Georgia Tech defensive end Rod Rook-Chungong’s skillset includes a modicum of humility. It has helped put himself in position to possibly start for the Yellow Jackets this fall.
“I know I’m not the fastest or the strongest, but I’m trying to be very consistent and make plays and do my job and my responsibilities,” Rook-Chungong said this week.
Rook-Chungong, from Silver Spring, Md., was responding to comments made by defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who praised the junior for being “just so darn consistent and steady.” It isn’t the sort of appraisal that will make anyone hasten to search Youtube for a Rook-Chungong highlight reel, but it was, regardless, quite a credit from Roof.
“Rod’s very solid and you know what you’re going to get, day in and day out,” Roof said. “As a coach, that’s what you want to know from a consistency standpoint – what can I expect from him once he takes the field?”
In line to start
Coach Paul Johnson said this week that, if the season were starting now, Rook-Chungong would be in the starting four on the line, along with KeShun Freeman at rush end and Patrick Gamble and Adam Gotsis at the tackle spots. Rook-Chungong played 12 games last season, starting six and was credited with 18 tackles. He had three tackles, including a sack, and a fumble recovery, in the Orange Bowl. Even if Jabari Hunt-Days moves in to the starting lineup and bumps Gamble out to end, Rook-Chungong figures to be in a rotation there.
Last season was his first, after missing the 2013 season with a meniscus tear suffered while warming up for practice the week of the Miami game. He said that, of his four preseason camps, this has been the easiest because he knows Roof’s defense.
“I’m an old guy now,” he said.
A focus in camp has been being consistent in his work habits and fine-tuning his game.
Defensive line coach Mike Pelton “always talks about how d-line is an easy position but it’s very detailed,” Rook-Chungong said. “That’s going in there with your stance, your alignment, your hands, your eye discipline and everything, like being physical. Me being disciplined and detailed, that’s my top goal.”
Having additional depth on the defensive line, he said, has helped. He said with more players rotate and take reps, Rook-Chungong can watch other players “and see what Coach P. is actually talking about.” He also has more time to answer questions from freshmen. He said he’s taken sophomore Tyler Merriweather under his wing and told him “to do whatever I do. Not saying I’m perfect, but I know what Coach P. is looking for since I’ve been here so long.”
In the right spot
An example of the value of Rook-Chungong’s steadiness and attention to detail happened in last year’s Clemson game. You likely don't remember much about Jamal Golden's interception return for a touchdown other than Golden. But, a look at the clip shows that Rook-Chungong had sussed out the play just as well as Golden.
It was something of a screen pass, a throwback to the left, and Rook-Chungong read the play and peeled off his pass rush to chase down the tight end who released into the left flat. Rook-Chungong said that, as he got dressed in the locker room prior to the game, “something told me to go watch film before warmups.” Prior to taking the field for warmups, Rook-Chungong then left the locker room and snuck up to watch video in the defensive line meeting room.
And, among the 20 to 25 plays he reviewed, looking for tendencies, was the same play that Clemson would run at the end of the first quarter.
“I’m dead serious,” Rook-Chungong said last November. “I saw that exact same play. I know usually the tight end for Clemson really didn’t block too much, so when he started backpedaling, I was like, This is the exact same play. He probably blocked me for like two, three steps, and then he tried to wash me away, so I was like, O.K., let me go back and have some awareness and go back where he was. I went to go and I saw the quarterback throw at the last second, so I tried to haul my butt over there.”
Golden, of course, jumped the route and ran 85 yards for a touchdown to give the Jackets a lead they never relinquished, one of two interceptions the Jackets ran back for scores that afternoon. (Golden and Rook-Chungong would team again in the Orange Bowl, with Rook-Chungong falling on the fumble forced by Golden in the third quarter, a pivotal play.)
Rook-Chungong gave Pelton credit, too, for telling him prior to the series to be on the lookout for a screen or gadget play. Rook-Chungong wouldn’t have made the interception; he was getting in position to tackle the tight end.
“But I’d be there for the play to make the tackle, I believe,” he said.
Consistent and steady.