STINGDAILY: Second and Long

Aug 15, 2013

Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –

Two weeks from tomorrow, Georgia Tech opens its 2013 season, hosting the Elon Phoenix at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Following his team’s Wednesday afternoon practice, Head Coach Paul Johnson let gathered media know that while Elon will soon be on the docket, he’s focused more on his current team and its current state heading into its second scrimmage of training camp Saturday morning.

(The scrimmage will be closed to the fans and media.)

“You always want to get better,” said Johnson. “I don’t know if you’re ever satisfied but the guys are working hard. It’s like a roller coaster. It’s up and down. We still have a lot to work on, a lot to do. I think we got a lot done [today]. I thought they tried to compete, especially defensively. They got after it pretty good.

“I thought the guys had decent energy,” he added. “It’s like I said, especially I thought the defense flew around pretty good, competed, and had some energy. We’ll get another pads practice in [Thursday] and then we’ll probably go shells on Friday and then we’ll have a closed scrimmage on Saturday.”

On Saturday, Johnson simply hopes to see signs of improvement from the first scrimmage.

“Just assignments, effort, taking care of the ball,” he said. “All the things that you have to do to be consistent and win games.”

Of course, having all — he’d probably for a majority — of his parts in place offensively would lead to such improvements. A good sign to that end was the return on Wednesday of redshirt senior center Jay Finch, who hadn’t practiced since undergoing a pair off-season shoulder surgeries.

“He was okay,” said Johnson. “I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. He played with both [the first and second] groups.”

Finch’s return will help stabilize the offensive line.

More up in the air is who will make up the starting wide receivers. Johnson lamented the lack of a bonafide big-play guy — ala Demaryius Thomas or Stephen Hill — but liked what he’s seen from the deep corps and its work ethic and felt sure that things would work themselves out by the opener.

“I don’t know if it helps you if you don’t have ‘Bay-Bay’ Thomas or Stephen Hill,” he said, with a laugh. “I think we’d like to have them. I’m not sure there aren’t two or three of those guys that are better than the rest. When we start playing we’ll find out.”

Johnson called the defense a work in progress but pointed to the play of the secondary as a bright spot.

“The first two corners (redshirt senior Jemea Thomas and senior Louis Young) have played a lot of football. I think the two corners are both good players,” Johnson said. “[Sophomore] D.J. White’s had a good camp. He’s done some good things. [Redshirt-freshman] Lynn Griffin’s on training wheels. He’s still trying to learn.”

Johnson also spoke positively about redshirt-sophomore safety Demond Smith, who recorded 12 tackles (11 solo) in 14 games in 2012, playing back-up safety and on special teams.

“Demond’s had a good camp,” said Johnson. “He played in the ACC Championship Game, he played in the bowl game, so he played a little bit last year. He was nursing a bad hamstring for a while but once he got that fixed, he’s come back. He’s played a lot of football.”

Not playing any football right now due to injuries are redshirt-junior A-Back Tony Zenon, who was eighth on the team in rushing (193 yards) and all-purpose yards (440) and sixth in receiving (195 yards) last season, with six plays over 20 yards, and redshirt-freshman Michael Summers, who was expected to begin practicing Thursday or Friday.

With so much still to be settled, Johnson said he hadn’t thought much about opening day opponent, Elon, although he did admit he knew a little bit about the Phoenix, having grown up in North Carolina (Newland, his hometown, is approximately 150 miles from the campus). He plans to talk more about the Phoenix come Monday.

“We usually go two weeks in camp and then we’ll start game prep,” he said. “You’re getting ready all the time but specific game prep stuff we’ll probably start Monday.”

Their strategy will be based partly on how the Phoenix played Georgia Southern last Sept. 22, a 26-23 loss in Statesboro, where Elon led 13-6 at the half and 20-13 late in the third. Southern took the lead for good on a field goal inside of four minutes.

But he said he’s wary of putting too much stock in that game.

“They almost beat them and we know Georgia Southern had a pretty good team,” said Johnson. “Every team’s different. I don’t know what this Elon team is going to be like but I’m more worried about our team than Elon. That’s stuff you can control.”

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