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Georgia Tech's defensive line leading the way

9/11/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Georgia Tech sophomore defensive end Derrick Morgan has no problem playing in the shadows of a senior-laden defensive line that includes Michael Johnson, Vance Walker and Darryl Richard.

The attention on them is the very thing that has allowed Morgan to shine.

"You know how good a player Michael Johnson is, so they're just double teaming him which is going to leave me with some one-on-one battles," Morgan said. "It frees me up a lot more in the pass rush and all the attention and focus has been on Mike and the other d-linemen because they already know about them. It's definitely been helpful."

Morgan enters Saturday's game at Virginia Tech leading the ACC in sacks (2.5) and has one fumble recovery. Richard leads in tackles for loss (four), and Walker earned the Yellow Jackets' first safety since 2004 last weekend when he tackled Boston College quarterback Chris Crane in the end zone.

"If there is a strength of our football team," coach Paul Johnson said, "it's probably the front four."

Georgia Tech's pressure on former LSU quarterback Ryan Perrilloux and Crane contributed to its 2-0 start and rising expectations. Regardless of who takes more snaps for Virginia Tech on Saturday -- Sean Glennon or Tyrod Taylor -- more of the same can be expected.

"I'm very impressed with Georgia Tech, that front four," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said, rattling off their jersey numbers. "I mean they're good up front. They're very, very good up front."

"They're not afraid to blitz," he said. "They come all out. They're not shy about that."

The defense doesn't zone blitz as much as it did under former defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, and can rush more and get pressure on the quarterback while keeping seven in coverage instead of six.

"This is more diverse," Beamer said. "You get more fronts and coming at you out of all the fronts. I think this is tough."

In the Yellow Jackets' 19-16 win against the Eagles, it was four-man pressure most of the time, sometimes five. Very seldom do they bring six or seven. Not only is this arguably the best defensive line in the ACC, it's also one of the most experienced. Richard, who graduated in three years, should have his master's by the end of the season. Their leadership has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the team.

"You've got to have senior leadership and I think he puts that on the defensive line that they've got to be leaders when they're out there," defensive line coach Giff Smith said. "I think the difference in us right now is we play together as a team. Everybody believes in each other whether you're a senior or a true freshman, you've got GT on your helmet and everybody has to carry their own load."

Walker has been a consistently good player for the Yellow Jackets, and Johnson, an extremely gifted athlete, is still adjusting to his new role. He was a pass-rush specialist and special teams contributor last year. Now he is in his first season as a starter and playing more than 20 snaps a game. Richard might have been the most impressive of the group at Boston College, but Morgan has the most sacks.

"Derrick, he can hold his own in any situation," Smith said.

Morgan said he's learned a lot from playing alongside his veteran teammates, watching game film with them and discussing Xs and Os in the locker room.

"I feel privileged," Morgan said. "We like to think we're one of the best in the nation but we've got to go out there and prove it."