A couple other reporters and I spoke with defensive coordinator Al Groh Monday after practice (the day when defensive coaches and players, along with coach Paul Johnson, are available). You can read my awesome (sarcasm) collection of notes from the interviews here. I am working on a story about Tech’s linebackers and asked him a few questions about that.
Q: How did the preseason go for the defense?
A: There’s been a good sense of purpose. Clearly, there’s something that we want to prove and that’s been pretty consistent throughout. It’ll take a long process to do that. It’s a process to prove yourself. You don’t do it in training camp, you don’t do it the first week you don’t do it the first quarter of the season. it takes 12 weeks to prove yourself. We’re still obviously in the early part of the process.
Two cents: Fair answer. Al Groh doesn’t seem like the type to go waving the pom-poms.
Q: Did anyone surprise you with how much he improved or did it pan out as expected?
A: It pretty much has. I think those players that were kind of going in a positive direction continued with that.
Two cents: When giving an interview subject two ways (Is it A, or is it B?) to answer a question, he/she usually takes the easier/safer option (sometimes, I suppose, because it’s the correct one). I try to avoid phrasing questions that way, but I do it a lot, and it’s almost like I try to grab the words out of the air as soon as I realize I’ve done it.
Q: How did the linebacker group look to you?
A: As I said, the evaluation comes when we start to play and so we’ve gone through a process where we put it in, we practice it, we come in, we look at it, we correct it, we go back out the next day and try to get better at it. It’s a process that we’re involved in.
There’s certainly not results at this time. If you just look at the daily results, then you lose the big picture of what you’re trying to get accomplished. So we’re trying to stay focused on that and realize for us to prove what we want to prove, it’s a long process to do it and it’s going to take 12 weeks to do that.
Two cents: I don’t say this to poke fun, but I think “process” is one of Groh’s favorite words. It says something about who he is. In the same vein, one of my favorite words is “taco.” I had three Monday night. Pretty good.
Q: Is it accurate to say that for your defense to do what you want it to do, you need to have playmakers at the linebacker spots?
A: We need playmakers all over the place. That has to be a position in every defense that produces that. To make an analogy to a baseball lineup, that’s kind of where your 3-4-5 hitters are supposed to be. But there are some defenses where it comes from the front guys.
What you do is you just evaluate where those particular players are and as I say to the baseball analogy, if it just so happens that your second baseman is your best home-run hitter, than you bat him fourth, even thought most second basemen don’t hit there.
It’s the same thing with the linemen. If they look like they can be better playmakers, then we try to create some things for them. If we’ve got a secondary player who’s maybe our best pressure player then we’ll use him with more pressure than somebody else.
Two cents: One of my favorite baseball players of all-time was a power-hitting second baseman, at least in his prime. Ryne Sandberg. I think his answer was a qualified yes.
Q: Have (cornerbacks) Louis Young and Rod Sweeting taken advantage of their athletic ability?
A: They have. Those are two players that showed promise last year. Rod Sweeting played sparingly. Louis played mostly special teams, but when they came back, really throughout the winter, very diligent. I’d be out here on a Saturday in February or whatnot, look out the window and there’d be Louis and Mike Peterson and a couple of others doing drills. So they’ve shown their intent and their purpose from long ago.
Two cents: Interesting detail about Young and Peterson. Groh said a couple weeks ago that Young is a guy who loves everything about football, whether it’s practice or weights or meetings or whatever. It may sound a little obvious, but it isn’t. Not every player is that way.
Q: How has Jemea Thomas looked and what sort of role do you see for him?
A: It’s an evolving circumstance with him there. It’s not what I see his role to be, it’s what he carves out to make his role. All I do is go on what I see. When I see certain things from a player that enables us to create a role for him, then that’s what we try to do. But in all cases, the player kind of has to show us something in the first place.
This is a talented player who really didn’t have to have it screwed down real hard last year. If he made a mistake running the defense off a card (with the defensive scout team), it was quickly forgotten. Now, particularly in the back end, those mistakes aren’t forgotten. That’s been a transformation for him here.
Two cents: Groh was talking about Thomas being redshirted last year, if that was unclear to you. It sounds like Thomas has yet to find his role in the secondary. I’d think he’s the No. 3 safety but beyond that, I don’t know. I can tell you that he switched jersey numbers from 38 to 14.
Q: You’ve said in the past that Jeremiah Attaochu is the prototype for his position. How close are the other three linebackers — Julian Burnett, Daniel Drummond and Steven Sylvester — to what you want for their respective positions?
A: What we’d really like is Casey Matthews, DeMarcus Ware and Jerod Mayo, if you want to know what the prototype looks like. Anything less than that is somewhat short of the prototype, but that’s the trick of it. That’s the fun of it, is to take what we have and try to get the results that we’re looking for in whatever way that we need, to take the skills of this particular group and try to mix and match ‘em and come up with what we need.
Two cents: Read: Not as close as Attaochu is. It’s not too surprising. Drummond is a converted B-back and Burnett and Sylvester were recruited to play in a different scheme. It’s a good group, though, and one that has two of the best players on the team (Attaochu and Burnett). In 2012 and beyond, you’ll see more “fits” into the scheme than this year.
By Ken Sugiura, AJC