As with the linebacker report, in knowing the position needs for defensive line it helps to understand their role in the 3-4 defense. It's also important to get a sense for what the ideal defensive linemen look like. In terms of size, the defensive linemen simply need to be big. In order to free up the linebackers to do their job, the linemen collectively need to take up the attention of more than three of the five offensive linemen. The design is to take up four or all five of them. For the size of guys in these positions, only occupying one OL each would be underachieving and likely lead to failure. Since pass rushing duties have now shifted to the outside linebackers, the three linemen's first priority is to stop the run and allow the linebackers to be free of engagement from offensive linemen.
The most important player on the defensive line, and likely the entire defense in the 3-4, is the nose tackle. This is typically not just a big guy but rather the biggest guy you can find. And it's not just all about size, it's about strength too. The NT, who you'd like to have weighing in at least at 320 pounds or more, lineups up head up on the center or zero technique. He will take on the A-gaps which are in between the center and the guards on both sides. If it's a two-gap scheme, the NT will have to hold up the center and see in which direction the back is running. He will have responsibilities for both gaps. In these situations, the center is usually joined by a guard in blocking the NT, that's why he needs to be your biggest, strongest defender. Not only will they be expected to take on the blockers, in many cases they – along with the middle backers – will make the tackles on inside runs. It's not an easy job and taking on two OL on just about every play is quite demanding for anyone. If the NT fails, then the entire defense becomes vulnerable to inside running.
The two defensive ends round out the defensive line. These guys are also bigger than your typical 4-3 defensive ends. The ends a lot of times are guys who were DT/DE tweeners in the 4-3 schemes. They need to be bigger to take on double teams as well. Ideally you'd like to see the ends weighing between 280 and 300 pounds. They can line up in a number of spots but Al Groh typically puts them in the five-technique, which is straight up on the tackles.
For a quick lesson on "technique" terminology for lining up and "gap" responsibility (see chart above): the 0-technique is straight up on the center, and every number from there out goes from the insider shoulder of the guard (1-technique), to straight up on the guard (2-technique) then outside shoulder (3-technique), and so on. Three-technique is more typical of where the DT lines up in the 4-3 that Tech fans are more used to. As you move outward, you'll see the DE is lineup up head-up on the offensive tackle. Again, this is for a two-gap responsibility. If the NT has both A gaps, the DE has one B and one C gap responsibility on running plays. Not all 3-4 defenses run the defensive linemen with two-gap responsibilities, but Tech will most likely use that scheme. On passing plays, the linemen do their best to collapse the pocket for the quarterback by pushing up field.
Based on what's required from the position the kinds of players recruited by Georgia Tech in the past may no longer be the best fit. Finding a solid DE in the 3-4 scheme Tech will run shouldn't be much of a problem. There should be plenty of tweener DT/DE options for any team moving from 4-3 to 3-4 and that's the case with Tech as well. The big problem for anyone is to find the big NT who'll anchor the defensive line. Making the switch to 3-4 in mid-January meant that it was going to be pretty difficult to get the perfect player in the Class of 2010 to run nose tackle in the future. But it should be a huge point of emphasis for recruiting strategies going forward at Tech.
In terms of numbers (body count) on the defensive line, Tech was replacing three players. The biggest loss is Derrick Morgan who leaves after his junior season and has been projected to go in the NFL as high as number two overall. He won't be easy to replace though Derrick is more of a 4-3 defensive end, but any team would love to have him under any defensive formation. Jason Hill graduates after a long career at Tech. Hill tried to contribute on both the offensive and defensive lines while at Tech but never really found his niche. Antonio Wilson didn't have a very long football career. He started playing ball in his junior year of high school. Tech stole Wilson away from being a Vanderbilt commit a couple of years ago. He redshirted in 2008 and in 2009 a neck/spine injury forced him out again and will cause him to get a medical hardship, ending his college career.
