Return of injured linebackers gives Georgia Tech D a boost

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech linebacker Brad Jefferson laughed out loud when asked how eager he is to play a full season of football after a dislocated wrist kept him out of four games in 2008.

"I'm looking forward to it so much I can't even explain it in words, I'm so excited about it," he said. "It was really hard for me sitting out that long, watching my teammates go battle other teams, but things happen that you just have to deal with. I couldn't do anything but sit on the sideline and support my team until I came back."

The coaching staff is probably equally as excited to have Jefferson back on the field. Both he and Anthony Barnes were injured in the season opener last year and never quite returned to 100 percent. Barnes went on to miss the next two games with a shoulder injury and ended the season with a broken bone in his leg at Georgia.

This spring, their return gave a boost to a much deeper linebacking corps. Cedric Griffin is the only senior of the bunch and was the most consistent linebacker last year. He was somewhat of a surprise, as he came on after Jefferson and Barnes were hurt in the season opener. Griffin made his first career start against Boston College, and now he's one of only six scholarship seniors on the roster.

Kyle Jackson started 2008 at outside linebacker and then moved inside after Jefferson was hurt. He remained the starter there through the ninth game and came off the bench against North Carolina. Steven Sylvester played as a true freshman last season as a backup at outside linebacker in 12 games. B.J. Machen and Malcolm Munroe give the staff seven players they feel comfortable with.

Because it's the second year in coordinator Dave Wommack's defense, there is a greater sense of comfort with the playbook and the defense is expected to have a lot of different looks. (Some of that might be to help compensate for loss of three starters on the defensive line). The staff added the hybrid defensive back/linebacker position in an effort to get the best players on the field, and the strength is in the secondary and with the linebackers.

"The defense changed a little bit for the LBs because we used to go a lot of man, now we're in a lot of zone," Jefferson said. "This spring as a defense we did very well. We've got a lot of spots to fill, and every guy that has a spot to fill is stepping up."