In the late Chan Gailey years and early Paul Johnson years, the program produced multiple NFL draft picks who primarily played end, Michael Johnson and Derrick Morgan.
Other than Jeremiah Attaochu, who shifted from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE when Ted Roof took over the defense for his senior season, the cupboard has been relatively bare. As a result, it has been a struggle to pressure opposing quarterbacks in recent years.
But this season there is some hope on the Flats, including a very promising true sophomore who made a name for himself last year. The defensive line only loses Shawn Green to graduation, who split his time between end and tackle. Mike Pelton will have some good pieces to work with going forward as Tech front four will look to rattle Everett Golson, Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya among other talented QBs the Jackets will see in 2015.
Projected starters: KeShun Freeman and Rod Rook-Chungong
It’s rare that a true freshman suits up for his first game in white and gold, takes over as starter after three games, and never relinquishes his position, but that was exactly the case with KeShun Freeman. The Freshman All-American Freeman made an immediate impact with 54 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in 14 games from the strongside defensive end position. While not the largest end at 6’1″ and 240 lbs, he uses his quickness and polished moves to swim past blockers and make big plays. His background as a linebacker is shown in his awareness and vision to be in the right spot to attack the offense. If he can put on a few more pounds of muscle, the future is very bright for this young player.
Roderick Rook-Chungong used his redshirt year in his first year, then missed the second year with a lateral meniscus tear. As a redshirt sophomore, however, he appeared in 12 games and recorded 18 tackles in those games. Rod is a flexible player who can play a traditional end spot or be moved inside and play as a 3-tech defensive tackle spot (lining up over the offensive guard) in a pinch. He may not start all season long with a number of talented young DEs nipping at his bud but he’ll provide leadership and experience to the defensive line rotation regardless.
Key backups: Tyler Merriweather, Anree Saint-Amour, Kenderius Whitehead
Merriweather saw the field as a true freshman, recording two tackles in 5 games. At a 6’3″ and 239 lbs stature, he is almost of clone of Rook-Chungong in having the flexibility to lineup at multiple positions with the ability to shoot multiple gaps. The similarity is so much so that Rod has taken Tyler under his wing in a mentorship role. Here’s hoping for that personal growth to show on the field in 2015.
Anree Saint-Amour was a highly recruited (4-star ESPN, 3-star Rivals) defensive end who picked Tech over many other programs, including the national champions Ohio State. He is from nearby Gwinnett and stands in at 6’3″ and 245 lbs. His raw athleticism will dictate finding playing time for him at both defensive end spots in a backup role as a true freshman.
Whitehead has had a circuitous route to arrive on the campus in Midtown. He committed to NC State and redshirted his first year in 2012 before deciding to leave and to attend Georgia Military College, a junior college. He was just a few credits from receiving his associate’s degree, which would have allowed him to transfer to Tech and have immediate eligibility. Since he did not accomplish this by the end of the 2014 spring semester, he had to sit out a year.
Now in 2015, he can finally contribute to the team as rush defensive end behind KeShun Freeman. He will look to use his 6’5″ height as leverage to swim past tackles and rush into backfields. He will have two years of eligibility left.
My guess is that Tyler Stargel and Antonio Simmons play less end and more of a stand-up strongside LB role in 4-3 units. Still, they may both rotate in depending on down and distance. Stargel is bigger and more experienced than Simmons as a 250 lbs. redshirt junior, so he may stay ahead of him on the depth chart for that reason. Trent Sellers is another name to keep an eye on. If he doesn’t take a redshirt year, he may be another true freshman to backup Freeman.
Pat Gamble, who had a productive 2014 year mostly playing DT, may play some end as well, possibly even as a starter. Still, at 285 lbs, his size can be better used along the interior of the line.
This position has great depth so players may be moved off of defensive end as the year progresses. Ted Roof, Mike Pelton and the team has a number of different options to strike fear in opposing quarterbacks.