Darren Page, DLD contributor
The Georgia Tech offense calls for a defensive game plan unlike anything teams will probably see all season long. For juniors Bjoern Werner, Christian Jones, and Xavier Rhodes, the jobs that the Wreck’s triple-option offense calls for showed some clear strengths and weaknesses.
Defensive end Bjoern Werner showcased a number of attributes that will immediately translate to the pro game. Werner showcased very precise hand placement and overall elite hand usage. He had no problems with cut blocks, extending his arms to separate and stay balanced. Werner uses that separation to shed blocks with ease. He showed great discipline in keeping his outside shoulder free at all times to set the edge and string out runs. While keeping his pad level down, he picks up the football early and is instinctive enough to deal with blockers while tracking it. As an athlete, his acceleration to close is not going to wow you. What he does lack in raw athleticism, he makes up for by always putting himself in the right position to win with a technician-like quality. Don’t mistake him for a rigid, slow defender though. As an edge rusher, he has a bit of flexibility and likes to run the circle. Against Georgia Tech, he frequently slow-played rushes to keep mobile QB Tevin Washington in the pocket. When he does ramp it up, he uses a quick burst off the snap and an inside shoulder dip to frequently get around the corner. The German is only playing his fifth year of football and has clearly picked up the intricacies of the game very quickly. The sky may be the limit.
Christian Jones was all over the field making plays from his linebacker spot. The first thing you notice is the open field speed and incredible range. Jones has the ability to make plays sideline to sideline and has plus coverage skills. He shows some problems though when it comes to technique. He plays very high, a big target for blockers, often overexposing himself. On numerous occasions against Georgia Tech, he got caught inside on edge rushes without seeing the block coming. He needs to do a better job reading plays and keeping himself from getting pinned. He did show very good discipline on Washington’s keeps, often filling the correct gap to force the pitch before chasing down the play. He displayed his click and close ability, being able to stop and start on misdirection. Late on, he was late to pick up a wheel route in man coverage and got beat over the top. He has the athleticism to make the play but was slow to read pass and got caught. He still has more polishing to do, but the junior linebacker does show the tools to be a box linebacker in the NFL.
While the Yellow Jackets offense certainly doesn’t feature the passing game, it often forces cornerbacks to play man coverage with little safety help. Xavier Rhodes had an up and down game but made big plays when given the opportunity. For a very big corner, Rhodes has fluid hips and a smooth backpedal. On the first deep ball thrown his way, he transitioned very smoothly and made contact with the receiver as he attempted to pick up the ball. Because he flipped his hips to the inside though, the receiver was able to subtly nudge him to gain separation and Rhodes had no chance to play the ball. In the end, Rhodes had him pinned against the sideline just enough to force the incompletion. Later in the game, he similarly lost contact with his man and was nowhere to be found on a deep comeback. Rhodes has good instincts though and showed it on a trick play. Georgia Tech tried to run a throwback play to Washington after he pitched it, but Rhodes diagnosed it quickly and baited the throw. He extended well and showed good ball skills to high-point and bring down the interception. Late in the third quarter, Rhodes got caught flat-flooted on a tailback go route and got beat deep. His lack of balance and heavy feet clearly don’t fit well in the man scheme. It showed several times on Saturday. Instead, Rhodes will probably be a guy you want down around the line of scrimmage, where he can be physical and bully wide receivers.