Landing at least three defensive linemen would typically be prudent give Tech was losing three. In this class with the number of positions across the line going from four to three, it would require closer inspection. For a position grouping with three players on each level of the depth chart, you'd ideally want around 11 players on the roster. After losing Morgan, Hill and Wilson, that left 10 guys on the roster. Had Tech known about the scheme change all along they would have targeted very few defensive linemen, unless they wanted a certain type like a big NT and there weren't enough on the current roster. In this case, signing three is more of overkill but 1) it wasn't a change you could plan for and 2) some 4-3 defensive ends could make for good linebackers in the 3-4. The affect on the new scheme in regards to recruiting plans will be felt more in the Class of 2011.
Job number one for Al Groh when he decided to take on the job of defensive coordinator for Georgia Tech was to try and determine who his nose tackle would be. Just looking at the roster there are two guys who physically look like what he'd want there at NT. Those two are T.J. Barnes (6-7, 341) and J.C. Lanier (6-4, 313). That's actually a pretty darn good start when looking to shift a team to the 3-4 defense. Some teams don't have even one guy nearly that big, much less two in the first season of running it. One such team that didn't have the beef for the 3-4 ironically was the 2009 version of Virginia. And that is probably a reason Coach Groh is now a Yellow Jacket.
Alabama was 2nd in the NCAA for fewest yards allowed per game at 244 YPG. Virginia was 52nd in the NCAA for fewest yards allowed per game at 358 YPG; 95th in the NCAA against the run giving up 174 YPG just on the ground. BTW, Tech was 68th against the run giving up 152 YPG. If you want a good reason why Alabama's defense worked so well in 2009 and Virginia's didn't just look at the nose tackle position. The official Virginia roster only had redshirt freshman Buddy Ruff as over 300 pounds from the defensive side of the ball. I've seen him also listed at 285 pounds. They started Nick Jenkins (6'3, 285), John-Kevin Dolce (6-2, 245) was a backup, and Nate Collins (6'2, 290) played end and tackle to help cover the position. I watched Clemson-UVA highlights for example and saw a C.J. Spiller score from the four yard-line on a play where the center took out Dolce and the tackle took Collins, making way for the guard to pave a path for Spiller. The design calls for that guard to not be able to get out to that next level making it more difficult for Spiller to score – though he was so good, he would have likely found a way in anyway!
Alabama, on the other hand, had four defensive linemen over 300 pounds. Their backup nose tackles were Josh Chapman (6'1, 305) and Kerry Murphy (6-4, 323). Of course the main cog was Scout.com and AP 1st team All-America tackle Terrence Cody (6-5, 365). Cody is being looked at by NFL teams now as the top 3-4 nose out there. Alabama can expect a big drop-off at the anchor spot next season, but for 2009, it's clear one of the reasons for the differences in levels of success is talent and size. As for Alabama's ends their top six defensive ends averaged 285 pounds – more than UVA's nose tackles. With personnel being so important, it's no surprise that Virginia's new coach Mike London has switched the Cavaliers back to a 4-3 defense.
The lesson here is to look for Barnes and Lanier to be counted on for a lot of reps this spring to be sure they can handle the role. I suspect J.C. will move up the depth chart from where I currently show him but I typically hold the redshirt players behind the more established players until I can see more from them. Lanier is coming off of a slow start to the 2009 freshman season where he had to also deal with a shoulder injury. He's got the build to be a huge factor. With Barnes one of the biggest knocks last year was that he couldn't remain in the game for all downs. So, it's not likely Tech will be able to count on him exclusively even if he proves to be the top nose tackle.
The next biggest guys are Logan Walls (6-2, 286), Ben Anderson (6-2, 275), Jason Peters (6-4, 273), and Izaan Cross (6-4, 272). All are similarly built and would fit under the DE/DT tweeners from the 4-3 defense. All four could get looks at nose tackle since Tech will need another one or two to fill the depth chart at that position. Peters and Cross though are probably better suited for play on the end. Both have more height that will help them when going head up against offensive tackles and their long wing spans. On clear running downs, it wouldn't surprise to see someone like Walls get a look at the end over a lighter guy like Egbuniwe or Dieke. Of the returning players on the defensive line Walls leads with the most 2009 tackles with 25 – 11th on the team. That just goes to show that there aren't a lot of gaudy stats returning to the front line this year with Morgan moving to the League. Though Tech at times had trouble filling in the lineup for two defensive tackles, by combining all of those guys basically into one spot, the depth now looks a lot more interesting. It's not actually a bad start for a team in the first year of a 4-3 to 3-4 switch. A couple of more 320+ pounders and then there will be some really interesting competition.
