MIAMI GARDENS, FL - OCTOBER 14: The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets huddle during a game against the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Previewing Georgia Tech spring practice: Defensive line

Former Georgia Tech defensive end KeShun Freeman can say with certainty that the Yellow Jackets defensive linemen are eager to get on the practice field with new defensive coordinator Nate Woody and new defensive line coach Jerome Riase. Freeman, who participated in Tech’s Pro Day on Friday and hopes for his shot at the NFL, knows because he’s seen the text messages.

“They’re really excited about the new defensive coordinator and defensive line coach,” he said. “They’re always talking about them in the group chat, so I know they’re going to do some really great things.”

It will be a different look, to be sure, when the Jackets go to work on the first day of spring practice, Monday. After five seasons in the 4-3 (four down linemen, three linebackers) or 4-2-5 (four down linemen, two linebackers, five defensive backs), Tech is shifting to a 3-4 (three linemen, four linebackers).

While ends Freeman and Antonio Simmons have moved on, there is a decent amount of experience returning from last season’s line, including Anree Saint-Amour (5.5 tackles for loss), Brentavious Glanton, Desmond Branch and Kyle Cerge-Henderson, all of whom were regulars in the rotation at either tackle or end.

They’ll likely move around as Woody and Riase try them on the line, either at the tackle or end spots. Saint-Amour seems a strong candidate to shift to outside linebacker. It’s a group that is more quick than big, which figures to suit Woody’s philosophy, an attacking style that values speed and quickness over heft.

With a new scheme going in, it could give younger players a better opportunity to find a way onto the field. As ever, there will be a priority placed on players who can create pressure and penetrate the backfield.

Appalachian State, Woody’s former employer, ranked 30th in tackles for loss last season, almost 100 spots ahead of Tech. Negative plays are a huge priority for coach Paul Johnson.

Freeman offered his take on some of the lesser-known Jackets linemen.

Sophomore Chris Martin played in two games last season as a redshirt freshman. Freeman called him a hard worker who had hoped for more last season.

“We were talking about how he really wanted to contribute a little more this year,” Freeman said. “I know he’s going to put in the work.”

Freeman did not get to work much with redshirt freshman Cortez Alston, as he was injured during the preseason and was on the scout team during the season. He said that Alston is a “great person in the weight room” and anticipated Alston carrying that attitude to the practice field this spring.

Sophomore Antwan Owens played eight games and scored a sack in his first game. Owens, Freeman saisd, “is one of those type of guys, if he puts his mind to it, he’s going to get it done.”

Freeman said he was surprised that redshirt freshman Kelton Dawson didn’t play as a freshman after a preseason that Freeman described as amazing.

“He’s kind of like Cortez,” Freeman said. “He’s going to ball out and work hard.”

A side note about the group text that Freeman cited. The group was formed in 2015, Freeman said, with defensive linemen on the team at the time. When the 2017 season ended, and Freeman’s Tech career was over, he left the group, believing it wasn’t his place anymore.

But as soon as he left the group and other members were notified, someone else – Freeman thinks it was Cerge-Henderson - promptly put him back in.

The response, as Freeman recalled it: “What are you doing? This is not something you can leave.”

Fifth in a series previewing Tech’s spring practice, which begins Monday.

Quarterbacks

Running backs

Wide receivers

Offensive line

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