The Georgia Tech secondary, which was forced to field a group of young players three years ago, has grown into one of the most experienced groups on the team. Most of the starters have at been starting for at least two years, leaving many observers to believe it could be the strength of the defense.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back, and I feel like we can be a strong point,” senior cornerback Lance Austin said. “But I feel like the D-line will be strong, the linebackers will be strong … We just have to play as one unit.”
The returning starters are Lance Austin and Step Durham at cornerback, Lawrence Austin at nickel, Corey Griffin at strong safety and A.J. Gray at free safety.
“I’m excited,” Lance Austin said. “We grinded all offseason. It was one of the hardest summers since I’ve been here. We have high hopes for the season, and we’re ready for it to get here.”
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Gray added, “I think we can do more. Everybody knows how everybody plays. I think there are going to b areas where we can overlap with experience.”
Lance Austin, a senior, has played in 37 games, including all 13 as the starter in 2016. He was the ACC Defensive Back of the Week twice last year, when he had a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown against Virginia and intercepted a pass against Georgia in the waning moments to set up the Yellow Jackets’ winning touchdown. He had three interceptions and 50 tackles.
His twin brother Lawrence, also a senior, has more starting experience. He has played in 39 games and started 20 of them. He was the ACC Defensive Back of the Week after coming up with two interceptions and a forced fumble in a crucial road win over Virginia Tech. He had three interceptions in 2016 and has five for his career. He had 47 tackles in 2016.
Griffin, a senior, has played 38 games and has 15 starts, including all 13 games last season. He led the team with 82 total tackles, including a team-best 62 solo stops. Griffin had two interceptions and five tackles for loss.
Gray, a junior, has played 23 games and started all 13 games in 2016. He ranked third on the team with 72 total tackles, 55 of them solo stops. He had 4.5 tackles for loss, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble last season.
Durham, a senior, has played in 27 games and made 12 starts, 11 of them last season when he missed two games with an injury. He had six pass breakups and had a career-high six tackles against Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
“We’ve got some experienced guys,” safeties coach Andy McCollum said. “We’re still improving every day.”
McCollum expects to get help from junior Jalen Johnson, sophomore Christian Campbell and Shaun Kagawa, and all three have played a lot on special teams.
“We’ve got some guys who will get some good reps (in fall camp), and we’re going to need that,” McCollum said.
Kicking update: Freshman Brenton King, the favorite to take the job left vacant by the departure of place-kicker Harrison Butker, has been limited by a groin injury. King was only allowed to kick extra points in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Remembering Broyles: Georgia Tech great Frank Broyles, best known as a longtime coach at Arkansas, died at 92. Broyles grew up in Decatur and was a quarterback for head coach Bobby Dodd. Broyles won 10 letters in three sports at the school and was the All-SEC quarterback in 1944 and 1946.
“We mourn the loss of a great Georgia Tech man and offer our condolences to Coach Broyles’ family,” Georgia Tech athletics director Todd Stansbury said.
More than 30 of his former players have become college or professional head coaches, including Barry Switzer, Johnny Majors, Joe Gibbs, Hayden Fry and Jimmy Johnson. The Broyles Award was established in 1996 to recognize the top assistant coaches in college football. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983.