovich said. “I wouldn’t say it’s totally new to them. Obviously, it is from a scheme standpoint from what they were doing here, but all of these guys have played press in high school, they’ve played 7-on-7 now with these 7-on-7 leagues.”

Temple didn’t play exclusively in press, but used it frequently. The results speak for themselves. The Owls ranked 21st nationally last season in opponent pass-completion percentage (55%) and tied for fifth in interceptions with 18.

Interestingly, the more aggressive style didn’t result in more deep passes completed by the opposition. Temple was tied for second nationally last year in pass plays allowed of 20 yards or more (24), although the Owls surrendered 23 touchdown passes, tied for 83rd nationally. Having Rock Ya-Sin at one of the corners, a Southwest DeKalb High grad who could go in the first two rounds of the NFL draft, obviously helped Temple’s pass-defense efforts.

The change, like most of what Collins has introduced to his team, has been well-received.

“They’ve definitely attacked it,” Popovich said. “They’ve definitely embraced the idea of it and worked really hard and shown up every day and been excited to do it. So it’s fun.”

Another change has been how cornerbacks are aligned. Previously, they played either to the field or boundary – flipping sides depending on where the ball was placed for the snap. Now, they play either on the left or right side of the field.

Returning starter Tre Swilling and Zamari Walton are among corners who have performed well this spring. Early-enrollee freshman Jordan Huff is another.

“I would say the last couple weeks, he’s really come around and you can see that I think he feels a little more confident in what he’s doing and what we’re doing and kind of taking the whole thing into place,” Popovich said.

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