2010 Georgia Tech Preview - Defense
Georgia Tech LB Brad Jefferson
Georgia Tech LB Brad Jefferson
Posted Jun 16, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Defense

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Georgia Tech needs some answers on defense. Former Virginia head coach Al Groh was brought in to provide them. In one of the best coaching maneuvers of the offseason, Paul Johnson landed a long-time veteran and one of the game's better defensive minds. For as mediocre as the Cavaliers were for years, the defense was perennially sound. He brings a new look and attitude that'll include a shift to the 3-4 defense, and an intimate knowledge of the ACC. After wallowing the last two seasons, the Jackets need a fresh voice to ignite the defense. No higher than sixth in the league in any major category, Tech yielded almost 25 points a game and lost its only all-stars, DE Derrick Morgan and S Morgan Burnett, to early entry into the NFL Draft. Helping the unit get over the hump of mediocrity will be LB Brad Jefferson and corners Mario Butler and Jerrard Tarrant.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Brad Jefferson, 95
Sacks: Steven Sylvester, 3
Interceptions: Mario Butler, Jerrard Tarrant, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Brad Jefferson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore SS Cooper Taylor
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Izaan Cross
Best pro prospect: Jefferson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jefferson, 2) Sophomore SS Cooper Taylor, 3) Junior CB Jerrard Tarrant
Strength of the defense: Takeaways, red zone D, overall depth, linebackers, the nose
Weakness of the defense: Pass defense, Stuffing the run, creating pressure, third down defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Georgia Tech loses just one regular from a year ago, but, oh, is it going to hurt. ACC sack-leader Derrick Morgan left for the NFL after his junior year, leaving the Jackets with a sinkhole in the pass rush. Sophomore Izaan Cross is bucking to become the biggest beneficiary. One of just seven true freshmen to play in 2009, he started a pair of games and finished with 10 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Even as he's blossomed into a 6-4, 272-pounder, he's been able to maintain the quickness and intensity that first landed him an offer.

On the opposite side, 6-4, 273-pound junior Jason Peters has likely found a permanent home after bouncing between end and tackle in recent years. A key recruit from three years ago, he's yet to put it all together, starting just four games last season and making 11 stops. There's hope that in this system, he'll have the size and strength to stuff the run, and the quick first step to get into the other team's backfield.

At the new nose tackle position, the Yellow Jackets are holding out hope that 6-2, 275-pound senior Ben Anderson can make it all the way back from a season-ending knee injury. Prior to getting hurt, he'd started all 12 games, making 15 tackles, five tackles for loss, and two sacks. He's a battler in the trenches, who uses his hands well and will fight until the whistle if it means making the play. An inspirational figure on the inside, Tech needs him for reasons that extend beyond just the numbers.

Projected Top Reserves: The Yellow Jackets broke the seal on massive sophomore tackle T.J. Barnes, and like what they've seen so far. The 6-7, 341-pound man-child appeared in all 14 games as a rookie, starting one and making 16 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. A classic space-eater, he needs to play with a little more of a mean streak on every down and improve his endurance in order to see more of the field.

Further depth at the nose will be provided by 6-2, 286-pound junior Logan Walls , who has lettered in each of the last two seasons, starting 10 games and making 25 tackles, three tackles for loss, and two sacks in 2009. Slowed earlier in his career by a hereditary heart issue, he's overcome that obstacle to become a key member of the rotation and a gritty competitor who holds up at the point of attack.

Watch Out For … the status of 6-3, 259-pound senior Robert Hall . Tech desperately needs reinforcements at end. Hall was returning from a knee injury to provide just that for the defense. However, he's been suspended indefinitely after being charged with battery in June, casting a pall over the D-line depth.
Strength: Depth at the nose. Walls and Anderson have plenty of starting experience. Barnes is the starter of the future. With this many reinforcements at a single position, Tech might have the luxury of shifting one of the smaller veterans outside if needed.
Weakness: The pass rush. With Morgan goes 12.5 sacks and at least that many pressures. After him, there isn't a returning end that had more than one sack last season, a situation complicated by Hall's off-field problems. If Cross and Peters don't deliver, it'll force the defensive staff to blitz more that it'd like.
Outlook: By the rest of the ACC's standards, this is an average collection of talent on the defensive line. Is there an obvious all-star? An end you can pencil in for six or seven sacks? While Georgia Tech has the parts to improve in run defense, the pass rush is a work-in-progress that will negatively impact the secondary.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: The switch to a 3-4 means more jobs on the two-deep and a greater need for quality linebackers. The only casualty is Sedric Griffin, and imports from the defensive line are becoming commonplace. At one of the two inside spots, the leader will be 6-2, 242-pound senior Brad Jefferson, who's going to flourish in this system. One of the emotional and physical leaders of the defense, he had a team-high 95 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles to earn honorable mention All-ACC. A physical tackler in the open field, he's ideally constructed as a run defender.

