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2011 Georgia Tech Preview – Defense
Georgia Tech LB Julian Burnett
Georgia Tech LB Julian Burnett
Posted May 24, 2011 2011 Preview - Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Defense

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Preview 2011 - Defense

- 2011 Georgia Tech Preview | 2011 Georgia Tech Offense
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What You Need To Know: Georgia Tech had problems in its first year under Al Groh, running his version of the 3-4 defense. Soft throughout the year at the point of attack, the Yellow Jackets ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in many statistical categories. The good news is that the program will be in its second year in the system, meaning everyone should have a better grasp on his individual assignment. The grim reality is that six starters are gone, including the entire secondary. A bunch of defenders will need to step up, beginning with the defensive ends. While Izaan Cross and Jason Peters have NFL size and potential, the pair combined for only four sacks, which won’t cut it for that rebuilt and needy defensive backfield. The playmakers will come from the second level of defense, where Julian Burnett and Steven Sylvester have all-star ceilings, and Jeremiah Attaochu is a potential breakout star.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Julian Burnett, 89
Sacks: Jeremiah Attaochu, 3
Interceptions: Multiple, 1

Star of the defense: Junior LB Julian Burnett
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Jason Peters
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Jeremiah Attaochu
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Izaan Cross
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burnett, 2) Cross, 3) Senior LB Steven Sylvester
Strength of the defense: Potential at defensive end, athleticism of the linebackers, depth at the nose
Weakness of the defense: Creating pressure, turnover in the secondary, stuffing the run

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: Three starters needed. Three starters return. The Yellow Jackets couldn’t be much happier about their situation along the defensive line, boasting size, talent, and the potential to be even better this fall. They better be because the unit gave up too much ground in 2010, allowing running backs to get to the second level and quarterbacks too much time to check down and find an open man.

The ends flash all kinds of potential and power, with 6-4, 292-pound junior Izaan Cross on one side and 6-4, 271-pound senior Jason Peters on the other. Cross is a rising star and a perfect fit for a 3-4 defense, using his strength and non-stop pursuit to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Looking as if he’ll be playing on Sundays in two years, he debuted in the lineup with 41 tackles, 6.5 stops for loss, 2.5 sacks, and four batted balls. This is Peters’ time to shine. A charismatic leader and a great player to have in the locker room, he’s set to make his own NFL audition after making 52 tackles, five behind the line, and 1.5 sacks. Both backup jobs are up for grabs, wide open competitions between unproven underclassmen.

Manning the inside will be 6-2, 295-pound senior DT Logan Walls , who’s back for a third season as a starter. Held back in the early stages of his career by a hereditary heart issue, he’s cleared that hurdle to become a mainstay on the defensive line. Tough against the run, he contributed 23 tackles and often occupied multiple blockers. The space-eater of the tackles is 6-7, 333-pound junior T.J. Barnes. An immovable object at the point of attack, he had 20 tackles and will continue to play a key role up front coming off the bench.

Watch Out For … Cross and Peters to have breakout years. After scratching the surface in 2010, both players are poised to have the kind of seasons that garner some All-ACC attention. They used last fall to adjust to the 3-4 defense, and have the size and natural ability to spend much more time in opposing backfields.
Strength: Size. Tech has the requisite girth needed to employ a three-man front. The starters average more than 280 pounds, and Barnes is one of the biggest players in the conference. There’ll be absolutely no reason for this unit to get shoved around or pushed back a few yards off the line.
Weakness: Getting penetration. This was, by far, the line’s biggest problem last season, as it adjusted to the graduation of star DE Derrick Morgan. Too often, the Yellow Jackets got beaten at the point of attack, yielding 4.5 yards per carry and ranking 11th in the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss. Over the last half of the season, Tech got to the quarterback just two times.
Outlook: There’s no excuse for the Tech line not to be better this fall—much better. The unit got shoved around a year ago, but with three starters, talented upperclassmen, the Yellow Jackets can’t possibly be as ineffective as they were in 2010. Walls is effective, but Peters and Cross both have enough talent to play beyond Atlanta when they’re through.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: Last season was a transition period for the Yellow Jackets, which were a little shorthanded in their first year using a 3-4. Now, even with the losses of four multiple letterwinners, Tech believes it has enough quality holdovers and a mix of youth and established veterans to raise the bar in 2011. No one will be tougher to replace than Brad Jefferson, the team’s best inside linebacker.

