2007 Georgia Tech Preview - Defense

Posted Apr 2, 2007

Preview 2007 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Defense

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Georgia Tech Preview  | 2007 GT Offense Preview
2007 GT Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Georgia Tech Preview 

What you need to know: The defense had two lousy games against Clemson and West Virginia and was solid against everyone else. With just about everyone returning, expect another great year holding almost everyone to under 300 yards and around 20 points. The defensive line will be one of the team's strengths with one of the best groups of ends in America. MLB Philip Wheeler deserves All-America attention while the safety tandem of Jamal Lewis and Djay Jones will be one of the ACC's best. The corners are a bit suspect and the proven linebacker depth is a bit thin, but those aren't glaring problems.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Philip Wheeler, 89
Sacks: Philip Wheeler, 9
Interceptions: Djay Jones, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB Philip Wheeler
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LB Shane Bowen
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman DE Derrick Morgan
Best pro prospect: Wheeler
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Wheeler, 2) DE Adamm Oliver, 3) S Jamal Lewis
Strength of the defense: Defensive line, safety
Weakness of the defense:
A proven third linebacker next to Philip Wheeler and Gary Guyton

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The line might be the the team's strength, and senior end Adamm Oliver is the best player up front. Huge for the outside at 270 pounds, he's tremendous against the run with the strength to play tackle if needed. While he's strong enough to hold his own against most tackles, he also has the burst of an end able to get into the backfield on a regular basis. His 70 tackles were good for fourth on the team to go along with 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. While he's not always flashy, he got the recognition last season earning Second Team All-ACC honors.

On the other side is 6-5, 245-pound senior Darrell Robertson, who takes over a full-time starting spot after working his way into the rotation and getting four starts. He's an active tackler making 54 stops to go along with three sacks and seven tackles for loss, and he should grow into a star of a pass rusher now that he has experience to go along with his speed and quickness.

The tackles aren't huge, but they're very good. 285-pound junior Darryl Richard made 20 tackles last season showing few effects of a knee injury that cost him all of 2005. An excellent interior pass rusher, he should be an All-ACC performer being a year removed from the torn ACL.

Sophomore Vance Walker will step in for rock-of-the-line Joe Anoai, who was tremendous at collapsing the pocket. He's only 6-2 and 275 pounds and has only seen time in a reserve role, but he has the quickness to be effective right away and become a good pass rusher.

Projected Top Reserves: There has to be a way to get Michael Johnson on the field more. Whether it means moving Adamm Oliver over to tackle or getting Johnson more involved in the rotation, the 6-7, 250-pound speed rusher needs more playing time. He made 34 tackles and five sacks in a part-time role, and with his athletic skills and quick first step, he'd be a double-digit sacker as a starter.

Sophomore Robert Hall will battle with star recruit Derrick Morgan for time on the other side. Mostly a special teamer so far, Hall has the raw skills to be a sack-artist as either a big outside linebacker or a tough end. The sky's the limit for Morgan, a 270-pound athlete who can do a little of everything well. He enrolled in school early and will be a major part of the rotation.

Inside, junior Elris Anyaibe bulked up in the off-season and should be more of a factor against the run. He got dinged up late in the year and missed the bowl game, but he'll be back and fine playing behind Richard as a quick option for the rotation.

Redshirt freshman Ben Anderson will be a starter at some point in his career. He's a good tackler who's added strength and bulk over the last two years to handle more of the workload behind Richard.
Watch Out For ... a tremendous rotation of talent. There's a good backup option at all four spots to keep everyone fresh and offer options to play around with. Tech used a three-man rotation last season and it worked extremely well. On the end, the coaching staff might throw five guys into the mix.
Strength: Depth and pass rushing ability. Tech can get into the backfield at all four spots highlighted by an abundance of riches at end. There's no excuse to not be dominant.
Weakness: Size in the middle. It's nitpicking for a line that helped allow only 105 rushing yards per game and should be even better, but there aren't any space-eaters. That's by design going small and quick rather than big and burly.
Outlook: This should be one of the ACC's best lines as long as the tackles hold up. There are too many good ends to get on the field at the same time, and that's a good thing. The coaching staff knows how to juggle talent creating a good result with plenty of sacks, lots of fresh bodies late in the season, and plenty of plays behind the line. 
Rating: 9


Projected Starters
The Yellow Jackets are solid up the middle with one of America's best all around linebackers, senior Philip Wheeler, who finished second on the team with 89 tackles and led the way with nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He's a hard-hitting disruptive force who's as good in pass coverage as he is at getting into the backfield. Athleticism, speed and tackling have never been a problem, and now with his experience inside and out, always being in the right position won't be, either.

Helping out Wheeler is senior Gary Guyton, who had a decent year in a full-time role making 29 tackles to go along with two sacks and eight tackles for loss. With good size and a year of experience as a starter, he has to start making more plays on the outside while being stronger against the pass.

Sophomore Shane Bowen will get the first look on the other side taking over for leading tackler KaMichael Hall. A decent reserve last season making seven tackles and a sack, he'll see plenty of time again on special teams if he gets pushed out of the job by one of the slew of good prospects.

Projected Top Reserves: It's just a question of time before redshirt freshman Anthony Barnes takes over one of the outside spots. At 235 pounds, he has the size to play on the strongside and the raw speed to be a terror on the weakside once he gets used to the ins and outs of playing linebacker after starring as a safety and receiver in high school.

