D.J. White a potential star in Tech secondary

Last year, after shoulder surgery ended his season, Georgia Tech safety Jamal Golden couldn’t contribute much on the field, but he did offer his intuition. Just before the Music City Bowl, Golden told cornerback D.J. White that he would get his first career interception.

It was the first time Golden had voiced the prediction to White, who made good on the prophecy with an interception in Tech’s loss to Ole Miss. He added two forced fumbles and 13 tackles in a breakout performance. Before this year’s camp, Golden issued another revelation about White — he will be Tech’s next great cornerback.

“He’s just getting better every day,” Golden said. “It’s good to know I have somebody like that on the back end with me that I can trust, that I know he’s going to be where he needs to be, (that) he’s going to make a play when it’s time to make a play.”

White could have many such opportunities this season. Tech’s concerns about being able to create a four-man pass rush could lead either to opposing quarterbacks having time to throw or the defensive line needing blitz help. Neither situation — defending wide receivers for longer durations or defending them with fewer plays — is a win for the secondary. White is undaunted.

“I feel like we can really be the strength this year going forward for our defense,” White said.

With Louis Young and Jemea Thomas in NFL camps, Tech’s secondary is a mix of young and old. The safety spots are in veteran hands. Strong safety Isaiah Johnson has 39 games (tied for second most on the team) and 29 starts (also second) to his credit, with 211 career tackles, most on the team. At free safety, Golden, who teammates voted the team’s best leader, started the first three games of last season before his shoulder injury. Demond Smith ended up starting 10 games last season in Golden’s place and is expected to back them up and also play nickel back or third safety in the 4-2-5 alignment.

As for the cornerbacks, coach Paul Johnson’s answer about how he felt about them was interesting.

“How do I feel about them?” he asked. “I think they’re working hard. D.J.’s got some experience, and the other guys, Chris Milton has his moments, and the young guys are learning. It kind of is what it is.”

Milton is working as the other starting cornerback, particularly with Lynn Griffin out for the first two games because of a suspension for violating the athletic association’s student-athlete conduct code. Milton mostly was a backup at safety his first two seasons. He is doing well at cornerback, but needs to be more consistent, defensive backs coach Joe Speed said.

The group has been infused with potentially two of the most impactful members of the freshman class, twin brothers Lance and Lawrence Austin, as well as early-enrollee Step Durham. Lance has been on the second team at nickel back behind Smith, while Lawrence has played second-string cornerback. Speed said a lot of information has been “shoved down their throats” during camp in the hopes that they can ingest and apply it quickly.

Speed said the plan is to ease them onto the field — both Austins likely will also play special teams — but reserved the right to change his mind.

“There’s still some days of camp left,” he said Tuesday. “We don’t know if those guys are going to be on first string or second string or wherever they’ll be. We’ll still continue to evaluate them on a daily basis and see how the plan unfolds.”

Coaches have praised Domonique Noble for his work in camp and have tried him at various spots, including nickel back and linebacker in the nickel defense. He has been at safety most recently.

“He’s brought a physical presence to the game a little bit this camp, and so we’re looking for better things out of him,” Speed said.

In the mix of experience and untested potential stands White, with nine career starts and Golden’s endorsement as an impact player.

“He’s just one of those guys that you know is going to do what he has to do, what he needs to do,” Golden said. “He’s slowly becoming a leader of this team.”