September 22, 2009

Jackets three days into Tar Heel prep

As the Georgia Tech football team wrapped up a third day of practice Tuesday evening, head coach Paul Johnson and the staff have many things on their minds. With North Carolina coming up on the schedule Saturday at noon, the Jackets have some revenge in mind after a 28-7 loss last year.

Coach Johnson is not a Butch Davis fan and he did not hide his opinions on the Tar Heel team during his weekly press conference Tuesday.

"Personally, I would like to beat North Carolina," he said. "I cannot answer for the 120 guys on the team but I guarantee they want to beat us too. We are not going to win the game by wanting to beat them more. We have to channel that to go out, play harder and more efficiently than them. That is the biggest misnomer out there that we are going to win this game because we really want too. They can change that with one lick to the head. Then maybe it is I did not want to win that as much as I thought I did."

The Jackets still have a chance to win the ACC title, but they no longer control their destiny after the loss to Miami last week.

"I told our team in the locker room after the game, we are in the same place we were a year ago and we had a few chances to win the ACC last year," Johnson said. "If we go on the road and beat North Carolina or if we beat Virginia at home, it is a long year. I do not know who Miami might lose to or if they are going to lose. They might lose Saturday to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. You cannot control that. The only thing we can control is the North Carolina-Georgia Tech game on Saturday. If we can win that game then we stay alive. If we lose, are we still alive, I do not know the answer to that. Historically, I do not know the last time there was an ACC team that went undefeated in the conference. It has probably been a while. We play eight conference games, but probably will not know where we stand until we play six or seven of them. We thought we were out of it two or three times last year. You just find a chance to get back in it. It is a long year. We have played three games and we will know more about our chances as we play more games. It is not time to jump ship just yet."

The Jackets will try to bring some more energy to the defense with a few lineup changes including putting freshman linebacker Julian Burnett on the field in a 4-3 look instead of the 4-2-5 defense they have been using the first three games of the season. Coach Johnson says the entire defense needs to make plays instead of just having Burnett or Derrick Morgan making plays.

"I would imagine Julian Burnett's head will be spinning so much, he will find it hard to line up correctly," Johnson joked. "The guys who have played need to bring the energy to the defense. Good players make plays. That is the bottom line. If you want to bring energy, you need to make plays. In the first half of the Clemson game, Derrick Morgan made plays. It cannot be one or two guys every game. It needs to be different players that step up and make plays. It will be interesting to see how we play on Saturday. We will find out a lot about our team on Saturday. We are also playing a good team. Sometimes the other team just might be better than you. It does work like that sometimes."

Johnson is also looking to figure out ways to get his playmakers more involved in the offense including true freshman A-back Orwin Smith, punt returner Jerrard Tarrant and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who accounted for most of the Jackets' offensive output in the Miami game.

"I think there were several bright spots in the Miami game," Johnson said. "I vaguely remember a receiver [Demaryius Thomas] having six catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. It was not like it was three and out every time we had the ball. Orwin [Smith] is a gifted athlete. We need to get him more involved in the offense. We have to get him out there. He needs to know where to go better. We need to pick our spots and use him. He looks to be a different guy with the ball in his hands. He has made some great plays with the ball in his hands. It is encouraging. I think he can be a good kickoff return guy. Jerrard [Tarrant] is a great punt return guy when he gets a chance. We need to make teams punt; he did not get a chance the other night."

4-2-5 or 4-3

There have been mixed messages this week about what type of defense the North Carolina offense will face this week. Linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary says the base is still the 4-2-5 with the wolf, but there will be more of a 4-3 look with Burnett and Sedric Griffin at the outside linebacker position.

"We don't have a strongside or weakside linebacker. Sedric or Julian could lineup to the strongside of the offense depending on what is called on Saturday," Jean-Mary said. "We have been doing reps with the 4-3 defense all along and our base is still the 4-2-5. We have gone with some 4-3 in games this year already and we will use it throughout the year."

Building quality depth at linebacker has been a concern since the group was decimated with injuries last season. Jean-Mary expects to roll six linebackers on Saturday for North Carolina.

"We are going to use the starters, Brad Jefferson, Sedric and Julian and we hoping to get B.J. Machen, Steven Sylvester and Anthony Barnes reps," he said.

Sylvester walked through practice today after being sidelined for the first two practices with a concussion. Coach Jean-Mary expects Sylvester to be available for the game Saturday.

"Steven should be back and fully cleared by tomorrow," he said.

Jean-Mary is looking for linebackers to make better reads and he says that was a major problem in the Miami loss last week.

"We had poor tackling and bad leverage on plays last week," he said. "We did not recognize formations against Miami and I cannot be happy with the way we played. That is not the way we play defense at Georgia Tech and every man on the team find that unacceptable."

Overall, Jean-Mary says the backup linebackers are a work in progress and they are still learning how to play at the college level and up to the standard, he has in mind.

"We are still trying to build quality depth and I am still not comfortable that everyone is playing at a high level all the time," Jean-Mary said. "At this level, things happen a lot faster and you have to be able to locate things and a make a play."

Battle for Snapper

After giving up a safety and having several bad snaps from long snapper Jeff Lentz, Coach Johnson said during his press conference they are looking at different options including freshman Tyler Morgan and Corey Pritchett.

"We have several snappers," Johnson said. "We may try a different guy this week. If we do, it will be a freshman. A lot depends on how practice goes this week. Our big job is helping the guy who is doing it not to snap it high. He does not want to do it; he does not do it on purpose. We need to find a way, fundamentally, to help him not do that."

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