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Georgia Tech defense has strong debut in full pads
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ATLANTA — The first spring day in full pads isn't much of a measuring stick for Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson.

So after watching the Yellow Jackets' defense force several mistakes by his spread option offense in Saturday's 100-play controlled scrimmage, Johnson was hardly surprised.

"There's a little more experience than there is on the other side, for sure, especially up front and at the skill positions," Johnson said. "But spring practice will go as it goes."

Third-year coordinator Ted Roof's defense, which returns eight starters, gave his players a mixed review.

Zach Allen returned an interception for a touchdown. Adam Gotsis and Beau Hankins recovered fumbles.

And linebackers Tyler Marcordes, Anthony Harrell and Domonique Noble were active.

But four penalties — offside, facemask and two personal fouls — were upsetting.

"That's way too many," Roof said. "It's tough enough to play defense, as it is. When you start giving them 15 yards, we don't need to do that."

Georgia Tech, coming off an 11-3 season and a No. 8 ranking in The Associated Press' final poll, ranked 17th nationally in takeaways last year but struggled on third down and average yards per play.

Roof is encouraged, though, that the Jackets built trust to encourage each other with a dramatic win at Georgia and an Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State.

"The older players, when they come off on the sideline, tell (younger players) what they did wrong, and that's the type of culture you want to continue to develop, Roof said. "That's good to see."

Defensive end KeShun Freeman, who finished the season with 4½ sacks and 9½ tackles for lost yardage, benefited from such advice during spring practice last year.

After playing in every game and making 12 starts, Freeman said it was easy to apply the encouragement he got in spring to his accomplishments in practice and games.

"Actually having so many people back, we don't have to do as much teaching for the older guys," Freeman said. "When it comes to some of guys who haven't played, there's more than one person teaching them, so that really helps us out for the future."

Johnson was pleased with the performance Saturday of Jabari Hunt-Days, a linebacker-turned-defensive end who was ruled academically ineligible last May and missed the season.

Lined up mostly against starting guard Trey Braun, Hunt-Days looked impressive at times.

"Jabari made some plays," Johnson said. "He was hard to block. I thought (defensive lineman) Francis Kallon made some plays, too. Now we'll have to look at the tape and see who it was against."

The offense's difficulty stemmed from having inexperienced linemen, running backs and receivers. A pair of backup centers struggled and Johnson only used star quarterback Justin Thomas in two series.

Roof paid little attention to the offense. He wanted to see that the defense made progress with contact, speed and effort.

"We don't have a lot (of the scheme) in, so it's execution within the defense and enthusiasm for competing," Roof said. "It was there at times, but we had too many penalties."

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