<
>

Georgia Tech linebackers struggle to stay healthy

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When Georgia Tech's starting linebackers began working out together again this summer, Brad Jefferson compared it to "reuniting with an old friend."

After all, the trio hadn't been on the field together in a game situation since the season opener against Jacksonville State last year because they were all hurt at different times. (And because four times Georgia Tech started in a nickel package, with two linebackers.)

The three starters who opened the 2008 season together -- Jefferson, Kyle Jackson, and Anthony Barnes -- never started together again as a unit. Jefferson and Barnes were both hurt in the opener against Jacksonville State, and Sedric Griffin was so good he never came out. Because of the numerous injuries last year, the Jackets played one true freshman, Steven Sylvester, and nearly played another in B.J. Machen.

"When people talk about our linebackers, they've never really seen us play yet," Jefferson said. "That's why they're kind of talking down, like our linebacking corps didn't really show up last year. That was kind of the reason why. Folks don't know that."

Now they might have to wait even longer for a true evaluation of the Jackets' starters after the recent news that Jackson could be out for the summer with a foot injury. Jackson, a versatile player who can play inside our out, is meeting with a specialist today, but so far, doctors haven't been able to determine exactly what's wrong with his foot. He's been in a walking boot for months now, and the staff hopes to learn more about the injury by next week.

It's still a deep group, as there are about eight athletic players to work with. In addition to Jefferson, who is likely to start at inside linebacker, the Jackets can also count on Griffin and Barnes. Their responsibilities were going to increase anyway because of the inexperience in front of them on the defensive line.

"The linebackers, we're going to have to contribute a lot," said Jefferson, who missed four games in 2008 with a dislocated wrist. "Last year we had a good D-line, and I think we have a good upcoming D-line, but they haven't had as many reps. I've gotta pick up all the slack; that's how I feel as a player. I've got to take that responsibility."

And he's got to stay healthy in the process.