Robert Hall (6-3, 273), who has bulked up about 15 pounds since the beginning of last season, is a player we heard many, many times this off-season how much he was missed in 2009 when he was injured. Hall started in the first three games of the season – racking up 10 tackles. A knee injury kept him out for the rest of the season. He returns for spring – albeit on a limited basis – and tries to lock up a starting spot as he had last year. It could be tougher this time around because there are more guys gunning for his spot, but we anticipate he'll be a force for the ACC to deal with in 2010.
Anthony Egbuniwe (6-4, 255) did a good job of filling in for Hall when he went down. He'll likely return to a backup role to start off spring. He could even get some reps at outside linebacker. He'll be a good utility guy in the coming season and could be trained to come in to play in a number of spots. He'll likely continue to see many reps in the defensive rotation.
Rounding out the spring defensive rotation are two very intriguing players. Typically guys who were redshirted as freshmen were done so because they needed a lot of work in year one. And because of that, not much is expected of them in year two until they can find their role. But in this case both Emmanuel Dieke (6-6, 248) and Euclid Cummings (6-4, 245) have some considerable upside talent. Dieke enrolled early last season and had a pretty good spring in 2009. I was surprised to hear that he was being redshirted given we had just sent Michael Johnson to the NFL and had some open reps at DE. I thought the early spring jump on the rest of the class would help. Cummings actually came into the program last year rated by Scout.com even higher than the more talked about Dieke and Cross – and that's with only two years of high school football under his belt. Tech held off UNC and Tennessee for his services a year ago, because other teams in the southeast also noticed his potential. It's not a surprise that he sat year one to learn and grow – he put on nearly 20 pounds in his first year. So these two players are very interesting to me. Spring will help tell if they are better fits at DE or OLB in the 3-4. They have ideal builds for OLB but the depth chart shows they are more needed at DE. Spring should help settle that.
Home Town (High School): Loganville, GA (Grayson HS)
Other offers included: Duke, Florida State, Michigan State, Mississippi, Oklahoma State
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Jeff Monken
Scout.com Stars: ****
Scout.com State Ranking (Regardless of Position): 21
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 31 (DT)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): 299
Scout.com Southeast Ranking (Regardless of Position): 102
Green is one of three 4-star players in the 2010 class for Georgia Tech. For a team that used to not be able to land big-time defensive linemen Green is the fourth 4-star defensive lineman in the past four recruiting classes. The others are J.C. Lanier ('09), Jason Peters ('07), and Derrick Morgan ('07). It would have been nice to see them all on the field at the same time but with Morgan moving on to the NFL and Green coming into a crowded situation and possible redshirt season, Tech fans may only see two of them in 2010.
Of the three linemen in this class for Tech, Green seems the most likely to be a nose tackle. He has a big frame with room to grow. Coaches won't be forced to keep him overly trim as they might have with him as a 4-3 defensive tackle. They won't want him to become too big and lose his ability to move around but he'll be able grow to 300+ pounds in the next couple of years.
Green picked Tech over Florida State and Ole Miss. "Georgia Tech has been recruiting me the hardest too and I felt they wanted me the most, so it was a pretty easy decision in the end," Green told Chad Simmons after committing to the Yellow Jackets. Fellow line commit Denzel McCoy put a lot of work into getting Green to join him at Tech. They were both going to combine to anchor the defensive line for the next few years. "[Coaches] feel I can make a good impact on the defensive line," Green told Dale McDuffie after his official visit. "The coaches told me that I am playing on the inside along side of Denzel McCoy. They are looking for big things from us two." Much is still expected of the duo but only Green will be on the inside now.
