July 23, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
In this, the final calm before a five month-plus college football storm, Joshua Nesbitt is lying low. But while Georgia Tech’s senior quarterback is not at the ACC’s media gathering Sunday and Monday in Greensboro, N.C., he knows the days of flying under radar will end soon.
Nesbitt is at first glance even more muscled than last season, when he was first team All-ACC. That’s a positive development as no quarterback in coach Paul Johnson’s offense has a choice other than to shoulder a mountainous burden if team success is to be had.
No less important, Nesbitt believes the Yellow Jackets will be – despite losing four key juniors to the NFL – better equipped to man-up to the rest of the ACC. He’d better be right because Tech won the ACC title last season after tying for the Coastal division lead in 2008, and that means:
“Look out,” said Nesbitt, who will miss the ACC media to vacation with family before the Aug. 5 start of practice. “Other teams have a bulls-eye on us we feel like, and we’re ready to step up to that challenge. Every time we go out we have to prove somebody wrong.”
The QB’s hunch is that the offensive line will be improved, that sophomore Stephen Hill and others can replace departed wideout Demaryius Thomas, and that Anthony Allen can move seamlessly from A-back to replace Jonathan Dwyer at B-back.
If Nesbitt’s intuitions are correct, and if new defensive coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme takes root and the Jackets’ collective plan on that side of the ball is coherent enough to cover for the departures of end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett, if, if, if . . . well, that’s a lot of variables.
Some things are more clear.
Nesbitt, who passed for 1,701 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while rushing for 1,037 yards and 18 scores, benefitted from offseason surgery to clean debris out of an ankle, and by sitting out spring practice to mend. “I feel the best I’ve felt since high school, and I’m ready to go,” he said. “I have more knowledge of the game, and my body feels 110 percent.”
With less body fat (not that he had much before) and a bit more muscle, Nesbitt may also be able to look forward to being hit less, if just a little. There are signs that Tech may work occasionally out of a shotfun, er, shotgun formation similar to the one he was so comfortable in at Greene County (Ga.) High School.
It’s difficult to discern whether this is a reward from a coach who doesn’t have a track record for favoring the shotgun to Nesbitt, or, “maybe [Johnson] just wanted to tweak it a little bit and see how [opponents] reacted,” said backup quarterback Tevin Washington.
Johnson hasn’t said that the shotgun – or the pistol, a variation of the gun – will be a part of the offense. When his offense lined up in the shotgun in the spring, Johnson said it was to give the defense a different look – and to give the media something to talk about.
The shotgun could afford Tech quarterbacks a better view of the field, which may boost the passing game, and it could spare Nesbitt a few hits per game.
He’s still going to take plenty of shots, though, and the way he’s taken his beatings combined with the departure of three key classmates (Dwyer, Burnett and Morgan) and Thomas leaves Nesbitt the unquestioned senior leader of the Jackets.
“Any time you see Josh take a hit from a D-lineman three times his size, and go back to the huddle and call the next play, you’ve got to respect that,” Washington said. “A guy three times bigger than you knocking the crap out of you . . . he’s tough, one of the strongest guys on the team.”
Nesbitt admitted later Thursday on a teleconference that he understands that his candidacy for the Heisman Trophy and other high falutin’ awards might be limited by the fact he does not work in a traditional drop-back passing attack. He seemed as if he could not care less about it, although the Tech sports information and video staffs are piecing together a campaign.
Whether you’re on the team or watching from afar, this is easy to respect: Tech’s senior quarterback does not appear to spend much if any time thinking about what might’ve been, nor who. He’s getting ready to roll with the players who are here, and not worry about who’s not.
“I’m going to go into every game with a clear head. I’m not going to think of what we could have happened if we had this person or that person. Just play,” he said. “We’ve been working, and I think we’re going to hit the ground running in two weeks.”