The seventh in a series of position group breakdowns of the 2011 Georgia Tech football team:
Projected starters: CBs Rod Sweeting (Jr., 6-0, 181), Louis Young (So., 6-1, 190), S Isaiah Johnson (So., 6-2, 195), Rashaad Reid (Sr., 5-10, 191)
Others to watch: S Fred Holton was effective on special teams as a true freshman last year and will make a run at a starting job. S/CB Jemea Thomas will be in the mix at both positions after a productive spring and may end up as the nickel. CB Michael Peterson mostly played special teams last season but has experience to his credit. CB Ryan Ayers will also get a look for a spot in the lineup. S Lance Richardson is another possibility. The incoming defensive backs are Jamal Golden and Domonique Noble.
Key losses: Georgia Tech lost all four starters in the secondary, CBs Mario Butler and Dominique Reese and S Mario Edwards and Jerrard Tarrant. The four started a combined 107 games for the Yellow Jackets. Tarrant left Tech early to enter the NFL draft but went undrafted. Edwards and Reese were third and fourth on the team in tackles last season, respectively.
Key fact: The defensive backs have a combined 20 career starts, 15 belonging to Reid. However, it’s a group not entirely bereft of experience. Johnson started three games as a true freshman last year. Young played some corner as a true freshman. Sweeting improved considerably over the course of last season. Thomas played as a true freshman in 2009 and then redshirted last season.
Key fact II: Coach Paul Johnson said he thinks it’s the most talented secondary he’s had at Tech. Seven of the eight players in the defensive backfield two-deep are Johnson recruits. Peterson is the lone exception.
Key question: How much can talent make up for the experience shortage? Pressure will be on secondary coach Charles Kelly to hasten the secondary’s development. Defensive coordinator Al Groh can protect the backfield by using more conservative coverages, but to do so he would have to lessen pressure at the line of scrimmage. The sooner players like Young and Johnson can be entrusted, the more diverse Tech’s defense will be allowed to be.
Key development: The speedy Young has caused a stir with his progress in the spring and over the summer. Holton has been one of the hardest workers in the summer strength and conditioning program. Kelly has said the competition for jobs will be open. Thomas will likely make a strong bid somewhere in the secondary.
Outlook: Worth watching. This is a group that, particularly at the beginning of the season, will be liable to blow a coverage one series and produce a big play the next. Young and Johnson could be stars on the rise.
Your turn: What do you think?
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Ken Sugiura, AJC