The video comes on, and the search is on, Georgia Tech football players searching for their flickering images on the screen.
“I’ve been on it’s a few times,” nose tackle Chris Martin said. “I’m trying to get on it more.”
It’s what Yellow Jackets defenders call the “hustle tape,” and it’s one reason why they are hopeful that new defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s unit will be a legitimate improvement from seasons past.
The hustle tape, which Woody brought with him from Appalachian State, is a simple premise. Coaches assemble a highlight clip of players giving full effort in the previous practice, then show it to the defense before the next practice.
“It kind of creates competition in the room because everybody wants to be on the hustle tape as much as possible,” Martin said.
It’s only August, and the Jackets have yet to play anybody but themselves. And, as coach Paul Johnson noted last week, asked, “Have you ever seen anyone who had a new coach who, everything wasn’t great?”
But, according to observations of players on defense and offense, the defense is demonstrating the speed and aggressive play that Woody was hired to produce after the Jackets finished last season 119th in tackles for loss (4.27 per game) and 124th in turnovers per game (.91 per game). Those numbers and others led to former coordinator Ted Roof leaving Tech after five seasons for N.C. State.
“I’d say a lot more aggressive with the blitz, and they just get after every rep,” B-back Jerry Howard said earlier this week.
The scheme itself has increased speed.
“I’d say we’re playing faster as a defense because things are a little bit simpler for us,” safety Christian Campbell said. “And I feel like as a defensive player, when you don’t have to think a lot, you just move faster.”
It is a solution that Johnson has sought since the beginning of his tenure, an uncomplicated defense that could enable players to play without thinking. It is part of what attracted Johnson to Woody’s defenses at Appalachian State. At Woody’s introductory news conference in January, Johnson said that what appealed to him about Appalachian State’s 34-0 bowl-game demolition of Toledo in December wasn’t the shutout of a prolific offense, but that the Mountaineers “were going 100 miles an hour.”
“We’re trying to coach it, but it wasn’t like we didn’t try to coach that before,” Johnson said. “We’ll see. I think you can play faster if you’re sure of what you’re doing.”
That’s happening up front, also. Defensive linemen are called on to penetrate one gap in the offensive line. It’s a change from a scheme that was more read-and-react, nose tackle Brandon Adams said.
“But the premise of (Woody’s scheme) is just win your gap and then somebody (else) win their gap,” Adams said. “If we all win our gap, then somebody’s free.”
Linebacker Brant Mitchell: “It’s simple. We get lined up and we go after it.”
Players said that it isn’t solely scheme that has increased tempo. They’ve noticed effort being demanded and incentivized through vehicles like the hustle tape.
“(Woody) is always stressing playing more physical, and that’s how he gets us to play hard,” linebacker Jaquan Henderson said. “Because if you can’t do it, he’ll put somebody else in that will do it.”
In short, through Woody, his staff and the defensive leaders, a new culture may be forming. Martin, who has revived at nose tackle after a slow start to his Tech career, sees it in how players are pushed to run from drill to drill. It leads to the same intensity in drills.
“It’s a big deal for us this year, rallying to the ball and playing fast and getting 11 hats to the ball,” Martin said.
Johnson will reserve judgment until the Jackets play their first few games.
“I think they’ve created a lot of negative plays in practice,” he said. “Now, I don’t know whether that’s because they’re any good or because we’re really bad (on offense).”
Until further review, at least, there’s the hustle tape.
“It’s getting guys to buy in, and you want to be on that,” Mitchell said. “If you have any pride about yourself, you want to be on that hustle tape. Everybody’s just getting after it, and everybody’s enjoying it.”