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Jackets focused on learning new 'D'
Izaan Cross (left) and the rest of the Georgia Tech defense are adapting to Yellow Jackets defensive coordinator Al Groh's 3-4 defense.


Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson speaks with media following the Yellow Jackets' first fall practice on Aug. 5.

ATLANTA — In Paul Johnson’s eyes, not only is Georgia Tech’s new 3-4 defense good, it’s unstoppable.

“Nobody has scored on us yet,” the third-year coach of the Yellow Jackets said after the team’s first fall practice on Thursday. “So it’s been good.”

A season after going 11-3, winning the ACC championship and playing in their first BCS bowl in school history, the Yellow Jackets will start 2010 with a new defensive coordinator in Al Groh.

In 2009, the Jackets defense ranked near the middle of the pack in every major statistical category among ACC teams and surrendered an average of 24.8 points per game.

Groh, who was the the Virginia Cavaliers’ head coach for nine seasons, is installing the new defense — the
Jackets played a 4-3 under Groh’s predecessor, Dave Wommack — one day at a time.

“Right now, it’s a daily process,” Groh said. “We meet, install, practice, go back (as coaches) at night, make corrections, sleep and then meet again the next day, practice... We’re putting one foot in front of the other marching forward and trying to get the maximum out of each of those functions.”

Groh said the Jackets’ base core defensive front will be a two-gap 3-4, but there will be many movements and alignment shifts that stem from that core, both schematically and from a technique standpoint.

The two-gap front is similar to that of the New England Patriots’ 3-4, which Groh taught as an assistant on Bill Belichick’s staff. Groh was also head coach of the New York Jets in 2000, guiding them to a 9-7 record, and earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 1990 New York Giants’ coaching staff.

Two former area players who have been practicing with the Jackets’ first team defense all offseason are buying in to Groh’s teachings.

“I was excited about the new coaching staff actually, said Izaan Cross, a Flowery Branch High graduate and defensive lineman who played in 13 games and started in two as a freshman last season.

“It’s gone well for me because it fits more to my skill set, because I’m more directly dealing with the offensive tackle instead of moving out and having to use more technique. I’ve put on a few pounds since high school (Cross is 6-foot-3, 292 pounds), so I can’t run like I used too.”

Defensive lineman Logan Walls, who graduated from Dawson County, started 10 games for the Jackets last season as a sophomore, compiling 25 tackles — two for loss — two sacks and a forced fumble.

He said the technical aspect of playing in Groh’s 3-4 is the most significant adjustment for him.

“The biggest part for me is the hands and footwork,” Walls said. “We use our hands a lot and concentrate on that more.”

The Jackets have 28 more practices as allowed by the NCAA to prepare for their Sept. 4 matchup against South Carolina State in Atlanta.

That leaves Georgia Tech, ranked No. 13 according to’s preseason poll, just a few weeks to polish up on the new defense. Groh said he simply wants to see “good play,” while Cross was a little more ambitious.

“I want to see domination,” Cross said. “I want to see a much better defense, a complete 180-degree turn from last year.”

Added Walls, “You can never overlook anyone. I want to come in as prepared as possible and do well."

If the defense can execute Groh’s scheme, it will lead to more opportunities for Johnson’s triple-option offense.

Last season, the Jackets led the conference in total offense and time of possession.

Though the Jackets, as defending conference champions, may have more teams gunning for them this season, Johnson doesn’t feel the mood in practice is any different than this time last year.

And his expectations are still the same as they would be any other season.

“Try to beat South Carolina State and Georgia,” Johnson said, “and everyone in between, I guess.”

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