October 6, 2009

Jackets looking to build defensive depth

The Georgia Tech football team will have some different players working in their 4-3 defensive scheme this week including a possible new starter at linebacker and a different look from their safeties.

Yellow Jackets defensive coordinator Dave Wommack plans to use both Rashaad Reid and Dominique Reese at free safety. Wommack is also planning to use Reese at the rover position to backup Morgan Burnett. Reese and fellow safety Cooper Taylor have been out since the Miami game. Reese was cleared to play in the Mississippi State game, but the staff opted to give him an extra week of rest.

"I think we will use Rashaad and Dominique both to hold down that position," Wommack said. "We have needed that. We need another safety to give Morgan a break too. Morgan has played almost every snap this year except a few in the Jacksonville State game. We need him. We were going to use Cooper and Rashaad in that situation to give each other a break. I would like to see Jemea Thomas come on to give the guys a break, but he is struggling at times being a young guy. We have to hope they keep getting better."

"I think the cast has affected him. He dropped an interception in the game the other night that was pretty much in the bread basket," Wommack said. "I know there was one against Clemson maybe two that he could have caught. There is a hard spot in there and if it hits that hard spot, it seems to bounce out. Every night he goes down there and he works at it and we do drills with him because he wants to. I think there are times he tries to do too much and he needs to remain in position where he is. He is working on that too. He is a great kid who will work and do anything you ask him to and he tries to get better everyday."

At linebacker, the Jackets are also trying a different look promoting Steven Sylvester into the starting lineup over Julian Burnett.

"We are working Steven with the first group instead of Julian," Wommack said. "Both will play. I think we will try to share time."

The staff as a whole wants to make more defensive substitutions, but they are concerned about putting certain players in the game because of either a lack of experience and inability to execute the scheme effectively.

"We said it has been two or three weeks and we have to start playing more players," Wommack said. "There were 19 that played on defense and some of those guys only played two or three snaps. We are not playing enough people. We have to get confidence in them and they have to give us confidence by going out there and practicing and knowing what they are doing. The receivers are running in and out of the game for the other team and we are leaving our guys out there all game like Morgan, Tarrant and Mario Butler. Those guys are playing every snap in the secondary."

Players like Rod Sweeting, Michael Peterson and Martin Frierson should get a chance to get a little playing time in the coming weeks because the Jackets do not have an off week until November.

"We would like to play those guys and if they practice well we can build some confidence and play more people across the board," Wommack said. "We really need to, but they have to show us in practice they can do it and not have the missed assignments technique mistakes they have at this point. Back there is a different deal, because if you make a mistake back there it usually lights the scoreboard up. It is different from being on the defensive line because if they make a mistake up there, you get a five or ten yard gain. If we make one back there, it lights the scoreboard up."

Wommack is concerned about the Seminoles vertical passing attack and trying to hide the Jackets' coverages from their quarterback Christian Ponder.

"They have real speed across the board and the quarterback and Jimbo do a great job of teaching them. They can tell when it is one-deep safety, two-deep safety or no safety. He understands coverages and how to read them very well," Wommack said.

"If you are in really good shape and you are deep you can redshirt guys. Usually when you have to play freshmen, it is usually a sign that you do not have your talent level up all the way across the board to where you want it to be," Wommack said.

Defensive line adjustments

The biggest concern for the Jackets going into the game with Florida State is their defense that has given up a number of big plays. Defensive line coach Giff Smith is seeing glimpses of the defensive play he expects, but he still sees too many mistakes when he looks back at the Mississippi State film. Smith wants to see more discipline from his players across the board.

"We were able as a unit to make some big plays. The defensive line, linebackers and secondary, but the disappointing thing was, when things went wrong we lost focus on our keys and playing our assignments," Smith said. "That is just discipline. We had a good film session Monday and they were able to see it. Sometime you think you are doing something you really are not doing. I think it was easy to point out on the tape. I expect to have a good carryover going into this week."

As far as preparations for Florida State are concerned, Smith says the team is focusing internally to fix mental errors rather than making wholesale changes to the lineup.

"We are focused on ourselves and the plays we are giving up has more to do with us not executing our scheme. If we can do that, we will be fine. Obviously, Florida State and their offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher do a tremendous job and it will be a great challenge for us, but we have to be able to handle our business when we go out there. They are going to have speed and they have a quality quarterback and an offensive line where everybody returns from last year. The competition will be there, but regardless of who we are playing against, if we do not iron out our problems, it really does not matter who we are playing on Saturday."

Smith says he sees some improvement each week in the defensive line play.

"The thing that has been a little frustrating is some injuries here or there," Smith said. "We have had people going out, so you lose some continuity, but there has been improvement from the guys we were hoping would step up. They are getting better as a unit and if we can eliminate the drifting of our eyes, we have a chance to be a pretty good unit."

Head Coach Paul Johnson weighed in saying that most of the errors he saw were very correctable in the Mississippi State game.

"Most of the time, your deficiencies stem from the fact that you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing," he said. "It was very frustrating for me because if there is one thing that we should be able to defend against, it's the option. We just threw all the fundamentals out the window and we were not doing what we are supposed to be doing. You have to give them some credit, but when they hit some big plays, we had as much to do with it as they did."

Hornet's nest

Given all the strife surrounding the Florida State program at the moment, coach Wommack says the challenge could be extra difficult.

"We got a big challenge and Georgia Tech has not had much success down there," Wommack said. "I think we are going to hit a hornets' nest down there. That is what you love about college football and every week it is a new challenge mentally. Usually we face a new scheme. I think the kids will be excited and we had a great start to practice today and we have looked better the last couple of days.

The Jackets are 0-6 at Florida State, but they only began playing down there in 1993. The Jackets snapped a 12-game losing streak last year and home and head coach Paul Johnson is looking to break another streak against the Seminoles this week.

"Well, I think it was crucial for us to get a win because we were at a crossroads," Johnson said of the 2008 win. "It was a big win for the program because Georgia Tech had never beaten Florida State under Bobby Bowden, but it was a big win because of many different reasons. I remember saying last year I was humbled to be looking across the field at that guy [Bowden] with his record and the things that he has accomplished. I have the utmost respect for Coach Bowden and the job he has done at Florida State. He has been a monumental part of college football."

Vertical Passing

Coach Johnson has voiced his interest in improving the vertical passing game and fans got a glimpse of what he had in mind last week against Mississippi State as quarterback Josh Nesbitt connected with Demaryius Thomas eight times for 174 yards and a touchdown. Johnson suggested that the defensive schemes used to stop the option will always leave their receivers in single coverage and thus allow for big games when the quarterback is able to get them the ball.

"People are usually playing zone against us, but this week will be different. It is the nature of what we do on offense. People will say do not play in that offense, but I think it is a great offense to be in. Imagine what Calvin Johnson would have done if he only had one guy on him during play-action," Johnson said. "Let's say you go deep, there's no safety's coming over the top and your six-foot-five, you can just go up and catch it. If you're recruiting a receiver and that's what there concerned about, then it shouldn't be a problem."

Johnson says he does not expect any changes from opposing teams to double Thomas because it will open the option back up for a bigger play.

"I don't think they will defend us differently," he said. "There will be situations like on third and long when things will change, but the key to that is we have to stay out of third and long. It's hard to do it, if you take the safeties out of the middle of the field; it's harder to defend the option."

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