Allen Trieu – Midwest Recruiting Manager (Excerpts from Offense-Defense All-American Bowl practices):
He is certainly not one of the bigger defensive tackles, but he has been one of the toughest to block. He just keeps coming after you and his center of gravity, quickness and tenacity made him a pain for offensive linemen to deal with all day.
Green is undersized, but quick off the ball and relentless. He did not look as physically impressive as the other DTs when walking onto the field, but by the time they left on the first day, everyone knew he was up there with the best of them.
Defensive end T.J. Stripling from Offense-Defense All-American Bowl practice (Excerpt from Brian Dohn article):
One of the real eye-poppers for Stripling is Georgia Tech-bound defensive tackle Shawn Green. "Man, I didn't know he was that fast," Stripling said. "He's got good quickness coming off the ball. All the linemen are having a tough time guarding him.
Chad Simmons - South Recruiting Analyst:
Green is a defender that could play defensive tackle or nose guard on the collegiate level. He plays with great leverage and offensive linemen have a hard time getting locked in on him. He has quick hands that help him shed blocks as well. His first step is another strength and he has a constant high motor. He is missing the size that some schools look for, but he is a high level interior defensive lineman.
For the full analysis from Chad see his story from July 23, 2009:
Scout's Take: Shawn Green
Home Town (High School) Duluth, GA (Northview HS)
Other offers included: Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking (Regardless of Position): 55
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 53 (DT)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Scout.com Southeast Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Denzel is one of the most engaging guys Tech has recruited in recent memory. McCoy would definitely qualify as this year's "Ambassador" – a title first bestowed by this site on Kyle Jackson years ago. But McCoy makes the average Ambassador look like a Special Envoy. Denzel was the third commit in the 2009 class last April. Since then he's been mentioned in articles with just about every other GT recruit. He's even worked on 2011 players. But he's been close with Tech guys even before he committed. Back in August of 2008 in the first article gojackets.com did with, Denzel told Jared Kimmel that he had worked out with Cooper Taylor earlier that year and was also good friends with Jay Finch. So, it's been a long time coming for McCoy – a Tech man if there ever was one.
His ranking as a three-star defensive tackle - 53rd overall at his position - is not completely clear considering his size, athleticism, and offer list. Like many recruits, there are definitely some areas for improvement but his potential is there and many other teams realize it as well. I actually think he's one of those who was recruited to play DT in the 4-3 defensive but in the long run will be a better fit as the DE in the 3-4. He should thrive in this role in a matter of a couple of years. Jared Kimmel actually asked Denzel last October if he was still playing DT in his senior season, and the answer was ironic. "Actually we've moved to a 3-4 and I'm at end, it's awesome," McCoy told Kimmel not knowing his college team would move to a 3-4 just three months later.
Moving back to the subject of nicknames, McCoy may have received one out of no doing of his own. Many teams pulled out all the stops to try and land McCoy but none more memorable than now-USC coach and former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin. Denzel has been called "Helicopter" since that's what Coach Kiffin arrived in at a game McCoy played against North Gwinnett back in mid-October. That stunt never gave Denzel any pause; neither did a pre-signing day position change, nor losing a couple of assistant coaches who helped recruit him to Tech. Denzel says it best himself when asked about his thoughts on the search for a new defensive coordinator back in January, "I'm all in, no matter what."
Chad Simmons - South Recruiting Analyst:
McCoy's biggest strength is athleticism. He has the combination of size, good quickness, and good body control for a lineman. He needs to work on creating space between him and the OL to allow himself to get off blocks and to get up field. That will also help him get down the line to plays against the run. Improving his hands will be a big help for McCoy and help him be better against the run and pass.
