From Doug Roberson:
On-the-job training seems to be working our fairly well for Georgia Tech’s Quayshawn Nealy and Jabari Hunt-Days.
The inside linebacker tandem is playing more than most expected because of the career-ending injury to Julian Burnett and early-season suspension of Daniel Drummond. But Nealy and Hunt-Days are playing well as the Yellow Jackets (2-1) prepare to take on Miami (2-1). They are Nos. 1 and 2 on the team in tackles and are helping Al Groh’s defense limit opponents to a respectable 3.6 yards per run and 4.4 yards per play.
“…Everybody in that group had to move up the ladder than 10 months ago,” Groh said. “They had good ability and good want-to and applied themselves.”
Their work started anew in the offseason, when it was announced that Burnett wouldn’t return after suffering a neck injury in last year’s Sun Bowl. It was later announced that Drummond, who started six games last year, was suspended for the first six quarters of this season, including the key opener against Virginia Tech.
Nealy started seven games last year, so he had game experience to draw from. Hunt-Days redshirted. Though physically gifted at 6-3, 252 pounds, he was an unknown.
The time they’ve spent in the film room and hanging out playing pool and video games seems to be paying off. Groh said there’s a difference between drawing the formations up on a board and saying what they are, and doing it in a game when the formation may change as many as three times in a few seconds. He said Nealy is one of several players who are good at recognizing and communicating, calling this group of defenders the best talkers he has had in his three seasons at Tech.
“Me and Jabari take it on like a brotherhood,” Nealy said. “We’ve been taking the initiative. We’ve spent extra time establishing what Groh’s trying to do. That’s how we are building on it.”
Approaching it like a brotherhood is something Nealy said he picked up playing alongside Burnett. Nealy said though Burnett was undersized, he taught him to play with passion and reminds him of that when the two talk sometimes in class.
“I learned that no matter you’re size – Virginia’s line was all 6-6, 315-plus — it doesn’t matter how big you are as long as you go hard and do your best,” Nealy said.
Hunt-Days is learning that lesson every day. Groh and coach Paul Johnson said it’s evident Hunt-Days is improving each week as each new situation he goes through is catalogued. He leads the team with 19 tackles, including 12 solo stops. Nealy is tied with safety Isaiah Johnson with 18 tackles.
“It was an opportunity,” Hunt-Days. “I took it and am doing the best I can right now.”
The duo, along with backup Daniel Drummond, will have their hands full against the Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson, whom Groh said can do more damage than any player they’ve faced. Just a freshman, Johnson has scored six of the Hurricanes’ 11 touchdowns. He is averaging 9.4 yards per carry, 10.6 yards per catch and 33.9 yards per return.
If things are going well against the Hurricanes, expect Tech’s defensive line to set up a wall and force the plays back, where Nealy and Hunt-Days should be waiting to rack up more tackles.
“It’s a team effort, we rely on each other to do our jobs and make plays,” Hunt-Days said.
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