New Georgia Tech assistant has two-word mantra for defensive front

Georgia Tech defensive lineman Week Biggers (88) and Jordan Boyd (90) warm up during their first day of spring football practice at the Brock Indoor Practice Facility, Monday, March 11, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Georgia Tech defensive lineman Week Biggers (88) and Jordan Boyd (90) warm up during their first day of spring football practice at the Brock Indoor Practice Facility, Monday, March 11, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Kyle Pope, starting his first season with Georgia Tech, wants to keep it simple for his defensive linemen and outside linebackers who are tasked with getting into the opposing backfield.

“Fast and violent,” he said when asked about how he wants his unit to play. “We break every meeting down with that, with finish every practice with that and that’s how we attack the field, that’s how we play. When you turn the film on and see those guys coming off the edge and playing on the edge, you wanna say, ‘Hey, they play fast and they play violent.’ That’s our mantra.”

One of the younger assistants on coach Brent Key’s staff this season, Pope came to Atlanta after four seasons coaching the Memphis defensive front. He had previously worked with Key from 2017-18 at Alabama when Pope was a graduate assistant and Key was the Crimson Tide’s offensive line coach.

Pope and Jess Simpson, two of four new assistants brought in to retool Tech’s defense, now have to raise the play of Tech’s defensive front if the Yellow Jackets hope to see any defensive improvement at all.

“I was telling someone the other day, it’s a group of guys that’s very willing – willing to learn, willing to work, very coachable, and those guys can go on the field and they will strain,” Pope said of the defensive line. “They will strain for you. They wanna be coached, they wanna be pushed and I’m excited. I’m blessed to be the guy that’s able to work with them and do it, but it’s a willing group who I’m into working with so far.”

Tech’s front, which will have a base formation under defensive coordinator Tyler Santucci of a nose tackle, a defensive tackle and two defensive ends, returns senior Zeek Biggers (6-foot-6, 333 pounds) who made 40 tackles (four for a loss), blocked a kick and had a sack last year. Horace Lockett (6-6, 341) and Makius Scott (6-4, 291), who combined for 59 tackles in 2023, are expected to help Biggers clog the middle – Lockett is Tech’s highest-graded returning rush defender, according to Pro Football Focus.

Eddie Kelly, a 6-foot-4, 291-pound junior who had 38 tackles last season, and senior Kevin Harris (6-4, 245), who made 27 stops in ‘23, are back as well. Tech added Florida State transfer Ayo Tifase and Furman transfer Jack Barton to the roster this spring to bolster depth, and Jordan van den Berg, a transfer from Penn State, is expected to join the program this summer.

Tech should also get Sylvain Yondjouen, who missed the ‘23 season with an injury, back in time for the Aug. 24 opener.

“Everyone’s good, all the way down to the walk-ons,” Harris said. “It’s crazy the improvement we’ve seen over the last couple days. Everyone’s working hard right now.”

The Jackets finished 2023 as one of the worst teams in the nation at stopping the run – only Louisiana Tech and North Texas gave up more than Tech’s 221.3 rushing yards per game. Tech also gave up 87 running plays of 10 yards or more (the second most nationally)

Tech’s defense managed only 21 sacks in 13 games, and six of those came courtesy of defensive end Kyle Kennard, who transferred to South Carolina. Tech also managed only 60 tackles for loss, its fewest in a season since registering 54 in 2018.

One way to help improve those marks, Simpson believes, is to cross train Tech’s down linemen at every position in the hopes that versatility leads to knowledge, which leads to execution.

“I think it really brings a togetherness and a connectedness of how we play together,” Simpson said. “Then your football knowledge begins to rise. The best players in the world make great plays not just because they’re great players but because they know. And when you know, you go. When you can look and take a big picture of what’s in front of me and then you can get your vision small before the ball’s snapped, guys can make plays because a lot of times they know, ‘Hey, I’m about to get this.’

“I think that development, especially in the spring and the summer and as you go through fall camp, sometimes obviously those roles will tighten up, but it’s a great way to learn.”