With the two hours each week that coaches can meet with players, Georgia Tech coaches have taken different approaches. The defense has largely met as a unit, while the offensive players have typically split into position groups, coach Paul Johnson said.
Some of the offensive meetings have had a leadership development dynamic, with players going to the front of the meeting room to explain plays or concepts to the younger players.
“If you want to develop some leadership, it’s a great opportunity for the upperclassmen to kind of tutor the younger guys, so we tend to let them have a little bit of that time, too,” Johnson said at the ACC Kickoff last week in Pinehurst, N.C.
The offensive line has particularly used that method. Johnson said he hasn’t, but that he has similar expectations for quarterbacks Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly to set up and run the seven-on-seven passing drills and work on the mesh with the B-backs.
“That’s how you develop leadership,” he said. “If you’re in there doing it all the time for them, they don’t ever have to do it (themselves).”
More from Johnson at Pinehurst…
Transfer Lamont Simmons
Johnson said the transfer from USC, whom Tech recruited out of high school in Jacksonville, grew homesick and wanted to return to the East. Simmons will sit out the 2015 season and will have three years of eligibility remaining starting with 2016. He’ll join a young cornerback group that includes incoming freshmen Dante Wigley and Meiko Dotson.
Simmons was recruited by Auburn, Georgia, Michigan State and Penn State, among others.
“I think anytime you can get a good player, you take him if you’ve got scholarships and you’ve got room,” Johnson said.
A-backs coach Lamar Owens, who recruits the Jacksonville area, led the effort both times. Owens has pulled a number of Tech players out Jacksonville, including defensive backs Step Durham, Lynn Griffin and Dotson, defensive end Antonio Simmons and linebacker Victor Alexander. He also was the lead recruiter for wide receiver Brad Stewart out of Savannah, where Owens grew up.
“Lamar Owens has done a really good job of recruiting Jacksonville,” Johnson said.
On the CFP
Offered the chance to comment on the four-team playoff, Johnson made his push again for an eight-team field. The subjectivity required to select the top four teams rankles him.
“I think (eight) would be easier to do,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ll see it while I’m coaching. It’d be real easy to take the (five power) conference champions, the highest-ranked non-power conference team, two wild cards and play. Then, at least most of the subjectivity would be out. Now, you can still have it on the two wild-card teams, but you’d take a lot of it out.”
Finding a right guard
While the right guard spot, filled last season at an All-American level by Shaquille Mason, is perhaps the most critical vacancy, Johnson didn’t sound terribly concerned. He named five potential guards – Bryan Chamberlain (a tackle who played guard in the spring), Shamire Devine, Trey Braun, Gary Brown and Freddie Burden. While Burden is a center, “Freddie can play there (at guard) if we had to and Andrew Marshall can play center,” Johnson said. “We’ve got some flexibility up there. We’ve got some numbers.”
In praise of Joe
Johnson said that tackle Errin Joe was probably the team’s best lineman after Mason by season’s end. Prior to last season, Joe had played in only three games in two seasons due to injury.
“Never give up on big guys,” he said. “They get it sometimes a little later than some of the other guys.”
Better on defense
Johnson was optimistic about the defense improving.
“We should be better,” he said. “We’ve got eight starters back and we’ve got some guys coming back (Jabari Hunt-Days and Kenderius Whitehead), so we’ll see. I think we were making strides in the spring, but we have to get the standard set over there.”
Incoming freshman TaQuon Marshall is expected to play A-back this season, but “I’m not sure he’s not a quarterback,” Johnson said.
Marshall played quarterback in high school at Harris County. Were he to move back, he would be in competition with Christian Campbell and Matthew Jordan for time behind Justin Thomas going into next spring. While players have often gone from quarterback to other positions – most notably Synjyn Days – it would not be an unprecedented move for Johnson to move a player from a running back spot or wide receiver back to quarterback.
Johnson’s last quarterback at Navy, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, was a backup wide receiver as a freshman before returning to quarterback for his final three seasons.
Johnson on the schedule: “It is what it is. It’s a tough schedule, but you’ve got to play the way our league’s set up. Some teams got it better than others.”
It was a somewhat oblique reference to the permanent crossover system that pits Tech against Clemson every year. In his next breath, he brushed it off.
“Everybody talks about the other side (of the ACC),” he said. “We’re 5-3 against Clemson since I’ve been there and 2-3 against Florida State. That’s better than we were against Virginia Tech and Miami. … We’re not scared of Florida State. They might beat us, but we’re not scared. Bring ’em on.”
On the rivalry with Virginia Tech and his chess match with Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster: “We do what we do and they do what they do. There’s six teams in the league that line up and play the same way they do. They just do it with better players. Bud does a good job. He has wrinkles and they take chances. They’ll take chances. They’ll fire people and void zones and you have to find ’em and hit ’em. He does a good job with that.”
Last year, Johnson finally relented to numerous requests to vote in the USA Today coaches poll for the first time last season. He said he thinks he will be voting again this year.
“Either me or Huff,” Johnson said, referring to football director of operations Mike Huff.
Prior to last season, Johnson had long stayed away from the poll because he didn’t want to put his team in a position of playing an opponent that he had ranked higher than his own team.
Sept. 2014: Paul Johnson now a poll voter
Johnson rehashed a common talking point regarding recruiting and the NFL draft.
“The kids who base (going) to school on places where, ‘Well, Coach says he can get me to the league,’ they’re buying a 10-pound bag of (expletive),” Johnson said. “The only person that’s going to get you to the league is you. If you work and you’ve got the ability, then you’ll get there. If you don’t, no coach is going to get there.”
In his professional debut at the Canadian Open, Ollie Schniederjans tied for 22nd at 9-under par. He had climbed onto the leaderboard after a third-round 6-under 66 moved him to 10-under for the tournament, but he closed with a 73. He earned $46,207 for his efforts. Perhaps more importantly, the tie was worth 43 FedEx Cup points, which puts him about halfway towards catching the No. 200 player on the tour in FedEx Cup rankings. Having as many or more points as that player at the end of the season will significantly help Schniederjans earn his tour card for the next season. (You can find a somewhat Byzantine explanation here.)
Tech senior swimmer Yuval Safra finished 26th at the 5K open water world championships in Kazan, Russia. Representing Israel, Safra finished in 55 minutes, 33.2 seconds. Safra will captain the team this coming year.
Three Tech golfers – returnees Vince Whaley and Chris Petefish and incoming freshman Tye Waller – have qualified for the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, to be played Aug. 17-23 in Olympia Fields, Ill.