#STINGDAILY: Is It Saturday Yet?

Aug 27, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Paul Johnson.

It’s the start of a new football season.

You get the feeling that even if Georgia Tech’s season-opening game against Elon didn’t start at noon on Saturday, that Johnson would be up with the dawn.

“As a football fan I can’t wait for Thursday night. You’ve got North Carolina-South Carolina, I’m anxious to watch it,” he said on Tuesday morning in his first weekly press conference of the year. “We’ll finish, Virginia Tech will start. I’m sure that when I get home I’ll have it on. The Clemson game, I’ll probably have on. I think the Naval Academy plays at 6:30 on Saturday night. I’ll probably turn that one on because most of their coaches played for me or worked for me. So you just kind of flip and watch and get a taste for everything that is going on. Maybe you see something you like that you think you can add. So you’re always looking and watching.”

Of course, Georgia Tech’s season-opener at Bobby Dodd Stadium was priority No. 1.

It’s a new season with an emphasis on new.

It’s the start of the Vad Lee Era at quarterback. The redshirt sophomore gave fans a burst of excitement last year, but Johnson warned that it’s important for him to go from being the back-up — “the most popular guy on the team” — to the starter, who quickly could become the target of the boo birds.

“What I’ve tried to guard against for him is not build up such a perception that there’s no way that he can get to it,” Johnson said. “As bad as I hate to admit it, he’s probably not going to complete every pass and he’s not going to get every read right and there are going to be some things that go wrong. It wouldn’t be above and beyond the fans for him to miss two or three passes and get booed once in a while. Well, how do you handle that? You have to be ready for it and you have to be dialed in.”

In that regard, Johnson would like Lee to be like his predecessor, Tevin Washington.

“Our last quarterback, nothing really bothered him. He was zoned in. He just went and played,” he said. “That’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to be a leader because if you’re the quarterback and you throw a couple of incompletions and you start stepping on your lip and pouting, then everybody in the huddle starts doing that. You’ve got to be the guy that’s upbeat and leading and doing those kinds of things. That’s a learning progression.

“The good news about Vad Lee is Vad has all of those characteristics. He’s got some charisma, he carries himself as a leader and a very confident guy,” Johnson added. “So he’s got to be Vad but also has to understand that at the end of the first quarter on Saturday, everybody’s not going to still love you as much as they did before. You set your standard for yourself and try to achieve that. Don’t try to live up to everybody else’s hype.”

There’s a possibility of back-up Justin Thomas seeing the field, but Johnson was confident that the redshirt freshman is ready rep-wise, needing only to heal from a minor ding.

The minimal number of injuries suffered in training camp was a high point, as the Jackets lost only two players who had been healthy heading into camp — offensive lineman Errin Joe and linebacker Tremayne McNair. McNair might be available for next week’s game at Duke, while there is no timeframe yet for Joe. Neither O-lineman Morgan Bailey nor safety Isaiah Johnson will be in the lineup Saturday. Johnson hinted that his senior safety is close — participating in drills, is doing everything but contact and “is showing progress every day,” — but is no-go until he gets a green light from the team doctors.

“I’m not a doctor. I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express. He’s got to tell me,” said Johnson. “Isaiah wants to play as badly as anybody. So it’s not like he’s laying back. He’s got to feel comfortable with it, the doctor who did the surgery has got to say, ‘He’s good to go. I’m totally releasing him.'”

Jamal Golden (five starts) and Chris Milton (one start) will hold down the safety spots, with Demond Smith waiting in the wings.

Johnson expects big things from this year’s defense, but said an accurate judgment may still take a few weeks.

“We may not be able to know exactly where we are until we’ve played four or five games,” he said. “Last year we thought we were really good coming out of the first game and we saw how that worked out. So I don’t think you make any conclusions until you play a little bit. We’d be hard-press not to be better I think.”

There’s a similar wait-and-see approach around the skill players, but there’s optimism about the glut of talent. At wide receiver, the potential of redshirt freshman Michael Summers and junior DeAndre Smelter is being counted on to compensate for the lack of experience. Junior Corey Dennis could start depending on Smelter’s health, which would be determined at this week’s practices.

Tech’s coach was as excited about the versatility of both his A-Backs and B-Backs.

At A-Back, redshirt junior Deon Hill’s all-around consistency has put him at the top of the depth chart with Robert Godhigh, but Johnson said there will be plenty of carries for everyone.

“When you take in blocking, receiving, running with the ball, assignments, adjustments, all that stuff, I think [Hill’s] probably separated himself a little bit but there are going to be a ton of those guys,” he said. “I’m going to run plays with those guys. You’ve got Robby, Deon, B.J. Bostic, Synjyn Days, Tony Zenon, Dennis Andrews. There are six of those guys that can play and they probably all will play. They all bring something to the table.”

The same is true at B-Back, where David Sims, leads a trio that includes leading returning rusher Zach Laskey and speedster Broderick Snoddy, who will see time on kickoff return and possibly A- and B-Back, now that he has gotten a better handle on his game, and the football — which Johnson made a point of emphasizing by twice knocking on the table.

David Sims has probably had as good a camp as I can remember in a long time. I’m really looking forward to watching him play,” said Johnson. “Zach Laskey has played very well. There are some guys there so it’s a little harder just to push Broderick in until he beats them out but he does bring some things to the table.”

Johnson feels Saturday is a good measuring stick for Georgia Tech and that he is taking the Phoenix very seriously, especially, with their nine starters on defense.

“I know from having coached at Georgia Southern those kids are going to come in excited thinking they can win,” he said. “It’s not a best-of-seven. It’s a one-game deal. They’ll be excited to come play. The No. 1 goal is to win the game. Will we probably do some things against Duke that we won’t do against Elon? Possibly. But we kind of add things every week.”

Not only will Saturday look new to Yellow Jackets fans in many aspects, the game will SOUND new. Brandon Gaudin makes his debut as “Voice of the Yellow Jackets” and can be heard on Georgia Tech’s new home, 106.7 FM, as well as on RamblinWreck.com and via satellite (Sirius channel 85, XM 194). The game can be seen on ESPN3.

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