2013 Georgia Tech Preview – Defense

Posted Jun 30, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Defense

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Preview 2013 - Defense

- 2013 Georgia Tech Preview | 2013 Georgia Tech Offense
- 2013 Georgia Tech Defense | 2013 Georgia Tech Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The Yellow Jackets have found their permanent replacement for deposed coordinator Al Groh, veteran assistant Ted Roof, who'll be doing his second stint on the Flats. Roof assumes control of a veteran defense that has the parts to evolve beyond last season's sloppy and inconsistent results. He inherits eight starters and a swath of seniors who'll be asked to assume more of a leadership role as the unit switches from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Tech will be especially stable in the back seven, where only two underclassmen might be starting. Linebackers Quayshawn Nealy, Jabari Hunt-Days and Brandon Watts each have All-ACC potential. And CB Jemea Thomas and S Isaiah Johnson are playmakers from the last line of defense. It's up front where the Jackets need to get much nastier. Roof instantly upgraded the front wall by relocating pass-rushing specialist Jeremiah Attaochu from outside linebacker. But the ACC's No. 3 sack man in 2012 needs more help if Tech is going to be tougher at the point of attack.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Isaiah Johnson, 87
Sacks: Jeremiah Attaochu, 10
Interceptions: Jemea Thomas, 4

Star of the defense: Senior DE Jeremiah Attaochu
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Emmanuel Dieke or Chris Crenshaw
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Jabari Hunt-Days
Best pro prospect: Attaochu
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Attaochu, 2) Senior CB Jemea Thomas, 3) Senior LB Brandon Watts
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, veteran secondary, takeaways
Weakness of the defense: The pass rush, run defense, third-down stops, red-zone D

Defensive Line

The Yellow Jackets return eight starters on defense, none more important than senior Jeremiah Attaochu, the catalyst for the team's pass rush. The 6-3, 240-pounder fits the mold that NFL teams are seeking in a pass-rushing outside linebacker, terrorizing quarterbacks off the edge with his speed and ferocity. For this season, though, he's shifting to defensive end to help accommodate Tech's shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3. A year after collecting 69 tackles, 12 stops for loss and 10 sacks, Attaochu is now one monster season away from becoming Georgia Tech's all-time leader in sacks. He's the type of menacing and relentless defender that new coordinator Ted Roof plans to build a unit around in his return to Atlanta.

Attaochu's partner on the other side, more of a strongside spot, has yet to be determined. Running even at the conclusion of spring were a pair of seniors, 6-6, 270-pound Emmanuel Dieke and 6-3, 256-pound Chris Crenshaw. While Dieke looks the part and started the first 12 games last year, he'll need to be more productive to keep his job. Last season, he contributed just 24 stops and a pair of sacks. Crenshaw is far less experienced, including two career starts in 2011 and only six tackles in 2012. However, his extra burst and quickness could provide the edge to get him on the field.

Experience at tackle will come from 6-4, 275-pound senior Euclid Cummings, who's moving inside after starting the final two games of 2012 at defensive end. He moves well for his size, creating versatility in his position. Playing on the outside last fall, he chipped in 23 tackles, four stops for loss and three sacks.

Taking control of nose tackle this offseason has been 6-5, 300-pound sophomore Adam Gotsis, the second-year Yellow Jacket from Australia. The former Aussie Rules Football star brings long arms, excellent athleticism and a good motor to the interior of the Tech line. Still relatively new to the sport, Gotsis figures to evolve exponentially with the more reps he receives.

Depth on the interior will come from 6-5, 262-pound tackle Patrick Gamble and 6-3, 270-pound Jimmie Kitchen at the nose. Gamble was a top recruit from 2012 who almost convinced the staff to pull his redshirt last fall. Kitchen is finally healthy again after missing most of the last two seasons.

