Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Preview 2009 - Defense
2009 CFN Georgia Tech Preview
| 2009 Georgia Tech
2009 Georgia Tech
Tech Depth Chart
2008 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.
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:
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
Weakness of the defense: Rebuilt
defensive line, red zone defense
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
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
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.
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,
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
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,
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.
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.
Minimal losses from a year ago ensure that the
linebackers will be one of the strongest units on
the Flats. Senior
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
If Burnett is more of a strong safety, that would
make 5-11, 178-pound junior
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Roddy Jones will try to ignite a return unit
that was No. 88 nationally on punts and No. 95 on
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
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.
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.
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