Looking to join Jefferson on the inside is 6-2, 233-pound junior Steven Sylvester , who started eight games and played in all 14 on the outside. In fact, he's lettered in each of his first two seasons, making 40 tackles, four tackles for loss, and three sacks. A physical wrap-up tackler, he'll make plays from sideline to sideline and has the burst and natural technique to be an effective pass rusher on blitzes.

Tech fans have been waiting for 6-3, 230-pound senior Anthony Barnes to arrive since he signed as a heralded recruit four years ago. He's started just seven career games and had 16 tackles in 2009, but now there's a golden opportunity to land an outside job at jack linebacker. He has all of the physical tools to be a success, now needing to get more snaps and remain healthy for an entire season.

After playing defensive end last season, 6-4, 255-pound senior Anthony Egbuniwe has moved to one of the outside position, a much better fit for his size and skill set. Despite starting nine games, the former Tulsa transfer only managed to make 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. With a chance to perform in space, he's hoping to get a clearer path into opposing backfields.

Projected Top Reserves: After missing all of last season to recover from foot surgery, 6-0, 239-pound junior Kyle Jackson could not be returning at a better time. It seems like a long time ago, but it was just two years ago that he started 10 games and made 61 tackles, vying for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has good range and diagnostic skills, and has added the weight needed to hold up in run defense.

While no one's exactly sure where 5-10, 221-pound sophomore Julian Burnett will fit in, he played well enough in his first year to be in the rotation. In just his first season out of high school, he started three times and made 41 tackles on defense and special teams. Although his height is a concern for pass defense, he plays much tougher than his size and has the quickness to cover big chunks of real estate. If he gets lost in the shuffle, the staff might consider a position switch to get him on the field.

Watch Out For … this situation to be unsettled right through the month of August. The Jackets were working through the alignment changes in the spring, juggling players around in an effort to find the best combination. What the pecking order looked like a few months ago could be very different by the time South Carolina State visits Sept. 4.
Strength: Depth. Considering the fact that the two-deep now means eight players instead of six, Georgia Tech is going to be surprisingly deep at linebacker. With the relo of Egbuniwe and return of Jackson, the Jackets have eight kids who have lettered in their career, all of whom are going to be employed in the fall.
Weakness: Sure-things on the outside. While the inside linebackers will be in good shape, there's a degree of uncertainty on the outside that'll need to be addressed before the opener. Egbuniwe has spent much of his career at defensive end and Barnes has been a disappointment, which provides little margin for error.
Outlook: With Groh in town, it's a whole new world for the linebackers, which are learning all different assignments and working hard at improving their communication as a unit. While there's enough talent for the group to be fine, it could take the first month of the season before everyone meshes.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: As one high-profile player departs, another returns. Sure, the Yellow Jackets were sad to see Morgan Burnett leave early for the NFL, but the return of 6-4, 208-pound sophomore Cooper Taylor will soften the blow. Coming off a terrific debut and starting the first three games of 2009, he was diagnosed with a rare heart condition that required surgery. He has recovered, and is set to pick up where he left off in 2008, using his good size and blazing speed to make stops all around the field from the rover position.

The frontrunner at free safety will be 5-11, 198-pound senior Dominique Reese . One of the more versatile members of the secondary, he bounced around in 2009 and battled nagging injuries to start six games and make 28 tackles, two tackles for loss, and an interception. Also a vocal leader in the defensive backfield, bringing a contagious attitude to the group, he excels in coverage, but lacks the physicality needed to be an effective run defender.

