July 24, 2009

Burnett and Reese set to lead defense

One of the biggest strengths for the 2009 Georgia Tech defense should be the secondary. With a pair of talented junior safeties Morgan Burnett and Dominique Reese, leading the way, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack and head coach Paul Johnson are optimistic that secondary will be the anchor of the defense.

Burnett is the leader of the Georgia Tech defense and Coach Johnson sees him as being the main guy who will lead this fall.

"Morgan Burnett is a leader. Generally, the players that are good and work hard are the leaders," Johnson said. "I do not think you can look at one position grouping. I think Morgan would stand out."

Wommack is looking for improved coverage and he will putting a lot of pressure on the two starting corners, Mario Butler and Rashaad Reid to make in-game adjustments depending on the type of pressure the young defensive line is able to apply.

"I think the biggest thing the secondary needs to realize is that they do not have that veteran group of defensive linemen in front of them and they need to step it up," Wommack said. "We need to improve upon our coverage. I thought when we stayed healthy back there the first two-thirds of the year we did a good job. In the Georgia game especially we gave up way too many yards on the back end."

The cornerbacks and at least one of the safeties will also be playing a lot of man-to-man at times if the Jackets have problems stopping the run or getting a consistent pass rush from the front seven. Wommack plans to use Burnett and Reese as for run blitzes at times if Georgia Tech has trouble with the run.

"There are times with a young defensive line where you will have to commit one or two guys into the box to help with the run," Wommack said. "When you do that it puts more pressure on your corners and the other safety that is not in the box. They need to step up and tighten the belt from that standpoint and be a real solid group until we get experience upfront."

Coach Johnson would like to see more consistency from the two main backup safeties Karamon Riley and Jon Lockhart given the ever-present threat of injuries, he does not want to see a major drop off if Burnett or Reese has to step out of the game.

"Some days they were okay and some days they were not," Johnson said of the two backup safeties. "They are like everybody else. There is flexibility back there too. Cooper Taylor has played back there and Mario Edwards has played back there so there is some flexibility."

One of the players who could end up with a bigger role before the end of fall camp is redshirt sophomore cornerback Jerrard Tarrant. Tarrant missed the 2008 season following a seven-month suspension, but he has quickly worked his way back into the fold and should be a major contributor this season.

"A year ago in the spring we thought Tarrant might be the best corner that we had out there," Wommack said. "Anytime you have another quality player to add depth to your defense it makes a huge difference. He can go out there and lockdown and play man-to-man. He has all the skills and it is great to have another great player on the field."

Wommack sees Tarrant as the man to beat for the punt returner position because he excelled in it during his first spring practice under the new staff.

"I think he would have been the punt returner last year as well," Wommack said. "The first spring we were here he did a really good job with that. As a team we struggled in that area last year, so to have him back there, there is no question it will help our special teams and our team overall with field position."

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