Question marks at two position groups for Tech defense

Victor Alexander is a rising senior outside linebacker at Georgia Tech. He turns 22 in July. Alexander led the Yellow Jackets in tackles in 2017, with 60. Alexander had two sacks, one quarterback hurry and two tackles for a loss in 2017. In Georgia Tech's newly installed 3-4 defense, the "jack" outside linebacker rushes the passer, a role seemingly made for Alexander. Alexander, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 235 pounds, committed to UCLA in 2015 before he changed his mind and signed with Tech out of Jack

Second in a series of stories looking at Georgia Tech coming out of spring practice

Among the Georgia Tech players inherited by new defensive coordinator Nate Woody, there are plenty that look like they are fitting in well for the Yellow Jackets. It’s particularly so at linebacker. Victor Alexander and Jaquan Henderson on the outside and Brant Mitchell and Bruce Jordan-Swilling on the inside, a potential starting four, are fast and physical and figure to be playmakers in this scheme.

Henderson, Jordan-Swilling a promising pair for Georgia Tech

This spring, early-enrollee freshman linebackers Quez Jackson and Charlie Thomas also looked like they had the potential to contribute next season on defense.

In the secondary, safeties A.J. Gray and Jalen Johnson bring back experience, although both missed spring recuperating from injuries. Woody did not express great concern about the time they missed learning the scheme.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of difference (in scheme) in the back end, other than whatever kind of coverage we decide is best for us,” Woody said last week.

At least from a personnel standpoint, likely Tech’s biggest question marks on defense are on the defensive line, particularly at nose tackle, and cornerback.

At corner, Ajani Kerr and Lamont Simmons figure to have the inside track on starting jobs. Simmons was the No. 3 corner last year behind Lance Austin and Step Durham. Ajani Kerr was further back in the rotation. They saw the field some, though not a great deal. Austin and Durham combined for 69 tackles and 21 breakups and passes defensed. Simmons and Kerr combined for 19 tackles and 10 breakups and passes defensed.

Further, if Woody continues the pattern he set at Appalachian State to rotate players in and out, he’ll likely be calling on sophomore Jaytlin Askew and redshirt freshman Tre Swilling. Both were highly regarded prospects coming out of high school, but won’t have much experience to rely upon next season.

On the line, end Desmond Branch could be a breakout player, someone who was a little too small for the “3 technique” defensive tackle spot in former defensive coordinator Ted Roof’s 4-3 defense, but whose quickness could be a good match for what Woody wants from his ends.

Woody said that there are ends “that move really good laterally.” The bigger challenge on the line is nose tackle, which lines up directly over the center.

“The nose position is a lot more difficult, and that’s what we’re probably having more trouble with right now,” Woody said.

Leading candidates there are Chris Martin, Kyle Cerge-Henderson and Brandon Adams. Brentavious Glanton, who acknowledged that he has had some struggles in adapting to the new scheme, could be in the mix, also, although it’s possible he could play at end.

“I think that Kyle Henderson has had a good spring,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to get more out of Brandon Adams, and Chris Martin’s had a good spring. Those probably would be the three nose tackles going into camp.”

ExploreThe changes that prompted Chris Martin’s rise up the depth chart

The team should benefit from the increased competition created by the reduction in the number of line positions from four to three. Again, the emphasis is on quickness. It perhaps bears mention that Appalachian State’s starting nose tackle for the past two seasons, Myquon Stout, is listed at 275 pounds and was agile enough to play basketball in high school. The lightest listed weight among Martin, Cerge-Henderson and Adams is Martin at 289.

Having an effective nose tackle will matter to the Jackets. Woody said as much last week.

“That nose position is one that, that’s sort of what you build your defense around,” he said. “If you don’t have a great one – not a good one, a great one – then this is a tough defense to execute. We’ve got some bodies in there that are working hard and have a chance to get there, but, still, we’re in that tough fundamentals phase, still teaching those fundamentals to where those guys can be just at a different level than where they’re at now.”

Challengers will arrive at both the nose tackle and cornerback positions (and others) with the incoming freshman class. Early enrollee T.K. Chimedza, expected to play at both end and tackle, and cornerbacks Jaylon King and Zamari Walton could make bids to play right away.

Series so far:

ExploreConsidering Tech’s options with injury to Kenny Cooper

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