How Paul Johnson wants Justin Thomas to develop his leadership style

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 24: Justin Thomas #5 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets carries the ball for a 60 yard touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles on October 24, 2015 at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Justin Thomas’ leadership of the Georgia Tech football team is unquestioned. He twice has  been voted a captain, and his willingness to play hurt and his competitive spirit speak loudly.

As Thomas goes into his senior season, coach Paul Johnson wants a little more from his quarterback, particularly in the way he handles in-game setbacks and communicates with teammates.

“He’s got to work on his body language and his demeanor,” Johnson said at the ACC Kickoff event in Charlotte, N.C., last week. “I’ve talked to him.”

Johnson pointed out Thomas’ habit of sometimes sitting by himself with a towel over his head after a bad play or series. Johnson recognizes that behavior as part of Thomas’ personality and the result of him being frustrated with himself. But, Johnson also said, it isn’t particularly helpful to his teammates. It was particularly the case last year, when he was surrounded by freshmen and sophomores, as opposed to the senior-dominated group of skill players in 2014.

“Two years ago, when we had all those seniors and all those good players, that wasn’t his role (to lead),” he said. “He could go do that. They’d go get him. But now he’s the senior and he’s the guy. He’s got to be that guy, and I think he’s grown into it.”

Thomas owned the habit, and said that he did in high school, too.

“Once I get in the game, I’m kind of in my own zone, thinking about certain things,” he said.

Thomas is introverted. Picking up or challenging teammates verbally isn’t his natural behavior. But, it’ll be incumbent upon him to keep working at it. He will again play a lead role on the offense, first by virtue of his position and second because the unit is still relatively young. The starting 11 in the media-guide depth chart includes two other seniors, A-back Isiah Willis and center Freddie Burden.

Of other skill players, B-back Marcus Marshall is a sophomore, and backup Dedrick Mills is a freshman. Wide receiver Ricky Jeune is a junior, and fellow starter Brad Stewart is a sophomore. Among A-backs, Lynn Griffin is a senior, but is learning the position. Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch are sophomores. And it’s not a group that can take confidence from the success it has experienced together.

This isn’t to say that Thomas is a non-communicating wallflower who stares at his shoes. Memorably, at the end of the Georgia Southern game in 2014, he told teammates “I got this” after the Yellow Jackets had fallen behind with less than five minutes to go.

And his preference to lead with action has merit, obviously. But Thomas sees room for growth, and perhaps, for the sake of his team, a need for it.

Said Thomas, “It’s just one thing I have to try to be more aware of through the course of the game, just making sure that I’m staying involved with everybody and keeping everybody going.”


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