Staff Photo: John Bohn Georgia Tech defensive lineman Shawn Green (97) warms up during a spring football practice on Friday. Green is a Grayson graduate.
ATLANTA -- Not-so-new Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof summed up the general feeling that permeates spring practice at just about every football program about as perfectly as anyone can following the Yellow Jackets' second spring session this past Wednesday.
"Every season brings new hope," said the Lawrenceville native and former Central Gwinnett and Tech linebacker, who is in his second stint as the Jackets' defensive boss. "This is a totally different team from last year, just like next year's team will be totally different from this year's team. With that comes new opportunities, and you want guys to be excited about the opportunity that's in front of them."
Roof may not have been referring to any specific player, but there are few individuals on Tech's spring roster whom that description fits more than defensive tackle Shawn Green.
After sitting out a redshirt year and then battling injuries and putting in an apprenticeship for two more years behind older, more experienced players at his position, the 6-foot, 280-pound redshirt junior's time is now.
And the Grayson grad and 2009 Daily Post Defensive Player of the Year knows it.
"It's very important," Green said about what this year's spring practice means to his college career. "That's how I walked into (practice) this spring. That's been my mindset since the (21-7 win over Southern California in the Sun) Bowl game last year. I've got to step up and be ready. I've got some big shoes to fill.
"It is kind of exciting. Everyone's looking at the defense right now. ... Everyone wants to see who's going to rise on this defense."
Of course, its not as if Green's career at Tech has been a total waste.
Despite being hampered by a fractured leg suffered in spring practice following his redshirt year, Green has paid his dues as an understudy to starters on the offensive line like NFL-bound T.J. Barnes, and gradually climbed his way up the Jackets' depth chart.
He's nearing the top of that climb after seeing action in all 14 of Tech's games during last season's 7-7 campaign, posting 22 tackles -- 13 of them solos, including three tackles for loss -- with an interception and a forced fumble.
But as he pointed out himself, he does have some big shoes to fill -- in every sense of the word -- beginning in 2013.
Though considerably smaller than the 6-6, 369-pound Barnes, who is expected to be a mid-round selection in next month's NFL Draft, Green says he learned a lot from his larger mentor, and hopes to use that experience to make the transition from follower to team leader.
"I noticed that was a big difference, especially after T.J. left because I looked up to T.J. a lot on everything he did," Green said. "Now, to be a guy who everybody else is looking up to, it's a (big responsibility)."
It may be an even bigger responsibility given Tech's gradual transition back to a 4-3 alignment under Roof after playing in primarily a 3-4 set the better part of the last two seasons, and the importance of depth in the middle of the line that comes along with the switch.
Despite the changes that come from the new system, and playing for a third defensive coordinator in the past six months -- and perhaps even because of those circumstances -- Roof expects a lot from a veteran like Green.
"With your older guys, you're only going to be as strong as your leadership," Roof said. "Usually, you count on your older guys to be leaders. Guys like Shawn, who are battled tested and have been through the battles, (are important). A lot of times, some players, when they know their college careers are coming to an end, there's an increased sense of urgency because everybody wants to go out on a great note.
"Guys like that are critical and vital because there are going to be ebbs and flows and ups and downs (in) every game and every quarter and every season. We've got to get guys who can steer this ship through the rough waters."
And Green says he is looking forward to living up to Roof's challenge, and especially the new, aggressive defensive philosophy his system encourages.
"It's a lot different," Green said. "Back when we had the other two defenses, it was more (react) -- mirror (the opposing offensive line's) block and go where they go or react to a pulling block. But now, it's attacking. I feel like that can help our D-line a whole bunch. It's a lot more aggressive.
"Basically, we're throwing the first punch, not waiting for one to read off of."