October 28, 2009

Jackets defensive line preps for Vandy

The Georgia Tech football team practiced in full pads for the final time this week in preparation for Vanderbilt on Saturday night in Nashville. Jackets head coach Paul Johnson was not impressed with the way the team practice on Wednesday, but he has been encouraged by an improved performance from the defensive line.

"It was okay. It was not spectacular, but it was not terrible either," Johnson said of Wednesday's practice.

Heading into the season, Derrick Morgan was the cornerstone and lone returning starter on the defensive line. Morgan has drawn the most attention and scheming from opponents and Johnson says he is holding up his end of the bargain.

"Derrick has played well and I don't know that he is getting triple teamed. They sometimes keep a tight end in to chip on him or a back," he said. "He has made a lot of plays for us and he was a good player last year for us and this year."

Outside of Morgan, the two starting defensive tackles Logan Walls and Ben Anderson have been making a bigger impact and have become more consistent for the Jackets. Defensive line coach Giff Smith says has really stood out to him.

"Logan is doing some good things, but he is not playing at the level I think he should play at or the level he thinks he should play at. He is working hard and getting better each week. The one who has really upped his game is Ben Anderson. He has played really well inside for us."

Smith says the improved play of the defensive line is a function of growing as a unit after losing three starters from the 2008 team and then losing a starting defensive end Robert Hall in the third game of this season.

"There are starting to understand each other and feed off each other in our twist game. That is starting to help out," he said. "We have grown up since the start of the year and it has been a work in progress. We talked about it in the preseason that it would be a progression and we have done that throughout the year. For us to achieve the goals we set at the beginning of the year, we have to grow as a defensive line"

Last week the team played with three defensive tackles after Jason Peters was unable to make the trip to Charlottesville due to illness. Freshman defensive end Izaan Cross filled in on certain downs at defensive tackle. The Jackets have limited opponents to 44.5 plays of offense in the last two weeks and Smith cites that as one of the reason for their recent defensive success.

"We talk as a defensive line, that when somebody goes down, other people have to step up. We told them from day one that they need to know all four positions. It is really not an issue and the offense did a tremendous job last week. When I played coach Erk Russell told me you do not have to be out there long on defense, you decide how long. We were able to get some stops and the offense did a tremendous job of pounding away out there. I thought it was a great team effort out there."

Cross was recruited by some schools as a defensive tackle, but Smith says he is more of a Morgan clone and he sees a similar career path for Cross.

"I think Izaan is an end in my mind. We will put the best guys out there that give us an opportunity to win. That was a concern of his in recruiting just like it was for Derrick Morgan. I told both of them, that as long as they are capable of doing what we ask they will remain a defensive end. If they do not then they move inside. Izaan is doing better and he needs to continue to improve on his pass rush, but he is big enough and strong enough to play inside sometimes just like Derrick is. We will incorporate different scenarios to get our best guys out there."

Morgan and Cross could both see time at defensive tackle this season situationally on passing downs to help jump start the four-man pass rush, which has been the biggest area of concern in recent weeks on the defensive line.

"I think any time you can have the speed and agility of a defensive end inside it makes you that much better. Our inside guys are doing a good job now. T.J. Barnes did a good job covering down on a screen-play and he made a nice tackle for us. They are getting better at it and we will mix and match as we need to, but as a unit, people are stepping up and being accountable for their responsibilities.

Offensive Line

After having a ton of penalties on the offensive line in the last few weeks, the Jackets have been trying to sort out the issues that were forcing several false start penalties.

"It is about focusing when changing the snap count. We go on two sometimes and we have a hard time with that in practice," Johnson said. "They are supposed to be smart."

After passing the mid-point of the season, the Jackets have settled into a rotation on the offensive line that features two regular subs, Phil Smith at tackle and Omoregie Uzzi at guard.

"They have practiced and right now we are playing with a three-man rotation at guard and a three-man rotation at tackle, we could go four deep with Nick (Claytor)," Johnson said. "Danny (Voss) and (Sean) Bedford can both play center, so we got a little bit of depth."


Freshman linebacker Julian Burnett will be available for the Vanderbilt game after missing the Virginia game with a knee injury according to Coach Johnson.

"Julian is good and I think he is going to play," Johnson said.

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