The Jackets should be in good shape at cornerback this season. The team's most consistent cover guy will be 6-1, 182-pound senior Mario Butler, who has started the last 27 games dating back to the beginning of 2008. He enjoyed his best season in Atlanta last year, making 45 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions. More steady than spectacular, he keeps the play in front of him and has enough size to match up with the league's taller receivers.

At the other corner, 6-0, 202-pound junior Jerrard Tarrant is the inverse of Butler, an inconsistent defender who'll supply the periodic flash. He has next-level physical ability, but still lack discipline and needs refinement, which will come with more reps. His legal issues behind him, he had a breakthrough 2009, making 58 tackles, two interceptions, and recovering two fumbles. One of the ACC's top punt returners, he scored all four of Tech's non-offensive touchdowns and is a player with a very high ceiling.

Projected Top Reserves: At cornerback, 5-10, 185-pound junior Rashaad Reid returns to his natural position after struggling at free safety a year ago. He's played a lot of football in two seasons, starting 14 total games, but making just a dozen tackles and two pass breakups a year ago. He's better suited as a cover guy, where he can show off his ball skills and quick breaks on passes.

Pushing for playing time behind Reese is 6-1, 216-pound senior Mario Edwards , who actually had the edge in this duel late last year. In fact, he started the final five games of the season when the staff sought more help for the run defense. He responded with 36 tackles and can deliver the payload like a linebacker, but does not have the same athleticism or coverage skills as Reese.

Watch Out For … Taylor's health in his return from heart surgery. The sophomore is a different player than Burnett, but is every bit the difference-maker. He brings a nice mix of size, speed, and attitude that this group was missing after he was lost early in the 2009 season.
Strength: Depth. You want ample reserves? How about 11 returning letterwinners and eight players with starting experience? The Yellow Jackets will be loaded with options and competition, which is going to benefit all parties involved.
Defending the pass. Tech had too many breakdowns a year ago, allowing more touchdown passes than all but Florida State in the ACC. Plus, the Jackets were 88th nationally in pass efficiency defense, a number aided by Burnett's presence and four interceptions.
Although there's a fair amount of talent and athleticism in the defensive backfield, will it be parlayed into improved result? It's a quest this defense has been working on since the end of the Orange Bowl. Even if the Burnett-Taylor dynamic winds up being a wash, improved play and tighter coverage is going to be needed from the rest of the holdovers.
Unit Rating:

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Although PK Scott Blair improved his accuracy in his second year as the regular, there's still a feeling that he can do more. The senior and one-time starting punter went 14-of-20 on field goal tries and showed better range than earlier in his career. He'll do whatever is necessary to assist this unit, consistently getting downfield in a hurry and doing an unusually good job of making tackles as a part of the coverage unit.

Sophomore Chandler Anderson returns after a solid debut as the team's full-time punter. He averaged 42.3 yards, and only 10 of his 37 punts were returned, a big reason why Georgia Tech led the ACC in net punting.

With junior Jerrard Tarrant and sophomore Orwin Smith back, Tech will once again have one of the ACC's most threatening return games. While Smith averaged a healthy 24 yards on kickoffs, Tarrant was menacing on punt returns, ranking No. 13 nationally at over 13 yards a clip and returning two for touchdowns.

Watch Out For … Anderson to spend plenty of time watching idly from the sidelines. Thanks to those long, time-consuming drives of the Yellow Jackets, the team didn't use its punter very often last season. In fact, only Florida had fewer attempts in 2009, and at one point, Tech went 22 consecutive possessions without using the punter.
Strength: The return game. Tarrant and Smith are kinds of athletes that can go the distance with even a sliver of daylight to squirt through. Tarrant proved that point on multiple occasions last season, and Smith won't be far behind now that he has a full year of experience in the vault.
Weakness: Blair. Sure, he'll knock the stuffing out of you on the perimeter, but the Yellow Jackets need him to become more consistent as a placekicker. Even as his accuracy improved, he remained spotty outside of 30 yards and his leg strength is questionable.
In just a single season, Georgia Tech has done a terrific job of regrouping on special teams, now boasting one of the league's crisper units. The punter and kicker have upgraded from 2009, the coverage teams are tight, and the return men will take back at least two for six in the fall.
Unit Rating:

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