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2009 Georgia Tech Preview - Defense
Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan
Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 5, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Defense

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Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Georgia Tech Preview | 2009 Georgia Tech Offense
- 2009 Georgia Tech Defense |
2009 Georgia Tech Depth Chart
- 2008 GTech Preview | 2007GTech Preview |
2006 GTech Preview 

What you need to know: Last year, coordinator Dave Wommack was forced to rebuild his defensive backfield. This year, he’s focusing his attention on a defensive line that parted ways with three all-stars. Michael Johnson, Darryl Richard, and Vance Walker are all trying to make NFL rosters, leaving their alma mater with a gaping hole up front. While the return of Derrick Morgan makes end less of a concern, the Jackets are especially worried about the interior, where undersized Jason Peters and Ben Anderson are taking over. Fortunately, there are far fewer concerns at linebacker and the secondary. At linebacker, there’s plenty of depth and talent, bolstered by the return of headhunter Sedric Griffin and switch of Cooper Taylor to the new hybrid “wolf” position. The defensive backfield is flush with great athletes and experienced players. The headliner is Morgan Burnett, a rover looking for back-to-back All-American recognition.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Morgan Burnett, 93
Sacks: Derrick Morgan, 7
Interceptions: Morgan Burnett, 7

Star of the defense: Junior S Morgan Burnett
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT Jason Peters
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore wolf Cooper Taylor
Best pro prospect: Burnett
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Burnett, 2) Junior DE Derrick Morgan, 3) Senior LB Sedric Griffin
Strength of the defense: The linebackers, the defensive backfield, edge rushers
Weakness of the defense
:
Rebuilt defensive line, red zone defense

Defensive Line


Projected Starters: The strength of the 2008 team could be the bane of the 2009 team. Tech will be looking to replace three linemen, all of whom were either first or second team All-ACC. Fortunately, the lone returning starter, 6-4, 270-pound junior Derrick Morgan, is a good one at defensive end. After just one year as a starter, he’s already one of the league’s top rushers, while possessing the size need to provide support on running downs. In 2008, he had 51 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, and four fumble recoveries. Now, he needs to prove he can without being surrounded by stars and be the line leader.

Earning the other end spot is 6-3, 248-pound junior Robert Hall, the speed rusher of the pair. He gets off the snap quickly, plays with a hot motor, and can be very dangerous in backside pursuit. Although he’s appeared in 30 games, his last sack was almost three years ago, meaning he’ll need to step it up in order to keep Morgan from getting maximum attention.

The new tackles will have their plates full as well, trying to replace Vance Walker and Darryl Richard. Sophomore Jason Peters has pretty much locked down one of the jobs, moving inside after playing most of last season at defensive end. A top recruit from 2007, he has great burst and athleticism, but will need to add a little more weight to avoid getting swallowed up in the trenches.

Rounding out the rebuilt front wall is 6-2, 271-pound junior Ben Anderson, a two-time letterman still looking for his first career start. He’s a grappler, who’ll fight and battle until the play is whistled dead. Because of his modest size for an interior lineman, he’s expected to be someone, who can get penetration and rush the passer, but will struggle to hold the line on north-south running plays.

Projected Top Reserves: While he may still be raw and plays too high, Tech might have to find a way to get redshirt freshman tackle T.J. Barnes on the field simply because of his size. At 6-7 and 325 pounds, he has a chance to be a classic space-eater, provided he can maintain his weight and conditioning, and improve his technique.

The top edge rusher off the bench appears to be 6-4, 256-pound junior Anthony Egbuniwe, a transfer from Tulsa who has already sat out his mandatory season. Primarily a special teams performer in 2008, he’s going to get a crash course on earning an expanded role on defense. While not as big as Morgan or as fast as Hall, his emergence is being counted on heavily.

