Jaquan Henderson and Bruce Jordan-Swilling were gifted and mentally agile enough to get on the field last season as freshmen. Now the two Georgia Tech linebackers are sophomores, both in the mix to be in the starting 11 for defensive coordinator Nate Woody.
They not only represent part of the present of the Yellow Jackets defense, but its future. Both athletic, hard-hitting and centrally located in Woody’s defense, they figure to be a big part of how Tech performs on defense over the next three seasons. Tech is in the third of four weeks of its spring practice.
“When me and coach Woody first met, he basically told me he’s going to see how I move, come off the edge,” Henderson said. “When he said, ‘Come off the edge’ – that’s what I like to do. That’s the main thing.”
Henderson is listed at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds, not particularly stout for a linebacker. Last season’s three linebackers on the All-ACC first team averaged 6-3 and 243 pounds. But coach Paul Johnson said last season he might be the fastest player on the team, a trait that makes him a fit for Woody’s defense, which prizes speed and quickness over size. And, at outside linebacker, Woody has him at a spot where he’ll blitz often and try to use his speed.
He and Victor Alexander, a senior, have been flip-flopping between the two outside linebacker spots.
“The new defensive scheme is great for all of us guys,” said Henderson, who mostly played special teams last season. “Some of the guys were not as big, but the scheme is perfect for them because we’ve got some quick guys up front. And the guys in back aren’t thinking too much. Just out there making plays.”
Henderson is particularly keen on the perceived simplicity of Woody’s defense compared with that of former coordinator Ted Roof. For example, the defense has been using two play-calls, which makes it easier to absorb responsibilities and to play without thinking.
Henderson couldn’t recall how many play-calls the Jackets used in a typical game last season, “but it was a lot,” Henderson said. “It was a lot. A lot of guys weren’t playing fast, so like I said, this new style is perfect for all of us.”
“He’s doing some good things,” Johnson said of Henderson. “He’s working, playing outside linebacker.”
Jordan-Swilling lines up at inside linebacker, and could pair with Brant Mitchell, a senior.
“I like it,” Jordan-Swilling said of the new defense. “I’m running around, making plays, just helping my team out. That’s what I’m here for.”
Jordan-Swilling produced one of the more memorable individual performances last season for the Jackets defense, returning an interception for a touchdown and forcing and recovering a fumble in a loss to Virginia. He finished with 34 tackles, third among linebackers, despite not having played linebacker in high school.
For a defense that was ineffective at creating tackles for loss and turnovers, Jordan-Swilling offers hope for what could lie ahead, particularly in a scheme that has been credited with yielding tackles for loss and takeaways for Woody’s defenses at Appalachian State and Wofford.
“I think he’s had a decent spring,” Johnson said of Jordan-Swilling. “He’s been productive in the scrimmages when he’s played. Hopefully he’ll continue to grow.”