I included part of this quote from safety Jamal Golden in a post-scrimmage report on Saturday, but I thought it was worth sharing his entire answer about how the defense compared to last preseason.
“As a defense, I just feel like we’re so much further ahead than we were last offseason, last preseason. The way we’re running to the ball now, getting hats to the ball is like I’ve never seen it before since I’ve been here at Tech. We try to get all 11 guys to the ball each snap and guys are running their tails off and trying to make a play. They’re not just satisfied with just getting to the ball. They want to get a piece of it and get a lick on the ball carrier. We’ve really been preaching effort because if you mess up, you can’t mess up effort. You just try to run as hard as you can, even if you do mess up your assignments, and that’s just what we’ve been harping on.”
The improvement of the defense might be the story of the preseason. I’ve written about where the defense finished last season in yards per play and third-down rate as infinitum and tried to get a sense of how and where the unit is improving.
One thing to consider. This wasn't a bad defense two years ago. If you’ll remember, there was cause for concern going into the season last year, particularly with a lack of depth and experience on the defensive line, and that concern evidently proved founded. Further, I think the time that it would take safeties Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Golden to regain their pre-injury form was probably underestimated.
Two years ago, the first season for defensive coordinator Ted Roof, he had veteran linemen and solid players elsewhere in Brandon Watts and Jemea Thomas, and the defense was decent, particularly against the run. The Jackets finished 64th in yards per play (5.52, which is .8 yards better than last season’s average) and 18th in yards-per-rush (3.57, compared to 5.07 last year).
In Roof’s third year, with eight returning starters and a depth chart full of experienced players, it perhaps shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if the defense turns out to be productive. But, to what degree?
It would be a considerable achievement to get into the top third of defenses nationally, if somewhat cursory research is any guide. I looked at the defenses that finished 101st - 121st in 2013 in yards per play. (Tech was 111th last season.) In 2014, those 21 defenses’ average ranking in the same category was … 86th.
Twelve of them were in the bottom third, and eight were 100th or higher. Most probably wouldn’t be a surprise – Georgia State, Idaho, Colorado and others. Seven improved to the middle third of FBS. Two finished in the top third – Temple (11th) and Arkansas (29th).
Arkansas returned eight starters (according to USA Today) and had a first-year coordinator, Robb Smith. Temple brought back six starters and had a second-year coordinator, Phil Snow. That said, Texas A&M had seven returning starters and a third-year defensive coordinator in Mark Snyder, and the Aggies went from 109th to 97th. Snyder was fired after the season.
It helps Tech's case, too, certainly, that the defense was tracking upwards when the season ended (for the most part) and also that the returning starters don't include tackle Jabari Hunt-Days, who could be a difference maker, or end Kenderius Whitehead, for that matter.
The obvious truth here is that having a high number of returning starters is important, but so is having a defensive coordinator whose first and last names only have one syllable.
Praise for Demond Smith
More from Golden, on safety Demond Smith: “Demond’s doing pretty good. He’s a guy that nobody really talks about, but I feel like he’s a dark horse on the defense. He’s one of our main guys. Everybody looks up to him. I look up to him. He’s a guy that’s going to make some plays for us and I think people should watch out for him this year.”
Smith has moved from nickel to strong safety, which is probably a better fit for him. Interesting to note: Both Golden and Smith were high school quarterbacks. Smith, in fact, began his Tech career at quarterback before switching to safety in his first camp.
Critical event for Schniederjans
After missing the cut in his last PGA Tour event, Ollie Schniederjans has a big week upcoming. Schniederjans needs to at least make the cut at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C., in order to have a chance to play in the Web.com Tour finals, a four-tournament series in which players can earn a PGA Tour card for the upcoming season. The Wyndham is the final event that he is eligible for this season.
To make the Web.com Tour finals field as a non-member, Schniederjans needs to finish ahead of the No. 200 player on the FedEx Cup points list. Schniederjans has 99 points, all of which he accumulated in his first two events, the Canadian Open and the Quicken Loans National. He missed the cut at the Barracuda Championship two weekends ago. The No. 200 player has 103 points.
The top 25 money winners in the finals (a field of roughly 170) will receive tour cards, not counting the top 25 money winners from the Web.com tour regular season (who are guaranteed PGA Tour cards). If Schniederjans doesn't finish ahead of the No. 200 point total, his options would include going through a qualifying tournament to earn his Web.com Tour card.
Tech at U.S. Amateur
Three Tech golfers play their second round of stroke play at the U.S. Amateur Tuesday at Olympia Fields Country Club outside of Chicago. Returnees Vincent Whaley and Chris Petefish are in the 312-player field, along with incoming freshman Tye Waller.
After the first round, Petefish was tied for 116th (3-over 73) and Waller and Whaley were tied for 184th (5-over 75). The low 64 scorers after Tuesday’s round will advance to match play. After Monday, there was a 47-player tie for 49th at 1-over 71.
(I may go the rest of my newspaper career without again writing the phrase “47-player tie.”)
Two members of the 2014 football team completed their degree work during the summer semester, walk-on kicker Andrew Chau (industrial engineering) and offensive lineman Thomas O’Reilly (business administration). Chau may go down in college football history as the only backup kicker to have a Heisman Trophy campaign.
Also finishing up degree requirements – former baseball player Mike Nickeas, who played four major-league seasons and last season was on coach Danny Hall’s staff (business administration) and basketball walk-on Aaron Peek (public policy). Prior to Peek’s senior night this past March, coach Brian Gregory said he wouldn’t be surprised if Peek one day became mayor of Atlanta.
They are eligible to participate in winter commencement.
Ticket program for military personnel, veterans
The athletic department has created an arrangement through which fans can donate tickets to military members and their families. Fans can either donate unused tickets or purchase tickets to be given to the Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix). Tickets will go to active military, veterans and their family members. Donations are tax deductible. For more information, visit here .
Season tickets, by the way, are expected to be shipped this week.