At times in 2014, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets' defense was just brutal to watch. It was a slowly ticking time bomb that we all had to sit and watch just praying the offense would be on the field soon. The crest of that feeling was the North Carolina game. The defense couldn't stop a thing. After DeAndre Smelter's touchdown to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, we just hoped they would let them score as soon as possible instead of blindly hoping they would stop the Tar Heels. Instead, they took the clock out and won the game, and we all believed the season was over, and the 2014 Tech defense was just terrible. Things turned around quickly though. The defense became aggressive and took chances from the changed mindset of Ted Roof. Turnovers became the defense's calling, and the successful 2014 season for the Jackets can be credited in part to the turnaround of the defense.
It's now 2015, and most of that defense is back. A couple of key parts are gone, but plenty of exciting new parts have been added. Could the 2015 Georgia Tech defense be the best we've seen under the Paul Johnson era?
Fortunately for the Jackets, this list is fairly small compared to the players lost on offense. Only three starters from the 2014 team will be missing this season, and there wasn't much depth lost either. The biggest loss comes from the linebacker position.
Quayshawn Nealy was the middle of the Tech defense and presumably the heart as well in 2014. Nealy was second on the team in tackles and interceptions, and he was possibly the most versatile and used piece in Ted Roof's defense. The Jackets will miss that versatility, whether it was Nealy rushing the quarterback up the middle, dropping back in coverage on a receiver, or chasing down a ball carrier at the goal line.
From the secondary, Isaiah Johnson's departure leaves a hole at the strong safety position. Johnson was fourth on the team in tackles last year, and he is the all-time leader at Georgia Tech for tackles by a defensive back. Johnson was very consistent last season - especially in the second half of the year - and it's crucial that his position is filled well. Luckily for Tech, Demond Smith got plenty of playing time last season and shouldn't take any extra time getting used to a more important role.
The final starter lost from the 2014 defense is Shawn Green. While Green wasn't a stat stuffer, he was a very solid starter at nose tackle last year. It was his most productive season as a Jacket, and he worked well with Adam Gotsis up the middle to contain the running game for the most part. While Tech will miss Green, they shouldn't miss a beat with Jabari Hunt-Days returning from suspension and looking to be a huge addition to the defense in 2015.
The first huge addition is the one already stated - Jabari Hunt-Days. The former linebacker missed all of 2014 and converted to a defensive tackle during his time off. The early word is that Hunt-Days has been a beast in practice, and a dynamic duo of him and Gotsis up the middle could truly be trouble for opposing offensive lines.
Tech also has five freshmen joining the defensive line in 2015. The most potential of the group should be Anree Saint-Amour. Saint-Amour was a huge signing that came as a bit of a surprise to most of us. As a defensive end, he's a long and athletic pass rusher who could possibly even make an impact in his first year on campus.
The other four joining the team are Kyle Cerge-Henderson, Brentavius Glanton, Scott Morgan, and Trent Sellers. Cerge-Henderson and Glanton could both possibly get some playing time backing up Hunt-Days at nose tackle in their freshman year. Cerge-Henderson is a guy to definitely look out for as a surprise breakout player right away. Morgan and Sellers have the potential to receive playing time in the future, but don't expect to see them much in 2015.
At linebacker, the Jackets will be bringing in three freshmen in 2015. The guy that projects to make an impact right away is Victor Alexander. Alexander was much like Saint-Amour in the fact that he was a surprise signing that really bolsters the future of the Tech defense. He's an undersized linebacker with plenty of fire that reminds many of P.J. Davis. It should be a blast to watch him play the next few years. He could give Beau Hankins plenty of push at the MIKE linebacker spot right away.
Brant Mitchell and Tyler Cooksey are the other two linebackers joining the team, and they were both highly regarded recruits out of high school. Cooksey is an outside linebacker who is extremely athletic and could have a great future with the team when he fills out a bit and gets in the system. For now, he'll likely be a redshirt. Mitchell had an incredible high school career and was possibly under-recruited for some reason. He's got plenty of size and could be a very good run-stopper up the middle. He could compete for a backup job, but it's likely he'll also redshirt in 2015.
Tech also brought in three secondary players in the 2015 freshman class. The standout in the group is safety A.J. Gray. Gray is a guy who will likely perform well no matter where you put him on the field, and because of that, there's a good chance he contributes in 2015 whether it's on defense or on special teams. He even had an incredible high school career at quarterback.
The other two players are Dante Wigley and Meiko Dotson. The Jackets have plenty of depth already at secondary, and for that reason, both of them will likely redshirt this year.
Projected Depth Chart
|Position||First String||Second String|
|DT||Adam Gotsis||Francis Kallon|
|WILL||Paul Davis||Domonique Noble|
|SAM||Tyler Marcordes||Terrell Lewis|
|CB||Chris Milton||Lynn Griffin|
|SS||Demond Smith||Shaun Kagawa|
|FS||Jamal Golden||Lawrence Austin|
|CB||D.J. White||Step Durham|
The depth chart on defense should be pretty established in 2015 without too many surprises when things kickoff at the starting positions. The secondary is very established with four returning starters and some nice depth to back them up in obvious passing situations. At linebacker, the OLB's should be set, but like I said, I do think Victor Alexander could potentially give Beau Hankins a run for the starter's job once the season begins. That's all speculation though as it's Hankins' job for the time being. On the defensive line, you'll see plenty of different fronts in games depending on the situation. Expect quite a few of the defensive ends to get multiple snaps in games and a lot of substitutions to bring in pass-rushing sets or run-stopping sets. There's a lot of versatility at defensive line for the Jackets this year, and that should be a very nice luxury to have.
What Should Be Expected?
You should expect this to be the best defense Paul Johnson has ever had in his time at Georgia Tech. The experience is there, the talent is there, the depth is there, the versatility is there, and Ted Roof really seemed to find his niche with this group of guys in the second half of 2014. The secondary should be one of the best in the ACC, the defensive line has an enormous amount of potential to be as athletic and versatile as anyone, and if the linebacker group can just be good, this defense could truly be scary. It feels weird to say it, but the defense could very well be the better and more consistent side of the ball for Georgia Tech in 2015 if things go as planned.
Are you feeling optimistic about the defense headed into the season? Will it be the strong suit of the Jackets? Should there be any major concerns that need to be addressed before you feel better about things?