Watch Out For … the results of the competition between Dieke and Crenshaw. This is going to be a crucial duel for playing time that will impact the rest of the pass rush, specifically Attaochu. Georgia Tech needs to be more than just a one-man gang on the edge, or else that one man becomes so much easier to neutralize.
Strength: Attaochu. He's not just a talented pass rusher; he is by far the best pass rusher on the Flats. In fact, he has a habit of being so disruptive and frenetic that it makes life much easier for his teammates. No. 45 is a bona fide difference-maker who's capable of blowing up the opposition's best intention.
Weakness: The supporting cast. Who steps up and helps Attaochu, making his transition to a new position a little smoother? The linemen lacked punch and assertiveness a year ago, with none accounting for more than three sacks. The Yellow Jackets are seeking more production and disruption out of a group that was far more effective as run defenders than pass rushers in 2012.
Outlook: Georgia Tech is using an additional lineman this fall, but will the results be similar to a year ago, when the pass rush largely fizzled? Attaochu will obviously help big time, but he needs more support, specifically from the combination of Dieke and Crenshaw on the opposite side. It'll also be an important year for Gotsis as he assumes a crucial spot in the starting lineup for the first time in his career.
Unit Rating: 6.5


Now that Jeremiah Attaochu has been relocated to the D-line, the importance of senior Brandon Watts on the outside is more pronounced than ever. The 6-2, 238-pounder is coming off his best season as a Yellow Jacket, earning borderline All-ACC recognition by making 68 stops, 7.5 tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. As one of the program's better combinations of size, speed and agility on D, he gives the staff multiple options on how best to employ his skill set.

Junior Quayshawn Nealy is moving outside after starting 20 games as an inside linebacker over the last two seasons. The 6-1, 232-pounder is one of the defensive leaders, regardless of position, bringing speed, coverage skills and a terrific work ethic to the corps. In a table-setting second year, he was in on 79 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss, two sacks and two interceptions.

The lone inside position remains a toss-up between a couple of qualified Yellow Jackets, 6-3, 245-pound senior Daniel Drummond and 6-3, 252-pound sophomore Jabari Hunt-Days. Drummond, a converted running back, has been a part-time starter the last two years, collecting 36 tackles and a pick in 2012. He possesses good range and athleticism. Hunt-Days is fresh off an auspicious beginning to his college career, earning Freshman All-American honors after starting all 14 games. Blessed with excellent measurables and instincts, he led all linebackers with 84 tackles, including 4.5 stops for loss, a pick and four pass breakups.

Watch Out For … Nealy to excel as an outside linebacker. Oh, he was just fine on the inside, but his size and range project better as an outside linebacker. When Nealy is able to avoid being locked up with bigger opponents, he can create havoc as both a pass rusher and a pass defender.
Strength: Range and closing speed. Thanks to good recruiting, sound player development and cagey relocations, such as Drummond, the Yellow Jackets are flush with guided missiles from the second level. From right to left, and inside to outside, Tech excels at diagnosing plays, reacting instantly and zeroing in on its target.
Weakness: Depth on the outside. Losing Attaochu bolsters the D-line, but thins out the linebackers as well. And while Nealy and Watts will be perfectly fine with the help of their former unit mate, what happens if either gets dinged? The Yellow Jackets are young and inexperienced beyond the starters in 2013.
Outlook: Georgia Tech is once again in good shape at linebacker, despite the relocation of Attaochu to the front wall. Plus, the change to a 4-3 means that not as many bodies are required this year. The Jackets are very talented and sure-tackling from the second level. And two middle men competing for one spot is a luxury. Developing the younger backups between now and the opener, though, will be a priority.
Unit Rating: 8


A year older, the Yellow Jackets' defensive backfield must now prove that it's a year better after yielding 23 touchdown passes in 2012. Four players return with starting experience, including a pair with All-ACC ceilings. Senior Isaiah Johnson started all 14 games at one safety spot a year ago, finishing with a team-high 87 tackles and 4.5 stops for minus yards. At 6-2 and 208 pounds, he's one of the enforcers of the secondary, stepping up to defend the run like a linebacker. Still, Tech does need Johnson to do a tighter job from centerfield of stopping opposing receivers on deep balls.

Johnson's partner at safety looks as if it'll be 5-11, 183-pound Chris Milton. The up-and-coming sophomore earned the respect of the coaching staff with his play on special teams last year, frequently being the first Yellow Jacket downfield to bust the wedge. Fearless and tenacious, he started the Sun Bowl at safety, his lone start, and ended his rookie year with 20 stops.

The playmaker of the last line of defense is senior CB Jemea Thomas, who started the first five games at cornerback and the final nine at safety. He's simply one of those athletic defenders who's going to do whatever is necessary to get involved in the action and get his hands on the ball. In his best season to date, the 5-10, 195-pounder finished second on the squad with 86 tackles, adding a team-high four interceptions and six pass breakups. Thomas has the right package of speed, instincts and want-to to attract the attention of pro scouts and all-star voters throughout his final year.

