Georgia Tech's defense looks to gap control under new coordinator

sports@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 22, 2013 

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets finished with the seventh-best overall record in the ACC after allowing 28.3 points per game on average in 2012. But because the Jackets played 14 games -- more than every ACC team besides Florida State -- they ranked next-to-last in touchdowns and points allowed.

One would think Tech's defense would be the biggest talking point of the day when head coach Paul Johnson met with the media Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff at the Grandover Resort.

It wasn't.

Even though Georgia Tech hired a new defensive coordinator in Ted Roof in January, and even though the defense will be switching schemes from a 3-4 to a 4-3, Johnson wanted to downplay any aspect that the defensive overhaul taking place on the Flats is a major undertaking.

Johnson said that the Yellow Jackets' two-gap defense in recent years was a bit of a stretch from typical. But Tech isn't just now changing things defensively in the offseason, the team started this transformation last season.

"Most defenses are gap control," said Johnson. "We happen to be -- at least the last couple of years -- a two-gap defense, which is not the norm. But the last six games (of 2012) we were playing single-gap defense, and that's what we'll be doing now. It's not that much different for the guys."

Defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu said Sunday that he felt the new defense was more an attacking style defense. Johnson called it "looser," something the players can more easily understand. But it's not brand new.

"We played 4-3 for about the last six games of last year, really," Johnson said.

It was the opposite side of the ball, the offense, where Johnson spent most of his time talking.

Wasting absolutely no time to answer, in fact cutting the question off, Johnson said the biggest question mark for the Jackets was at wide receiver, "simply because of injury and that kind of thing." But there's also a lack of experience.

"We've got a good group, but until they do it in a game it doesn't matter," Johnson said. "Physically, not many people are going to have a better specimen than Darren Waller. That guy's 6-foot-6, 235-pounds and runs a sub-4.5. But can he be consistent in a game?"

As a sophomore last season, Waller caught just eight passes. Fellow junior Corey Dennis did not have a reception in 2012. Because Anthony Autry re-injured his knee, Waller and Dennis sit atop the depth chart with two redshirt freshmen directly behind in Travin Henry and Michael Summers.

Throwing the ball to this inexperienced receiving corps should be third-year sophomore quarterback Vad Lee. But Johnson wouldn't rule out a quarterback competition between Lee and Justin Thomas during preseason practice.

"They're both good players, and they'll compete," Johnson said. "Clearly Vad's a little bit ahead, he's more experienced with the system. But they both bring different things to the table."

With a new defense and a new coordinator calling the shots, and on a Georgia Tech team that ranked dead last in passing yards last season with 1,818 because of Johnson's heavy-run scheme, it's interesting that his biggest unknown is the very tool -- his receiving corps -- he doesn't use often, by design.

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