Watch Out For ... opponents to try to run the ball right up the gut on Georgia Tech. And why not? They’ll want to test the new tackles and try to exploit their modest size. It’s going to really test the ends and linebackers, who’ll have to provide extra support in run defense.
Strength: Athletic ability. The defensive linemen may not be very wide, but they all get off the snap quickly and will beat lumbering opponents with their quick feet and athleticism. Although it’ll be a chore to match last year’s production without the three starters, this group will still get consistent penetration and make a lot of stops behind the line.
Weakness
: The interior. Walker and Richard were stalwarts on the inside for a number of years. Now, Anderson and Peters absolutely have the skills to get to that level, but it’s unlikely to happen this quickly. The Yellow Jackets could have problems this fall with teams that can establish the run, like Clemson, Florida State, and Virginia Tech.

Outlook: It could be worse. Tech can take some consolation in the fact that Morgan is back to anchor the line and the program has recruited so well over the last two or three years. Still, this unit has been a recent catalyst for the rest of the defense, which will be missed in 2009. The last two lines of defense are going to be noticeably busier than they were last fall.
Rating: 7

Linebackers

Projected Starters: Minimal losses from a year ago ensure that the linebackers will be one of the strongest units on the Flats. Senior Sedric Griffin is back to build on last year’s breakout season. Without much warning, he blossomed into a productive 11-game starter, making 53 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and three sacks. Beyond the numbers, he emerged as one of the physical enforcers of the D, using a stocky, 5-11, 239-pound frame to lower the boom on unsuspecting opponents.

When he was healthy, 6-2, 227-pound junior Brad Jefferson was Tech’s primary option at inside linebacker, making 24 tackles in nine games. Exceptionally strong for his size and able to make plays from sideline-to-sideline, he could be in store for a breakthrough season if those nagging injuries don’t pop up again this fall.

The newest linebacker is actually a former safety. Sophomore Cooper Taylor appears to be an ideal match for the defense’s new “Wolf” position, which is going to be a hybrid of the two positions. A 6-4, 195-pound athlete, he excelled in the secondary as a rookie, making 69 tackles, despite starting just three games. One of the fastest and most explosive players on defense, he’ll do a little bit of everything, including covering receivers, blitzing the quarterback, and filling lanes in run defense.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Kyle Jackson laid a nice foundation for his future, starting 10 games and getting consideration for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. The 6-0, 226-pounder ended up with 61 tackles, flashing the range and instinctive play required to overcome his average size.

Talented junior Anthony Barnes is looking for a fresh start after enduring a miserable season in 2008. Pegged as one of the cornerstones of this group, he was on and off the field with an assortment of ailments, finishing with only 16 tackles in 10 games. A 6-3, 231-pound wrecking ball with speed, he’s shown the ability to defend the run and make stops for minus yards.

Watch Out For ... major improvement from last year. With all of the key parts back and Taylor relocating from the defensive backfield, the linebackers are about to make a quantum in their development and production. If everyone can remain healthy, this figures to be the backbone of the defense early on.
Strength:
Depth. The Yellow Jackets legitimately go two-deep with active, experienced linebackers, who can make a bunch of plays with the right opportunity. Although last season didn’t exactly work out as planned, some of the injuries will actually prove to be a benefit for this fall’s collection of players.
Weakness: Durability. Jefferson missed time with injuries. Barnes missed time with injuries. Senior Shane Bowen missed time with injuries. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but this unit will fail to hit its mark for a second straight year if some of the regulars have problems staying out of the infirmary.
Outlook: Like it or not, the Yellow Jacket linebackers will have to take the training wheels off this season. They got away with being average in 2008, thanks to a salty defensive front. Now that that group has been depleted, Tech has to be a little more consistent at the second level of defense. There are more than enough top-notch athletes to engineer a turnaround.
Rating
: 8

Secondary

Projected Starters: Jahi Word-Daniels is gone, but the rest of the secondary returns intact. No defensive back in Atlanta, or maybe America, is better than 6-1, 198-pound junior rover Morgan Burnett, already an All-American after just two seasons. After showing glimpses of greatness in his debut, he really took off last year, making a team-high 93 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and seven interceptions. A blazing fast athlete, with outstanding field vision and ball skills, he’s an NFL-ready defender, who’ll do a little of everything for Tech.