If opposing quarterbacks elect to avoid Thomas' area of the field, it'll be up to Louis Young to make them pay. The 6-1, 196-pound senior is certainly seasoned and well-sized for the challenge. However, unlike Thomas, tempo-changing plays have come at a premium for Young. The veteran of 21 starts was too quiet in 2012, making only 32 tackles, one interception and a pair of pass breakups.

The Yellow Jackets will be green off the bench at cornerback, with sophomores D.J. White and Domonique Noble positioning for gigs in 2014, yet proven at safety. Junior Jamal Golden is like having another starter on the sidelines. In fact, he started the first five games of 2012 and wound up with 24 tackles and three picks. He can be spotty in coverage, but so dangerous with the ball in his hands. The wild card at safety is hard-luck junior Fred Holton who has missed the past two seasons to injury. The 6-1, 208-pound thumper started his career with so much promise, but has been unable to play a snap since 2010, when he lettered as a rookie.

Watch Out For … Milton to bring an undeniable spark to the defensive backfield, much the way he ignited special teams in 2012. He plays with such fire and passion that it makes folks forget that he lacks ideal size for a safety. Milton operates with a contagious attitude, which will help him fit in right away.
Strength: Athletes. Georgia Tech harbors the right measurables in the secondary, boasting well-sized athletes who can fly all over the field to make plays. The pass rush, mainly Jeremiah Attaochu, has helped at times, but the defensive backs did their part to ensure that the team tied for tops in the ACC with 16 picks.
Weakness: Spotty red-zone play. Tech did a lot of things well a year ago, but also allowed 23 scoring strikes, tied for third highest in the league. The secondary got burned deep periodically, and lost its focus more times than the staff could tolerate. There's too much talent here for the Yellow Jackets not to be a little tighter in coverage when it matters most.
Outlook: There's enough talent, and more than enough quality athletes, in the secondary for Georgia Tech to be a real nuisance for opposing quarterbacks this fall. Three seniors are likely to start, and depth at safety will be a bonus, especially if Holton is available. The Yellow Jackets will be tested all season through the air from the likes of Bryn Renner, Logan Thomas, Stephen Morris, Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

The early May dismissal of PK Justin Moore means that senior David Scully will carry a lead at the position into the summer. However, he's hardly a safe bet for anything except kickoffs, where his strong leg has been on display the last two years. However, the former walk-on only made 4-of-8 field goals in 2012, getting two blocked, and missed a pair of extra points.

The Yellow Jackets will enjoy more stability at punter this fall, where senior Sean Poole returns for his fourth season as a regular. Never known for his booming punts, he's averaged just under 40 yards in each of the last three years, including last season's injury-shortened campaign.

Junior Jamal Golden is one of the most explosive athletes on the roster, the reason he'll once again handle punts and kickoffs. Last season, he was the only player in America to rank in the top 10 in both categories, taking a pair of kickoffs back for touchdowns.

Watch Out For … rookie Harrison Butker to provide the competition at placekicker that the staff is seeking. Without Moore, someone needs to push the inconsistent Scully. Butker was signed for that very purpose. Ranked as the country's No. 3 kicker, he has the accuracy and the pop to contribute immediately.
Strength: Golden. The playmaker is capable of making people miss, but it's his jets that are so lethal in the return game. When he gets past the initial wave of coverage, there aren't many people capable of tracking him down from behind. Golden provides an immediate field position boost to the offense.
Weakness: The specialists. The Yellow Jackets aren't feeling especially secure about either this year's punter or placekicker. The program is keeping its fingers crossed that a true freshman can solve the kicking woes, and that Poole can finally extend his average to beyond 40 yards a punt for the first time in his career.
Outlook: Thank goodness for Golden, or else Tech would really have a hollow feeling about its special teams unit entering 2013. The Yellow Jackets are no better than average after the return game, and even worse than that if one of the placekickers can't solidify a kicking game that made just 11-of-18 field goals a year ago. Butker has an opportunity to play an important role shortly after arriving.
Unit Rating: 6.5
- 2013 Georgia Tech Preview | 2013 Georgia Tech Offense
- 2013 Georgia Tech Defense | 2013 Georgia Tech Depth Chart