This is the sixth installment in an eight-part series breaking down each position group as the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets continue their spring practice, which will culminate in the annual spring intrasquad game at 1 p.m. April 15 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
A year ago, Georgia Tech’s defensive line was a group that had just experienced a staggering loss of production and experience because of players transferring or completing their eligibility. Further, defensive ends coach Marco Coleman had departed to coach the defensive line at Michigan State.
A year forward, defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker is counting on the experience gained last season by a fresh set of linemen to bolster the Yellow Jackets’ defense. Further, Coleman has rejoined the coaching staff, this time coaching the entire defensive line, hired back by coach Brent Key. A defense that finished 12th in the ACC in total defense, 10th in sacks per game and last in rushing defense will need all of the resistance and pocket collapsing that the Tech front can deliver.
Any consideration of the line’s prospects going into the 2023 season, though, must take into account the departure of All-ACC defensive end Keion White, a playmaking force who has emerged as a candidate to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
“So we lose arguably your most explosive, dynamic player,” Thacker said Monday. “But you also have seven of the eight rotational guys back, if not more.”
It could well be considered more. The five defensive tackles who took the most snaps on defense – D’Quan Douse, Makius Scott, Zeek Biggers, Akelo Stone and Jason Moore – are back.
Among the ends, White was by far the most productive player, but three players who combined for 12 tackles for loss (Sylvain Yondjouen, Kyle Kennard and Noah Collins) and more than 1,000 defensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, are back.
Douse could be the best of the group. A little undersized for the interior at 6-foot-2 and 282 pounds, Douse is quick off the snap and was accustomed to seeing double teams last season. His run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus ranked fifth among defensive tackles in the ACC. He started all 12 games and had 26 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss with four quarterback hurries after recording one tackle in the 2021 season.
Guard Jordan Williams gave a nod to Stone, his roommate when both were early enrollees in 2020.
“He’s good, he’s agile, quick,” Williams said. “It’s hard to double-team him, too, because he’ll plant his back foot in the ground, hands on your neck. Him and Douse (teammates like to pronounce his name “doo-say”) kind of have the same game.”
The group took in transfer Etinosa Reuben from Clemson. A backup on Clemson’s vaunted line, Reuben has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Reuben moves well at the snap and was used in pass-rush situations at Clemson, Thacker said.
“We’re going to ask him to be an every-down guy and still have that third-down skill set,” he said.
At the end spot vacated by White, Yondjouen figures to claim the job. Yondjouen became more of a playmaker for the Jackets in his fourth season (he is using his extra COVID-19 season and could conceivably play in 2024 by applying for a medical hardship waiver), hitting career highs in tackles (23) and tackles for loss (5).
Thacker and Coleman are overseeing competition at the rush end spot among Collins, Kennard and Kevin Harris.
“At some point, they’ve been with every grouping, first, second or third string, and they’ve been on a rotation right there,” Thacker said. “This offseason is huge for them in understanding the position.”
Speaking Monday after the team’s fourth spring-practice session, Thacker said the three were playing at a higher level than in the fall.
“If we give them a chance to do their job and be in the right spot, then that production that you’re talking about will come through,” Thacker said. “But that is a spot, by structure of the defense, that should be active, that should create (tackles for loss), that has opportunities to have pass-rushing situations.”
They train under the supervision of Coleman, the Tech legend. Thacker, who coached with Coleman from 2019-21 and is reunited with him, touted his improvement as a coach. After his playing career ended in 2005, Coleman had a career in finance before pursuing coaching. He was a high-school coach in 2017 and was an assistant coach with the Raiders in 2018 before getting hired at Tech in 2019.
“We all know he’s a great player and a legend in the NFL and all that, but his development as a coach, I think he’s an elite coach right now,” Thacker said.
- Tight ends: Seeking larger role in passing game
- Quarterbacks: Toughness a defining trait under center
- Offensive line: Experience, continuity could bolster unit
- Wide receivers: New group in play at the position
- Running backs: New faces in the backfield
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