ATLANTA — For linebacker Jaquan Henderson, there’s nothing too complex about Georgia Tech’s new defense.

“Very simple,” Henderson said. “Just line up and play.”

Henderson can’t remember how many different calls the Yellow Jackets used last year on defense — “it was a lot” — but that doesn’t matter anymore. Under first-year coordinator Nate Woody, Georgia Tech is using just two calls to make the scheme an easy study with one week remaining in spring practice.

“We’re playing fast — see ball, get ball,” cornerback Ajani Kerr said. “We’re getting after it. That’s pretty much how the defense is run. Simple, just read you keys and go get it.”

Woody has switched the Jackets from an intricate 4-3 scheme designed by his predecessor, Ted Roof, to a traditional 3-4 front that values speed and quickness over size and power.

Jackets coach Paul Johnson hired Woody away from a five-year stint at Appalachian State after his team led the Sun Belt Conference in total defense three times and ranked among the top 30 nationally in each of the last four seasons. Playing the last three years in FBS, the Mountaineers had an average ranking of 15th in scoring defense.

Those numbers were impressive, but it was Woody’s ability to teach pressure that made him the right fit for Georgia Tech, which ranked no better than 107th in sacks over the last three years.

Last season was even worse. Despite having six seniors and five juniors among the regular starters, the Jackets ranked 124th in turnovers and 118th in tackles for minus yards. They finished 5-6 due in part to late leads that were blown against Tennessee, Miami and Virginia.

“A lot of guys weren’t playing that fast,” Henderson said, “so this new style is perfect for all of us.”

Experience matters, but most jobs — other than senior linebacker Brant Mitchell’s and injured safety A.J. Gray’s — are up for grabs.

“He rotates everyone around every day,” linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling said. “You never know who he’s going to call. Whenever he calls my number, I’m ready.”

Henderson is working at one outside linebacker spot with Victor Alexander manning the other. Both players have been effusive about the new defense with Alexander saying he’s particularly excited to get turned loose as a pass rusher.

Enthusiasm is taking over the secondary, too.

“We’re definitely having fun, trying to bring more passion, more emotion and swagger,” Kerr said. “We’re trying to keep it intense. It’s a very simple defense but it’s also about being intense and getting after that ball.”

And the defensive line, led by Anree Saint-Amour, Desmond Branch and Chris Martin, is moving faster.

“It definitely excites me to see a lot of guys making plays, making tackles, a lot of guys being explosive and being expressive, talking and getting after it and actually hustling,” offensive tackle Jahaziel Lee said. “I see a lot of young guys stepping up and playing a big part of the defense.”


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