ATLANTA — Jahi Word-Daniels is the lone returning senior in Georgia Tech’s secondary.
Suffice it to say he’s getting tired of the buzz surrounding the Yellow Jackets’ new triple-option offense.
What about the defense? What about the new scheme that first-year coordinator Dave Wommack has installed?
"I’m not complaining, believe me, because our offense is supposed to score points, and that excites the fans," Word-Daniels said. "I just want people to know that our defense was really good under coach (Jon) Tenuta and now it has a chance to be even better with coach Wommack."
When the Jackets open the season Aug. 28 against Jacksonville State, Word-Daniels thinks Tech fans will like Wommack’s philosophy.
Tenuta, who worked six successful seasons as the Jackets’ coordinator before he left for Notre Dame seven months ago, gave his players almost no leeway in their assignments.
The secondary worked almost exclusively in zone coverages. Tenuta liked blitzing cornerbacks and safeties, but ends and tackles were instructed to defend "straight up" and let the linebackers close open space in gap control.
With Wommack, players have more freedom.
"It’s a little bit easier to communicate with coach Wommack," said Word-Daniels, a Hoover, Ala., native who had two interceptions and a team-high eight pass breakups last year. "Coach Tenuta is a great defensive coordinator, but is kind of a stern guy. He tells you what he wants you to do, so then it’s up to you to do what he says and produce."
Wommack, an assistant coach with many stops over the last 28 years, worked most recently as a coordinator at Southern Miss in 1999-2000 and at Arkansas from 2002-2004.
Tech head coach Paul Johnson, who hired Wommack in December, likes Wommack’s teaching method of giving players a platform in communicating with the coaching staff.
But with the Jackets still trying to determine who will start at the three linebacker spots and at free safety, Johnson and his assistants want to establish a solid depth chart before designing their game plan for Jacksonville State.
Mario Butler, formerly a No. 2 cornerback before Jerrard Tarrant’s arrest on an alleged rape charge this summer, will start opposite Word-Daniels at one cornerback spot. Morgan Burnett has the strong safety job secured, but as many as three candidates are listed at free safety.
"We’ve got some young guys," Johnson said. "It’s kind of a question (of) we’ll see when we play. You really don’t know because we haven’t got a lot of guys who have played a lot of football, so it’s going to be interesting to see how everything works out. We don’t have any preconceived notions about guys."
Johnson isn’t concerned about the defensive line, where Wommack has the ends, Michael Johnson and Derrick Johnson, dropping into their stances a few feet toward each sideline to give them better leverage in taking angles against tight ends and offensive tackles.
Unlike their roles under Tenuta, tackles Darryl Richard and Vance Walker aren’t forced to stay exactly in their assigned technique on each snap. Richard and Walker are now allowed to shift their stances before the snap and to use different moves to confuse centers and guards.
"Our defensive line this year is an incredible group of guys," Word-Daniels said. "Tons of experience, a lot of power, and having them creating problems up front makes our jobs easier because the ball’s going to come out quick. Hopefully they’ll force some bad throws, but at the same time we have to do our job and keep the receivers covered up so they can get to the quarterback."