Tech’s D-line will shine this year

With good reason, most of the preseason talk around Georgia Tech has focused on the Jackets’ new offense. Paul Johnson’s triple option posted record-breaking numbers at Navy and Georgia Southern and the results should only improve given the caliber of athlete he’ll have to work with on the Flats.

But there’s a learning curve for this offense, especially since Johnson will incorporate elements of the veer, a power-based I formation and even some run-and-shoot. Essentially, Johnson wants to create as many one-on-one matchups in space as he possibly can. A great idea, and one that I think will be successful, most likely in 2009. But this season’s schedule must be played first and, despite some growing pains for the new offense, this team still can be competitive and still can go bowling. The key? The four guys anchoring the defensive line. 

ON THE LINE             

In tackles Darryl Richard and Vance Walker, the Jackets have about 590 pounds of run-stuffing meanness in the middle of the line. Richard is the veteran, having posted 30 starts heading into his senior year, and the kid is darn-near immovable. His stats aren’t mind-numbing, but he is a Redwood that, in a normal situation, would require double-teams from the center and guard. Most likely, Tech’s opponents simply won’t be able to do that because of the talent surrounding Richard.

First among that group is fellow tackle Walker. Also a senior, Walker exploded onto the ACC scene in 2007 during his first season as a starter. Defensive tackles aren’t supposed to collect double-digit sacks, but that’s what Walker approached, finishing with 8.5 and an impressive 14.5 tackles for loss. Those are defensive end-type of numbers and it resulted in a first-team All-Conference selection for Walker. While Richard is the block of granite with just enough push to help collapse the interior of the O-line, Walker is all about an incredible first step that leaves nearly every opposing lineman off-balance and scrambling to re-establish position. This is a physically gifted pair of tackles who also play with great technique, toughness and nastiness. And the defensive ends might be even better …

Normally you’re not going to get better on the outside by losing both of your starting ends, but that’s the scenario for the Jackets after Adamm Oliver and Darrell Robertson exhausted their eligibility. Moving into the strong-side end spot will be sophomore Derrick Morgan. He’s not a finished product by any means, but the 6-foot-4, 270-pounder is excellent digging in against the run and has enough burst to hurry quarterbacks on passing downs. Tech wanted to redshirt him last season, but Morgan was simply too good to keep off the field. He’ll share time with Robert Hall, who’s more of a pass-rush specialist and should be a great compliment to Morgan. Redshirt freshman Jason Peter checks in at 6-foot-4 and nearly 275 pounds and could eventually move inside. As for now, he’s a great option for a series in the first half and one in the second to help keep Morgan fresh.

ONE TO WATCH 

But that’s only three starters. Wither No. 4? That’d be Michael Johnson, the star of the bunch, a guy who potentially is a top-10 pick in next April’s NFL Draft despite starting only two games to this point. Another thing Johnson has achieved despite only two starts is collecting 10 sacks and providing constant pressure in the backfield. As physically impressive as any defensive player in the ACC, the 6-foot-7, 248-pound Johnson is an intelligent, hard-working player who pays attention to all the little things (foot work, secondary moves, etc.) while also loving nothing more than splattering some guys rocks all over the turf for four quarters. He simply cannot be handled by one blocker and, with Walker also requiring double-teams from most opponents, the pressure on a very young Tech back seven should be eased.

Make no mistake about it – Georgia Tech is taking the field without several key elements of last season’s nasty D. The guys up front, linebacker Philip Wheeler, safety Jamal Lewis, etc., as well as coordinator Jon Tenuta, they’re all gone. But new signal caller Dave Wommack isn’t staring at an empty cupboard. There are good players on this side of the ball, just not many with a lot of Saturday experience. With the front four looking this deep and talented, however, the results may not be too different from what Tech fans have gotten used to.

Oliver can be heard on 790 The Zone’s “Afternoon Saloon” weekdays from 4-7 p.m. and can be reached at king@790thezone.com.

 

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