"It's one of the top rushing offenses in the nation, and you have to give us respect for that," Georgia Tech defensive end Jason Peters told FanHouse.
The Yellow Jackets' defense, of course, would love a little respect, too. But Peters stressed that quality must be earned as the unit, a weakness last season, looks to establish a new culture under new defensive coordinator Al Groh (right). The former head coach at Virginia has installed the 3-4 alignment he used during his previous nine seasons with the Cavaliers.
"We want to establish a culture here, a picture in our minds of how you play fast, how you play hard, how you hit hard and how you establish your presence on the field," Peters explained. "We want opponents to see when they turn on film, they see people who play hard, who play fast and people who hit."
"We want our play to do our talking for us."
Georgia Tech's spring practice ended last Saturday, and all signs -- verbal and non-verbal - pointed to a productive spring season. Despite the return of 15 starters from last season's ACC championship team, however, plenty of adjustments were made due to the arrival of four new assistant coaches, including Groh.
Most eyes were on that side of the line of scrimmage.
Tech allowed at least 30 points in six games last season, but still finished with an 11-3 record and won its first outright conference title since 1990. But it was those letdowns on defense that caused head coach Paul Johnson to fire Dave Wommack and replace him with Groh, who has not been an assistant since 1988, when he was the offensive coordinator at South Carolina.
Peters, a redshirt junior who enjoyed a productive spring, says the transition has gone smoothly. The defense hopes it can step up and improve on last year's averages of 360.3 yards and 24.8 points allowed per game in Wommack's 4-3 scheme.
Groh went 59-53 at Virginia and twice was named the ACC's coach of the year. However, the Cavaliers went 8-16 the past two seasons and the $4.33 million remaining on his contract was bought out.
"The thing I realized about coach Groh right off the bat is he's professional, he's very experienced and he knows what he's doing," Peters said.
"And I think that was why a lot of guys like him so much. We're comfortable with what he's saying. There's no lag in what he's saying and what we have to apply on the field. Everything fits in its place like it's supposed to because he's done this before."
Groh, 65, gives Johnson's staff three former head coaches, joining another newcomer, linebackers coach Andy McCollum (Middle Tennessee State), and co-offensive line coach Mike Sewak (Georgia Southern).
Tech's defense must replace end Derrick Morgan, who had a league-high 12.5 sacks last season and went 15th overall i last week's NFL draft to the Tennessee Titans, and safety Morgan Burnett, drafted in the third round by the Green Bay Packers.
"Al has got a lot of energy," Johnson said. "Our guys are excited about the new defensive scheme. He's got a lot experience. He's a good on-the-field teacher. Hopefully we can cut down on the points allowed per game.
"That's the bottom line."
Peters, who played in all 13 games last season and finished with 11 tackles at tackle, says that bottom line is providing the motivation for players this off-season. Linemen and linebackers raved all spring about how much fun they had learning and playing a scheme that traditionally utilizes blitz packages and speed.
Groh, known for his intensity, has promised his players will be tough, they will be aggressive and they will play with a lot of energy.
"I think it went really well, how we acted on the field and how we felt coming off the field after practice, that guys were happy with what was going on out there and the coaches were happy with the progress that we were gaining," Peters said.
"I don't think you can necessarily look it as how did the offense do and how well did we do? It was more did we work on the things that we set as goals going out on the field? I think that's one of the biggest things coach Groh talked to us about. Did you get better with what we talked about on film? Did you get better with your footwork? Did you get better with your hands? Did you get better at knowing what you had to do? I think that's what helped us the most."
Peters, 21, a former four-star recruit from Baton Rouge, La., excelled this spring in the 3-4. He had three tackles for loss in Yellow Jackets' second scrimmage, for example, and his size (6-foot-4, 273 pounds) makes him an ideal build for a 3-4 end. Peters wants to play at 290 pounds next season.
"I think my power (is a strength), my ability to move my feet when I am engaged," Peters said. "I think if I can develop my strength more during the summer time and have a little more control over people when I make first contact, I think I can take my game to another level."
That's what Tech fans are looking from Groh's defense next season as well, reaching another level. Johnson, who has expressed an admiration for Groh's expertise with the 3-4, says it's a system Groh understands and can teach and fix.
That is why Johnson said he wasn't concerned that the nine-year averages of Groh's defenses at Virginia (22.1 points per game, 360 yards per game) were very similar to Tech's averages (24.8, 330.8) last season.
Johnson said a better indicator of Groh's success would be to compare yards per play -- Tech allowed 6.1 last season to Virginia's 5.0 -- and to consider that Virginia's defense was on the field an average of nearly seven minutes longer per game than Tech's was last season.
"I'm a bottom line kind of guy," Johnson said.
"There's a lot of ways to get there. I like what we do on offense, but that doesn't mean it's the only one you can be successful at. I feel the same way about defense. I want somebody who has a system, who understands it and can be effective. Whether it's a 3-4, 4-3 or an eight-man front ... can you teach it? That's the bottom line."
While Tech's triple-option gets all the attention, Peters is determined to help the Yellow Jackets' defense make a name for itself, too. In a good way.
"I believe we are going to put in the time during the summer to be where we need to be physically and mentally as well," Peters said. "I believe the defense will have a lot to do with the success we will have this season."