ATLANTA — Jahi Word-Daniels listened in silence this offseason as critics called him and his fellow cornerbacks the wart on the pretty face of Georgia Tech's defense.
He never once protested or challenged the assessment.
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He refused to offer excuses for the corners' inconsistent play last season or make grandiose predictions for 2007.
Word-Daniels simply used the criticism to drive him through workouts, waiting patiently for the chance to quiet all the detractors.
That day comes today, when Boston College and quarterback Matt Ryan visit Bobby Dodd Stadium for the Yellow Jackets' Atlantic Coast Conference opener. Ryan is the ACC Preseason Player of the Year.
And depending on who you talk to, his skills are similar to Brett Favre's, Phillip Rivers' and Brady Quinn's.
"This is like the first step of quieting all those thoughts in people's minds that the DBs are the weaker link in the defense," Word-Daniels said. "We know they like to pass the ball a lot, and we're looking forward to the challenge."
Ryan will be the first real test for the corners. Notre Dame tried three different quarterbacks against Georgia Tech in the season opener. They combined to completed 15 of 22 passes, albeit for a meager 130 yards.
Samford's Jefferson Adcock threw 29 passes last week, but Georgia Tech's regulars defended against only a handful of those — they left the game midway through the second quarter because of the lopsided score.
Ryan will go to the air much more often. He threw 86 passes in BC's first two games, including 52 in the opener against Wake Forest. He passed for 408 yards and five touchdowns in the Wake win.
Ryan averaged 245 yards passing a game a year ago and accounted for 19 scores.
Yellow Jacket coach Chan Gailey compared Ryan to Favre and Rivers. He said Ryan has the natural instincts of Rivers, who Gailey's Georgia Tech teams faced when the quarterback played at N.C. State, and the characteristics of Favre. Jeff Jagodzinski, BC's first-year head coach, worked with Favre last year at Green Bay.
"He's taken some of the mannerisms of Favre," Gailey said. "Maybe that's just me knowing Jeff came from Green Bay and in my mind, Ryan's like that. But he knows where everybody is. He'll flip a ball out of there when there's no way you think he'll get it off. Just like Favre."
It's up to Georgia Tech's defense to make Ryan look more like the Favre of recent years than the MVP quarterback he was in the late-1990s. Word-Daniels and his cornerback counterpart, Avery Roberson, played extensively last season, learning by trial and error.
And with so few opportunities so far this year, they've yet to change any of their critics' minds. Neither has an interception yet, although Word-Daniels has one pass breakup. Roberson drew two pass-interference penalties against Notre Dame.
"They can say all they want," Roberson said of the detractors, "but we're ready for the challenge. That's what we get our scholarships for, to come out and cover those receivers."
Reach reporter Adam Van Brimmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404-589-8424.