If Burnett is more of a strong safety, that would make 5-11, 178-pound junior Dominique Reese the free safety of the defensive backfield. While he’ll give away size to some receivers, he has the all-around athleticism and make-up speed to compensate when the ball is in the air. Plus, he’s one of the group’s vocal leaders, bringing a contagious attitude to the secondary. Like having a third corner on the field, he started 12 games last year, making 44 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and three interceptions.

The new veteran of the cornerbacks will be 6-1, 181-pound junior Mario Butler, a starter for every game last season. Like any young corner, he has room for improvement and got beat more than he’d like, but he also has a very high ceiling and an ideal frame for playing the position. In his debut as the starter, he had 41 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups.

One of last season’s pleasant surprises was the emergence of 5-10, 180-pound sophomore Rashaad Reid as a first-year contributor. Still a little wide-eyed and learning, he started the final eight games and made 45 tackles, three tackles for loss, and three interceptions. For such a young player, he breaks nicely on the ball and already shows the cover skills to be an eventual star in the league.

Projected Top Reserves: A suspension before the 2008 season opened the door for 5-11, 185-pound sophomore corner Michael Peterson to get more snaps than he’d originally anticipated. He responded by appearing in 12 games and making 16 tackles, while flattening the learning curve. A coveted 2007 recruit, he shows good hips in coverage and enough punch to support in run defense.

Now that Cooper Taylor has been moved to “Wolf”, 6-2, 180-pound redshirt freshman Kamaron Riley is set to take over as the top safety off the bench. A terrific all-around athlete, with an acrobatic flair, he’s capable of becoming another playmaker out of the secondary once he refines his technique and starts getting more reps on Saturdays.

Watch Out For ...
the return of 6-0, 189-pound sophomore CB Jerrard Tarrant. Last year was supposed to be his coming-out party, but legal issues shut him down for the entire season. Now that charges against him have been dropped, he’s set to resume his Yellow Jacket career, at worst, giving the team exceptional depth at cornerback.
Strength: Keeping the play in front of them. Georgia Tech has got the athletes and the speed in the secondary to prevent the big hitters. Last season, for instance, the Jackets were third in the ACC in yards per attempt and yards per completion, making the opposition earn every play downfield.
Weakness: Clamping down in the red zone. Between the twenties, Tech was air-tight. Near the red area, however, it had trouble preventing six points. No team in the ACC allowed more touchdown passes through the air in 2008, an issue that this group hopes to address this fall.
Outlook: After some sketchy performances last season, the Tech secondary feels it’s ready to turn the corner and become one of the strengths of the defense. The young talent is undeniable, and with Burnett already among the nation’s elite defensive backs, there’s a star for the unit to build around.
Rating
: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: As you might expect following the graduations of Travis Bell and Durant Brooks, special teams was a sore spot for the program in 2008. Junior Scott Blair did an admirable job of plugging the hole at punter and placekicker, but was ordinary in both areas. Blair the kicker was a dismal 12-of-19 on field goals, taking the collar on six tries beyond 40 yards. Blair the punter was near the bottom of the ACC with a 39-yard average. Hey, he did have 10 tackles, including eight solos, unheard of numbers for a kicker.

The kicking game was bad. The return game was not any better. Assuming he’s healthy, explosive sophomore Roddy Jones will try to ignite a return unit that was No. 88 nationally on punts and No. 95 on kickoffs.

Watch Out For ...
starters to be used liberally on special teams. The staff was not at all happy about last year’s results, and will taking any and all measures to fix the problems. If the Jackets need to get their best athletes on the field to make a difference, then that’s exactly what they’ll do.
Strength: Coverage units. This is a relative designation because the Yellow Jackets had occasional breakdowns here as well last fall. The kick coverage team, in particular, stood out, finishing 40th in the country a year after winding No. 3 overall.
Weakness: Blair. Sure, he’ll knock the snot out of you on the perimeter, but Tech needs him more as a punter and placekicker. He was erratic in both areas last season, which can be demoralizing for the offense and a drag on the defense.
Outlook: Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the special teams unit, but it was actually worse than originally anticipated. Plus, it’s not like Tech has shown signs of turning the corner in 2009. For a program that played in so many tight games in 2008, this is an area of concern that could shift the pendulum of the season in one direction or another.  
Rating: 6