After practice wraps up this afternoon the Tech football team will have completed the first three weeks of spring practice, leaving only one more week before spring ball is complete. Aside form the quarterback battle between redshirt sophomore Vad Lee and redshirt freshman Justin Thomas; the biggest story may be the defense and the progress it is looking to make under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
Roof was hired as defensive coordinator at Tech back in January. Roof is coming to Tech from Penn State where he served as defensive coordinator for one year. Under his leadership, the Nittany Lions showed great improvement on that side of the ball. Roof was also the defensive coordinator for Auburn in 2010 when they defeated Oregon in the National Championship game.
Coach Roof is definitely intense. He’s always telling you to run through the ball. He always expects us to work as hard as we can. Don’t get me wrong, Coach Groh was a tough coach, but he was a little more laid back and there was more learning. Roof just expects full effort all of he time,” said redshirt junior safety Coray Carlson.
With Roof taking over as coordinator, Tech will be moving to a 4-3 defensive scheme, opposed to the 3-4 that Tech has ran for two and a half seasons under former defensive coordinator Al Groh. After Groh was fired in the middle of last season, Tech started using a 4-3 scheme quite a bit under interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. The defense showed improvement last season while running the 4-3 under Kelly. The defense gave up an average of 36.2 points last season in the first five games while under Groh, including Middle Tennessee State putting up 49 on the Jackets, but the defense held opponents to 30.7 points a game while under Kelly.
When asked how the transition to the 4-3 is going, Attaochu said, “The transition hasn’t been that difficult. Nothing gets more difficult than playing in a 3-4. The 4-3 is a little simpler. Of course there’s still a learning process, but it’s not a defense that is going to be too difficult for younger players to grasp hold of.”
For several defensive players, the new scheme also means a new position. Redshirt freshman Tyler Stargel has moved from linebacker to defensive end, redshirt senior Jemea Thomas has moved back to cornerback from safety, redshirt senior Euclid Cummings has moved from defensive end to defensive tackle, and senior Jeremiah Attaochu has moved from linebacker to defensive end.
“A 3-4 outside linebacker and a 4-3 defensive end are pretty similar assignment wise, technique wise it’s a little different. At defensive end you put your hand on the ground. The change has almost been natural,” Attaochu said.
Not all of Tech’s defensive issues from early last season can be credited to issues with the scheme.
“In practice he’s really been emphasizing intensity, pursuit angles, and tackling. We really need to improve our tackling. Those have been the main things he’s really been working with us on,” Carlson said.
Some of Tech’s players will have to pick up the new system from the sidelines. Redshirt sophomore Jabari Hunt-Days, redshirt senior Brandon Watts, Senior Isaiah Johnson and redshirt junior Fred Holton are all out of spring practice.
With four of the first five games next season being conference opponents, the Tech defense will need to be sharp early in the season to help Tech get back to the ACC Championship game. Roof may or may not be the answer Tech has been looking for, only time will tell.