October 14, 2009

Jackets aim to plug the holes in their D

The Georgia Tech offensive success this season has been holding a patchwork defense together. Heading into the Virginia Tech game, the defense is as healthy as they have been all year meaning they are only missing a few key players instead of three or four starters like they were a few weeks ago. The Jackets hit the practice field in the rain Wednesday to prepare for their biggest home game in over a decade against Virginia Tech.

Head coach Paul Johnson was pleased with the wet practice.

"It went well and I think we got some good work in. The weather cooperated so we got a lot of stuff done," Johnson said. "Today was not bad and the only reason you go inside is if it is lightning or pouring and coming down in buckets."

The focus this week is on the defense and Johnson says they are showing signs of improvement.

"I think we are doing better and we are going through a learning curve, but we are doing okay, you are never where you want to be," Johnson said.

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has sped up some of the defensive calls this week to eliminate the miscommunications that plagued the team against Florida State. He says the defense has been fired up by the nay saying in the media.

"We have gone with some hurry-hurry with them and tried to hit those situations with them. I think they have a lot of pride," Wommack said. "I think they are fired up. When you get in a tough situation, I tell the guys they are going to have adversity their whole life and there are going to be good things and you can learn and get better from that."

Overall, the plan is to keep things simple and give the athletes on the field a chance to make plays against a much-improved Virginia Tech offense.

"We are trying to hit as much as we can with fewer defenses this week," Wommack said. "If we cannot execute some of the defenses we have run in the past there is no use in running them because if we do we will get hurt with big plays."

Wommack does not want to make excuses for the team's play, but he sees where the problems begin, injuries. Both starting safeties Cooper Taylor and Dominique Reese went down in the Miami game as did starting defensive end Robert Hall.

"Anything you say sounds like an excuse and I don't like to make excuses. Our struggles have more to do with the fact we had to make a lot of changes at corners and safety. New guys at defensive end that were playing linebacker last year and playing for us and when you do that, you lose thousands of reps. We don't have an abundance of depth where we felt like we could bring in a second team backup to get us through it. That is how we ended up moving Rashaad Reid from corner. It hurts us. It killed us when Cooper and Dominique went down."

What happened to the defense is comparable to what happened in the second half of the 2008 season, when the Jackets began giving up many points in the second half of the year. Wommack sees a specific link between the two defenses, a key injury.

"Last year, Jahi Word-Daniels is the perfect example. Jahi in the Clemson game goes down; you think that is one guy. I don't think we had given up more than 20 points to anyone other than Virginia Tech seven games into the season," Wommack said. "We lose Jahi and the production on the other side goes up and that side goes down. All of the sudden you think, I will get my best eleven on the field, so I am going to train this guy at corner from safety. He loses half his reps from practice and all the sudden you have a huge problem."

Wommack also cited Kyle Jackson's injury coming out of spring ball as a major obstacle because Jackson would be starting and a leader of the defense if he was healthy.

"Kyle Jackson is a perfect example. Kyle ran our defense last year. I think losing those guys makes a difference. If we had been here three or four years, had the recruits in place to do what we need to do, it would be a different situation. People do not want to hear that and we are going to go out there and do the best we can do. Hopefully it will be better week to week."

Wommack does not want to outcoach himself, which he felt like he did during the Miami and Florida State games.

"I think you can try to compensate for things, by putting more people in the box or blitzing people, but you have to be real careful with that," he said.

After all of the shuffling, Reid is finally back at corner where he belongs and Reese will start at free safety.

"I think Reid is coming along and he was only at safety for a couple of weeks and thankfully we got Dominique back. For him to go back and play corner and husky for us helps."

Wommack said the decision to move Reid had more to do with the inexperience of Jemea Thomas and Jon Lockhart than any other factor once they lost both Reese and Cooper Taylor.

"I have always thought for freshmen even though we have a couple of them play, it is difficult. Anytime you have a freshman in there having to play, you are going to get a lot of mistakes every time. That has happened to us a lot before. A 21-year old is better than a 17-year old for a lot of reasons."

"I think you have to have hundreds of reps at something to be really good at it. You have to be able to go back and play your base defense to be comfortable doing that," Wommack said. "Once you see something a hundred times it becomes easier for you."

Injuries

The injury problems continue for the Jackets' defense. Anthony Egbuniwe will most likely miss the game as he recovers from an illness.

"It is probably going to be the same as last week. We will see," Johnson said. "I don't think we have anyone to add and I don't think we are going to get anyone back. Egbuniwe is probably out. He has to recoup and he was a sick young man. He is working hard and hopefully we will get him back next week."

Wommack says losing Egbuniwe for another week will stretch the defensive line paper thin.

"When you lose those guys are you are already thin before from losing guys to graduation. We are not a deep unit and we suffer," Wommack said. "If those younger guys were better, don't you think they would be starting at the beginning of the year."


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