Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Much of the attention Georgia Tech has received this preseason has been focused on Jonathan Dwyer and the Jackets' stable of running backs. If they're going to contend for the Coastal Division title, though, the defense will have to hold its weight, too, and the Jackets have to replace three of four starters up front. I caught up with defensive coordinator Dave Wommack to check in on the defense heading into summer camp.
Are you changing anything? I've heard some rumblings about maybe a different scheme this year.
DW: We may change up some things a little bit, but I think it may be based [more] on personnel than it will anything else. We'll see when we get into two-a-days, but there's not going to be any drastic changes.
Are there things you saw in the spring on the defensive line that give you concerns that are forcing you to tinker with it?
DW: [He laughed]. Just inexperience. When you lose three guys to the draft, it's just a matter of inexperience. I think we've got some good, young guys that are coming up. They just haven't played very much. That's the biggest thing, but no, that's not why we're changing. It's really our experience is more in the secondary, maybe get more five DBs on the field more than anything else.
Yeah, tell me about that group a little bit. You have a lot of guys coming back, especially with Morgan Burnett.
DW: It kind of flips. Now your most-experienced players are guys that have played one year. I'm looking forward to the secondary. I think it will be a strength for us with Morgan leading the way.
What more can he do? What are you expecting from him this year?
DW: Really that's the thing that concerns me as much as anything, because Morgan wants to make every play. It's really, Morgan, stay within the framework of your defense. Don't let your eyes get you in trouble. The play is going to come your way. You're a featured stop for us on defense, so don't try to do more than what you need to do because the defense will break down. So I don't think it's so much asking him to do more, just really do what you've done. Don't try to do too much.
Who are some of the young players on the roster that Georgia Tech fans are going to get to know?
DW: One of them is a big guy, T.J. Barnes, a defensive lineman for us from Enterprise, Ala. He is a large human being. Last fall he got up to 363 and now we've got him down to about 340. He's a guy who needs to step up and play a major role for us. And then I think some younger linebackers, Steven Sylvester has come along, Malcolm Munroe has come along. A true freshman came in, Emmanuel Dieke, we call him Too Tall. He came in about 220 and thought for sure he was going to be a redshirt project. Man, he had a great spring. He's over 250 now and he's 6-[foot]-5 so I think those guys are going to be the guys you're going to see. Jerrard Tarrant will return. He was our best corner and had to sit out last season. He'll return this year. I know I'm leaving people out. There was a lot of young guys who didn't play last year who will be given an opportunity to play in the two-deep. It's hard to single them out right now, until you go through two-a-days, but there was a lot of progress made with those guys last spring as well.
How rusty is Jerrard Tarrant? What was he doing last year?
DW: He was going to school. He didn't practice at all last year, so, yeah, there was some rust to knock off, but he's young, and I thought he bounced back pretty well from the standpoint of after four or five days getting back to the swing of it and doing what we needed him to do. I thought he made a lot of progress that was noticeable. If not a first-teamer, he'll play a lot this year.
I imagine you have pretty high expectations for that linebacking corps. You've got a lot of guys back there, right?
DW: Yep, and so many of them were hurt last year it seemed like it was kind of a hit or miss deal with the linebackers. I don't know if any two of them got to play or three of them got to play more than a game or two, so hopefully we have more depth. I know we redshirted some guys, but you've got Brad [Jefferson], Anthony Barnes, and Sedric [Griffin] returning with experience. I think the key is to keep those guys on the field this year and bring the other guys along.
How much more comfortable is everybody in terms of the playbook, the scheme, now that this is your second year in the system?
DW: I think it makes a tremendous difference. Once they've been through it two springs now and then a whole year, they know what to expect and how to do the little things. They got thousands of reps in those things we didn't have before, and they know my personality and I know their personalities. I told them this spring, I thought there was a real closeness on this unit. It's not one of those deals where there's really one star that ones to shine. We've got some good players who care about each other and they've worked hard to this point.
I'm assuming your main concern for summer camp is going to be getting that D-line together?
DW: Well, it is, but I'm not trying to put anything on Giff Smith, our defensive line coach. He does a tremendous job, and he builds a relationship with those guys, and he brings a real passion and caring and wants to be good. I think they'll step up, but I'm not ignorant enough to sit here and think you're going to replace those guys overnight. There will be some times we'll have to load the box, bring more players into the box against the run just because of that, I'm sure at times. But that's fine, too. And then you go on and your secondary is more experienced and your linebackers are more experienced. Every year in college you're going to lose a group, especially when you don't have the depth. Until we get in there and have guys like a piece of the puzzle and step right in, it's going to be important for us to stay healthy this year.