Originally created 12/16/04

Jackets' defense seeks good returns



ATLANTA -- The statistics say Georgia Tech has the 14th-best defense in the nation.

That's not good enough for junior defensive end Eric Henderson, one of 10 starters on the unit who will return in 2005. Henderson already is making plans for next season.

"We're just so hungry to be the No. 1 defense, it's scary," Henderson said.

Defense has been the strength for Georgia Tech (6-5), which plays Syracuse on Tuesday night in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando.

Free safety James Butler will be the only starter lost from the unit. In addition to the 10 current starters who will return, senior cornerback Dennis Davis is expected to receive a medical redshirt that would give him another year of eligibility.

The No. 14 ranking in yards allowed per game might be higher if not for an adjustment period early in the season as three new starting linebackers gained confidence and Henderson missed three games with a leg injury.

Henderson, who was a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference player in 2003, when he had 11 sacks and 24 tackles for losses, had only three sacks and 10 tackles for losses this season.

"It's been a frustrating year for me. I'm not happy," he said, adding that he tried to play through a nagging hamstring problem after returning from the quadriceps injury that kept him out for three games.

"I've been injured the whole season. You feel so empty handed."

"You want to leave on top," he said. "I feel if I haven't done what I want to do here at Tech, it makes no sense to leave. Why vanish when you can enjoy your experience here? I'm making the right decision, no question."

Georgia Tech will move its practices to Orlando on Friday. Henderson and other returning starters on defense talk as if they're already focused on next season.

"We get a chance to really start coming together," said linebacker Gerris Wilkinson, who ranks second in the ACC and 15th in the nation with 10.3 tackles per game.

"Next year should be a big year," Wilkinson said.

Even coach Chan Gailey says he has looked to the future for his defense.

"Yeah, we've thought about it, and it's a nice thought that you're gonna have 10 starters back," Gailey said.

The one loss to the defense is significant, as Butler is a two-time semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award given to the nation's top defensive back.