No one from this group benefitted more from the scheme change than 5-10, 222-pound junior Julian Burnett , a rising star from the inside. In his first shot as a full-timer, he delivered a team-high 89 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles despite not starting until the fifth game. Playing much tougher than his size, he operates at top speed and has great field vision, using his quickness and tenacity to never be far from the ball.

The favorite to join Burnett on the inside is 6-3, 236-pound sophomore Daniel Drummond , a converted running back. Beyond just having the right size for the shift, he moves well and can really pack a punch. The Jackets have a good blend of youth and experience on the second team, with 6-1, 220-pound redshirt freshman Quayshawn Nealy and Albert Rocker , respectively. While Rocker has 38 games of experience, Nealy was one of the stars of the spring.

The anchor on the outside for one more year will be 6-2, 238-pound senior Steven Sylvester , a veteran of 39 games and 22 starts. In his second season as a regular, he made a career-high 60 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, and three sacks. Most effective when he’s coming hard off the edge, he wraps up in the open field and has the burst and lean to do a lot of damage on blitzes.

Flanking Sylvester at the other outside position, the coaching staff is excited about the potential of 6-3, 223-pound sophomore Jeremiah Attaochu . An instant impact performer in his first season out of high school, he started the Independence Bowl and made 23 stops and three sacks. The sky is limit for him, one of the up-and-comers on this side of the ball. Behind Sylvester is 6-2, 230-pound sophomore Brandon Watts , a starter in the first three games of 2010. He finished with 21 tackles, and will again play a secondary role before competing for a full-time gig in 2012.

Watch Out For … Attaochu to begin turning heads around the ACC. One of the really good young athletes at linebacker and a perfect fit for Al Groh’s defense, he’s going to fly around the field, looking for someone to hit. Still raw, he’ll make some mistakes, but will offset them with enough momentum-building plays.
Strength: Range. Through recruiting, player development, and timely relocations, the Yellow Jackets feel as if they have a collection of predators at linebacker. From left to right, and from inside to outside, they excel at diagnosing plays, reacting quickly, and zeroing in on their target.
Weakness: Money plays. Sylvester provided some in 2010 and Attaochu is on the tarmac, but the Yellow Jackets still want to see a more consistent delivery of big plays. With the athletic ability of this group, it should be able to produce stops for loss and takeaways on a more regular basis.
Outlook: If there’s a drop-off from a year ago, it’s going to be nominal. Yeah, a bunch of vets left the Flats, but Georgia Tech is better prepared at the position than it was at the start of 2010. While Burnett and Sylvester will provide the foundation, others, like Attaochu, Nealy, and Drummond have yet to approach their full potential as defenders.
Unit Rating: 7


State of the Unit: Secondary coach Charles Kelly is going to do a lot of teaching this offseason. From a defensive backfield that performed modestly well in 2010, all four starters have graduated, leaving the Yellow Jackets with a massive void on the last line of defense. Although seven returning players have earned letter at this level, not one started more than three games a year ago.

If there’s a breakout player waiting to happen, it could be 6-2, 195-pound sophomore S Isaiah Johnson . A nice combination of size and fluid athletic ability, he earned three starts in his debut out of high school, making 46 tackles and a couple of fumble recoveries. He’s expected to be joined by the veteran of the group, 5-10, 191-pound senior Rashaad Reid , who chipped in a dozen tackles last fall. A versatile performer, with starts at corner, safety, and nickel, he’s played in 40 career games and started 15. Behind Johnson is 6-1, 198-pound sophomore Fred Holton , one of the hardest hitters of the unit. Making his presence felt, and 11 tackles, on special teams, he needs more work in the secondary.

