The sixth in a series of position group breakdowns of the 2011 Georgia Tech football team:
Projected starters: OLBs Jeremiah Attaochu (So. 6-3, 233), Steven Sylvester (Sr., 6-2, 238), ILBs Julian Burnett (Jr., 5-10, 222), Daniel Drummond (So., 6-3, 236)
Others to watch: ILB Quayshawn Nealy was a star of the spring game and could be hard to keep off the field. OLB Brandon Watts moved from the inside and looks ready to take a step forward. OLB Malcolm Munroe and ILB Albert Rocker will also push for time, but will have to fend off a huge signing class. Tech brings in seven linebackers, including Jabari Hunt-Days, brother of Tech quarterback Synjyn Days.
Key losses: ILB Brad Jefferson had 84 tackles, second most on the team behind Burnett, and 7.5 tackles for loss. OLB Anthony Egbuniwe’s 61 tackles were fifth on the team. They made a combined 51 starts for Tech. The Jackets also lost backups Anthony Barnes and Kyle Jackson.
Key fact: Coaches have high hopes for Attaochu, who was one of the first players recruited specifically for defensive coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. With size, speed and agility, he is an ideal fit for the OLB position. In limited snaps as a backup, Attaochu accumulated three sacks last year as a true freshman. He should have more this fall.
Key fact II: Burnett led the team in tackles in 2010 despite starting only eight games. Fast, exceedingly strong and quick to the ball, Burnett might be the best player on the team. As an established starter with a year’s experience at his position, he should make a run at All-ACC honors.
Key question: How much can the unit disrupt opposing passing games? Opponents completed 60.5 percent of their passes last year, fourth-highest in the ACC. The 3-4 defense is designed in part to free up linebackers to attack the quarterback, which didn’t happen nearly enough last season. This group will undoubtedly be more productive in the pass rush, but the degree is the question. Watch for Sylvester, whose 10.5 tackles for loss led the team, and Attaochu to play faster this fall.
Key development: The depth should be better than last year and the future looks even more promising. Attaochu, Burnett and Drummond were among the most improved players in the spring. After redshirting in 2009, being suspended in 2010 for an NCAA violation and a position switch from B-back, Drummond is ready to see the field. The true freshmen, large in number and size, will hike up competition for playing time.
Outlook: Good. This is an intriguing bunch, one that could be far better at the end of the season than the beginning.
Your turn: What do you think?
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