ATLANTA -- While Georgia Tech's offense tries to cope with the loss of running back Joe Burns, the beleaguered defense gets some help this week.
Sophomore linebacker Matt Uremovich will play his first game in nearly a year when the 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets (1-1) play host to Central Florida (0-2) Saturday night at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Uremovich was suspended after starting four of the first five games in 1998 as a redshirt freshman, recording a career-high 10 tackles in his last game against North Carolina State on Oct. 18. He reportedly was suspended for taking a muscle-building drug banned by the NCAA.
Also returning is cornerback Troy Tolbert, who was suspended for the first two games for conduct detrimental to the team.
"Linebacker-wise, it will help out because we have a lot of younger guys at that position," safety Chris Young said. "Cornerback is the same situation. I think you will see a lot of difference on the defensive side with those two guys in there."
Georgia Tech, which has ranked among the worst teams nationally in yards allowed for two years running, was incapable of stopping top-ranked Florida State in a 41-35 loss last Saturday.
The Seminoles piled up 444 yards and managed to win even though Tech's offense had 501 yards and Joe Hamilton completed all 15 of his passes in the second half.
Uremovich is likely to take over at middle linebacker for true freshman Recardo Winbush, who was working on the outside in practice Tuesday. Tolbert, meanwhile, is competing for playing time against redshirt freshman Marvious Hester.
While not guaranteeing a starting role to either player, coach George O'Leary was cleared excited about the return of his big-play linebacker. He will have Uremovich call defensive signals and expects him to bring more cohesiveness to a defense that has created only one turnover in the first two games.
Prior to his suspension, Uremovich had 32 tackles, an interception and returned a fumble 54 yards for a touchdown.
"With Uremovich, there's no question we will have more speed defensively," O'Leary said. "And the chemistry on defense from a leadership standpoint, Matt will bring that back, no question."
Uremovich, who is off limits to the media while preparing for his return to the lineup, has been working with the scout team defense during the suspension.
"He's a very, very hard hitter," center Noah King said. "He reminds me a little bit of Keith Brooking," the former Tech linebacker who now plays for the Atlanta Falcons.
"A lot of times when I've gone head-to-head with Matt, I come away with a broken chin strap or my nose swollen up," King added. "One time, he gave me a black eye."
Burns suffered a broken right leg after making a 14-yard run against the Seminoles in the fourth quarter. Tech's leading rusher as a freshman, he gained 87 yards in his first two games as a sophomore before the season-ending injury.
"He wishes he could take that play back," said Young, who is Burns' roommate. "It's killing him."
The loss of Burns means senior Phillip Rogers (129 yards, three touchdowns) will have to assume a major share of the backfield duties, but he's bothered by a sore left shoulder.
The Yellow Jackets also plan to give playing time to sophomore Sean Gregory and freshman Mike Kitchen.
"Joe did a lot of things for us," O'Leary said. "It's a tough loss. But those things happen in football. We've got to move on."
Burns will undergo surgery on Thursday and sit out the rest of the semester before returning to school in January. Tech expects the NCAA to grant him another year of eligibility as a medical hardship case.