After another disappointing year on the defensive side of the football, the Yellow Jackets finally decided to move in a different direction. Ted Roof left for NC State and Johnson brought in former Wofford and Appalachian State defensive coordinator Nate Woody. The biggest change for the Tech defense will be moving from a base 4-2-5 personnel group, 4 down linemen, 2 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs, to a 3-4, 3 down linemen, 4 linebackers, and 4 defensive backs.
The defense that Woody favors is a field and boundary defense, where the players are designated either field or boundary. One group will align to the short side of the field and one set will align to the wide side of the field. While this will not have a significant impact on the inside linebackers, they may have changes in their gap and run fit responsibilities. The biggest changes will be for the players that win the starting jobs at the outside linebacker positions. Fortunately, the linebacker corps is one of the more experienced groups on the field. The transition to a new defense will be challenging, but both positions have the talent to make the move.
The Yellow Jackets return solid depth and have some exciting young players that can step in and play in the inside linebacker position this fall. There are more similarities than differences in how the field and boundary inside linebackers play, they share many of the same reads and run fit responsibilities.
Brant Mitchell: 6’2, 236, Senior. Brant has been a starter since he set foot on the Flats in 2015. He will be the heart and soul of the linebacking corps for the Jackets. Expect the other players to lean on him as the team transitions to the new defensive scheme. He was named as a team captain early this off season.
Bruce Jordan-Swilling: 6’1, 209, Sophomore. Bruce was the gem of the 2017 signing class. A four-star player, the number 8 ranked player in Louisiana, the number 12 ranked OLB and number 212 ranked player in the nation. He was an Army All-American Game invitee. He played in all 11 games last year for the Yellow Jackets, making one start. He played his best game against the Cavaliers, where he had 11 total tackles and an interception return for a touchdown. Look for him to build on his successful freshman campaign and set himself up to be the man in the middle for 2019.
Quez Jackson: 6’1, 220, Freshman. Quez was an early enrollee freshman from Fort Valley, Ga and Peach County High School. He had a successful spring, culminating with a breakout performance in the spring game, totaling 6 tackles and 2 tackles for a loss. Quez will be an integral part of the ILB rotation for the Jackets.
Tre Jackson’: 5’10, 222, R-Senior. Tre has played most on special teams during his Tech career. He had a great spring and a breakout spring game, with 8 tackles, 1 for a loss and a fumble recovery. With the change in scheme Tre will have a chance to work his way into the inside linebacker rotation.
While the field and boundary inside linebackers share many similarities and responsibilities, the field and boundary outside linebackers occupy dissimilar roles within the scheme. The field outside linebacker will align to the wide side of the field and is more likely to be the coverage linebacker. Players that excel in this role are better at playing in space and as drop linebackers. The boundary outside will align to the short side of the field and will spend more time as the rush linebacker. Here you want a player who is agile and strong in their pass rush abilities.
Boundary Outside Linebacker
The Yellow Jackets return a solid, experienced player that will have a shot at securing the starting job, but the depth looks to be two freshman that will be called on early to contribute.
Victor Alexander: 5’10, 235, Senior. Victor brings the most experience to the table and will have the first opportunity to lockdown the starting position at boundary outside linebacker. He was Tech’s leading tackler last season with 60 total tackles and 2 sacks. He has been a stalwart in the Tech defense, playing in every game since his arrival on the Flats in 2015.
Justice Dingle: 6’3, 245, Freshman. Justice is the more heralded of the two freshman who will fight for playing time, coming to Tech as the number 25 ranked outside linebacker in the class of 2017. He has the size and length you look for in a player at this position and showed some strong pass rush skills in his HS tape. He will have to come into fall camp ready to compete and contribute for the Tech defense.
Jordan Dominick: 6’3, 230, Freshman. Jordan also has the size and length you look for in this position. His biggest asset is he will be making the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker, meaning he has a good bit of pass rush experience from his HS days. He too will have ample opportunity to prove to the coaches that he belongs in the rotation this fall.
Field Outside Linebacker
Tech will rely on young but talented players to step into this position. Both players were healthy in the spring and were able to gain some valuable reps.
Jaquan Henderson: 6’1, 197, Sophomore. Jaquan is the more experienced of the two players, playing in 11 games last year, mostly on special teams. He had a break out spring and showed some flashes of his talent in the spring game, making 5 tackles with 2 tackles for a loss. Look for Henderson to have the inside track to earing the starting role.
Charlie Thomas: 6’2, 190, Freshman. Charlie was an early enrollee freshman. This allowed him to gain some valuable reps in the defense. Charlie played mostly safety in HS, making his biggest asset at the position his experience and skills in playing coverage.
There are a few other players who alternated between safety and linebacker in the spring, notably Kaleb Oliver and Avery Showell. Their chances at playing linebacker will be heavily influenced at how the depth chart at safety shapes up.
It is a new day for the Tech line backing corps. There is talent and experience coming back. Expect the Jacket linebackers to be an integral part in the success of the new look defense.