Assuming Barnes progresses as expected, he'll be a regular backup; the other spots are up for grabs. Junior Taalib Tucker, a career special teamer and reserve, will be tried out behind Guyton on the outside. If needed, he has the toughness to play in the middle.

Junior Matt Braman has a little bit of experience as a reserve in the middle, but it junior Travis Chambers is healthy, he'll be the number two option behind Wheeler. Chambers missed all of last year and hasn't been able to live up to his prep hype.

Sophomore Sedric Griffin has the wheels to grow into a good one on the outside once he recovers from the broken leg suffered in the Gator Bowl. He spent his true freshman season on special teams, and now he'll see time on defense once he's back this fall.
Watch Out For ... Anthony Barnes. Bowen is just keeping the seat warm until Barnes shows he knows what he's doing. Until then, there'll be a shuffle for the third linebackers spot.
Strength: Speed. Everyone up and down the depth chart can move. They can all get into the backfield and they'll all do a good job of swarming around the ball.
Weakness: Developed depth. Tech is loaded with good prospects that haven't done much of anything yet. While Wheeler and Guyton are set, there's a big question mark and a big concern if one or both gets banged up.
Outlook: The situation is basically the same as last year, only without KaMichael Hall. There's still a problem with depth, Wheeler will be an All-ACC type of performer, Guyton will be solid, and the coaching staff will hope to find the right blend of backups to be productive.
Rating: 8

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The safeties will be fantastic. They're so good that senior Avery Roberson, who made 59 tackles last season at safety last year, will be a backup if he doesn't take over a cornerback job.

Senior Djay Jones was out this spring with a shoulder problem, but is expected to be back to shine at free safety where he led the team with four interceptions. While big enough to be a steady tackler, the 6-1, 200-pounder is more suited to playing in space where he can use his good speed to roam.

Senior Jamal Lewis will man the strong safety spot again after finishing second on the team with 74 tackles with three interceptions and 6.5 tackles for loss. The All-ACC star began his career at corner before finding a home at safety. He has good instincts, is all over the field, and is a sure tackler in the open field.

Cornerback isn't exactly a question mark, but the situation isn't as strong as safety. Junior Jahi Word-Daniels split time at corner last year and finished up leading the team with 13 broken up passes. Now he likely won't be picked on as much as the team's number one cover-corner.

Sophomore Laurence Marius spent last year on special teams and now will take over the open starting spot left by Kenny Scott. While not all that big, he's extremely quick and a decent tackler in the open field.

Projected Top Reserves: Roberson might end up starting a bit both at corner and safety throughout the year. The 6-2, 200-pound senior has good size and plenty of ability to shine no matter where he plays. He might turn out to be a key backup corner unless one of the Clark's becomes a steady regular.

Senior Pat Clark moved over from wide receiver and ended up starting four games at corner making 19 tackles and an interception. While he has the athleticism and speed for the job, he's still trying to figure out the nuances of the job.

Junior Tony Clark can play either corner or safety with the athleticism and talent to be more of a factor. While he hasn't done much for the secondary, he's been a whale of a special teamer.

Senior Joe Gaston is back after missing all of last year with a knee injury. Expected to start going into the season, he tore up his ACL in spring ball of 2005 giving him more than a full year to recover. He's a pure strong safety with good tackling ability and decent range.
Watch Out For ... the pass defense to be every bit as good as last season's when it was ninth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and allowed just 11 touchdown passes. 
Strength: Safety. Between Lewis, Jones, Roberson and the return of Gaston, Tech has four quality starters and two All-ACC caliber performers in Lewis and Jones.
Weakness: A guaranteed lock-down number one corner. Word-Daniels should fill the bill, but he's still a bit unproven as the number one guy for a full season. If Marius isn't tremendous, Tech will give up yards.
Outlook: It'll be good enough. With the killer front seven Tech will trot out and all the pressure to come in the backfield, all the secondary has to do is not screw up. It can do that. A few more big plays would be nice after picking off 13 passes last season, but avoiding getting torched deep will be all this group will have to do to succeed.
Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Travis Bell doesn't have the biggest leg around, but he's a good veteran with good consistency inside around 45 yards. Four of his six misses last year came from behind 45 yards, and he hasn't missed an extra point in his career. He appears to be over the consistency problems of his sophomore year and should be a major positive.

The punting will be one of the team's strengths with the return of senior Durant Brooks, who had a whale of a season averaging 45.5 yards per kick while putting a ridiculous 35 kicks inside the 20. His net average of 40.66 yards per kick put Tech second nationally behind Utah.

The returners likely won't be decided until late fall with Jamaal Evans, Pat Clark, Tony Clark and Rashaun Grant likely to get the first looks. Evans led the way on kickoff returns averaging a solid 22.8 yards per return.
Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be among the best in America. Brooks has too good a leg to not have another strong year, while Bell, despite his limitations, should be reliable. 
Strength: Brooks. Tech's defense can almost always rely on good field position with Brooks able to pin teams deep from anywhere on the field.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. Mohamed Yahiaoui will likely handle the kickoff duties again, and while he has a good leg, the coverage teams didn't help out his overall average allowing 27 yards per return and two touchdowns.
Outlook: It would be nice if Bell could be a weapon from 50 yards or so, but he's just not that type of kicker. He'll hit around 70% of his chances and will come through clutch at least once. Brooks will be an All-American, but he has to make sure he doesn't outkick his coverage. If the coverage teams can be a little better, and there can be more pop on kickoff returns, Tech's special teams will be tremendous.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 Georgia Tech Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 2, 2007
2007 Georgia Tech Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 2, 2007
2007 Georgia Tech Preview
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