Home Town (High School): McDonough, GA (Union Grove HS)
Other offers included: Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Mississippi, North Carolina State
Lead GT Recruiting Coach: Brian Jean-Mary
Scout.com Stars: ***
Scout.com State Ranking (Regardless of Position): 53
Scout.com National Ranking by Position: 65 (DE)
Scout.com National Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Scout.com Southeast Ranking (Regardless of Position): NR
Like Denzel, Anthony Williams may actually be a better fit for the 3-4 scheme. He could be a nice sized OLB right now, but I suspect he'll grow to where he could stay at defensive end. Either way, Anthony is an imposing figure with a frame to really become quite the physical specimen.
Anthony's recruiting was a memorable time, marked by several instances of drama – some real, some imagined from a fan's standpoint. First there were rumors that he had committed to Auburn, but Williams said that wasn't the case and that of course proved to be a true statement. Next there was talk that Anthony was upset with being unnecessarily pressured into committing to GT before he was ready. At the time slots were filling up quickly in the recruiting class and it appeared Tech was about to land a commitment from Henry Anderson. It looked to some that things weren't handled correctly. "I wouldn't say upset would be the word," Williams told. "I was more confused than anything. I was told that Anderson would be Dale McDuffie committing on a Monday and later that night, I found out he committed to Stanford. At first, I felt like I was being pressured to make a decision. Coach BJ (Brian Jean-Mary) called me and cleared things up. He said he wanted to keep me in the loop as Georgia Tech really wants me to be there and he thought Anderson was indeed going to commit and he wanted to give me a chance to make a decision. I am not upset with the coaches at all."
In the end Tech fought off many high-profile suitors and landed Williams but not before fans had more rumors to worry about. "Lately Tennessee and Ole Miss have been working me pretty hard," Anthony told Dale McDuffie in October. "It was interesting at first but now I just tell them I am very solid to Georgia Tech and that is the place I want to be and will be in college." The fact that the class was made up of a close knit group of guys made a lot of the drama that surrounds recruiting a secondary factor.
Chad Simmons - South Recruiting Analyst:
Williams is one of those defensive end that may be a little better at stopping the run than he is at rushing the passer. He is not super explosive off the ball, but he contains the edge well, he has good range, and he is active with his hands. He needs to work on his pad level and coming off the ball a little lower as well as exploding off the ball. He has the frame to get bigger and add some more weight, so he is likely going to end up as a strongside defensive end on the next level.
Henry Anderson (Stanford)
For a while it looked very favorable for Anderson to end up at Tech. At first I wasn't sure he was even going to receive an offer. Based on his build he wasn't as likely as some others to grow more into a large defensive lineman based on his build. His lower body was more of a basketball player's build. But after the combine at Tech, the coaches saw enough of his talent to overlook not having the most projectable body type for the position. Eventually Anderson decided to make the trek out to the West Coast and play for Stanford.
Kareem Martin (North Carolina) would have been a good choice for this pick as well. Tech went all out for him early on but when it looked like he would hold out until late in the process, GT focused more on guys they thought would join the class sooner. From there they both went in different directions.
GT was mentioned in connection with Michael Thornton (Georgia) for a while but he ended up just where many thought he'd go all along. Tech also offered Kony Ealy (Missouri) & Craig Sanders (Auburn) along the way.
This was an excellent defensive line class for the Yellow Jackets. While it used to be that Tech would never land high profile defensive lineman – that is no longer the case. All three in this class could have picked a number of top football programs. It just goes to show that scholastic guidelines aren't necessarily a big factor or reason to say schools like Tech (or Stanford in the case with Anderson) can't land highly prized d-linemen. That excuse is no longer being accepted.
The line positions are currently loaded at GT in terms of numbers since it went from four to three positions. Because of that, it would take a great early fall performance from any of these three in order to crack the two-deep for the 2010 season. I suspect most or all of them will redshirt this coming season. The talent is such though that it wouldn't really surprise anyone if one of these guys did earn playing time as a freshman. It's a totally new regime on defense with coaches Wommack, Smith, and Jean-Mary moving on. This is a very good group to start over with on a new philosophy. They all appear to be quite talented, so the new staff members have plenty with which to work.