Junior Rod Sweeting appears to have locked down one of the two cornerback jobs. The first man off the bench in 2010, he had 38 tackles and broke up eight passes. A speedy 6-0, 181-pounder, he has all of the necessary physical skills to become a shutdown corner, but needs to keep his focus on every play. His partner figures to be 6-1, 190-pound sophomore Louis Young , who got on the field and lettered in his first year on campus. An original commit to Stanford, he has the size to match taller receivers and the back-pedal needed to evolve as a pass defender. Senior Michael Peterson will back up Young and provide a veteran feel to the secondary. Though the 5-11, 190-pounder has largely been used as a reserve and a special teamer, he does have 38 career games of experience.

Watch Out For … Sweeting to take the next big step toward becoming a talented defender in this league. Limited by all of those older Yellow Jacket defensive backs, he’s now the top man at cornerback, with a chance to showcase his skills. Even in a reserve role, he made plenty of big plays, setting the stage for a breakout 2011.
Strength: Upside. The most promising thing about this group is that its best days are ahead of it. The two-deep is littered with underclassmen, young up-and-comers who have the ability to progress rapidly. This is an upwardly-mobile group that’s going to be much better in November than September.
Weakness: Inexperience. Particularly at cornerback, the Yellow Jackets will be very green, boasting just four total starts from last season. The corners have high ceilings, but have yet to start a game, which could be evident in the early going. In order, words they’ll struggle in pass defense, a year after their predecessors picked off a league-low eight passes.
Outlook: It’ll be a year of transition for the Georgia Tech secondary, which is breaking in a whole new quartet of starters. There’ll be the usual ups-and-downs, with at least two of the regulars putting down very solid foundations that can be carried over into the following season.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

State of the Unit: For the first time since 2006, Georgia Tech won’t have Scott Blair at placekicker, a large void that’ll need to be filled. Looking to step into the opening is sophomore Justin Moore , who played sparingly as a rookie. The rare scholarship kicker in Atlanta, he has ample leg strength, but needs to improve his accuracy.

Sophomore Sean Poole is the team’s returning punter, averaging 39.3 yards as the primary option for the special teams coach. He sat out the spring with a knee injury, but expects to return for the summer. If he suffers a setback, it’ll create an opportunity for senior Chandler Anderson to regain a job he held back in 2009.

While the team’s primary kick returners, sophomore B.J. Bostic and senior Embry Peeples return, Tech needs a replacement for Jerrard Tarrant on punts. The Yellow Jackets tumbled in both areas after being so prolific a year earlier.

Watch Out For … Poole to take a big step forward once he gets the knee healthy. There’s a reason why he unseated Anderson, who averaged more than 42 yards in 2009. He has a high ceiling at the position, and excels, in particular, with his directional kicks.
Strength: Covering kicks. Sure, Tech allowed a touchdown a year ago, but this was the most consistent area of last year’s special teams unit. The Jackets held opponents to under 20 yards a return, ranking No. 11 in the country and tops in the ACC.
Weakness: The return game. Practically overnight, the program went from explosive to feeble in the return game, standing 97th in the nation on both kickoffs and punts. And now Tarrant has departed, robbing the school of its most incendiary option on special teams.
Outlook: In the up-and-down world of Georgia Tech special teams under Paul Johnson, the unit is back in rebuilding mode once again. The kicker is green, the punter is recovering from a knee injury, and neither the return game nor coverage teams have been inspirational. It figures to be a very busy offseason, as the staff attempts to pick up the pieces and make things right.
Unit Rating: 6

- 2011 Georgia Tech Preview | 2011 Georgia Tech Offense
- 2011 Georgia Tech Defense | 2011 Georgia Tech Depth Chart
- Georgia Tech Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006