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Q&A With Paul Johnson

April 25, 2014

A few days after the dust settled on the 2014 version of Georgia Tech’s spring football practices, caught up with head coach Paul Johnson to get his final thoughts on the spring and his early thoughts on the upcoming season.

Give us your quick overall impression of spring practice?
I thought we had a good, productive spring. We didn’t have any major injuries that will keep anyone out this season, so that’s a positive. We got a lot accomplished. We had a chance to get back to the basics, work on fundamental stuff and get a lot of reps for a lot of guys.

What position group were you most concerned about heading into the spring?
I’m not sure there’s any one area that I’m more concerned about than others. Certainly, we lost three starters on the defensive line, but now that spring is over, I think we are feeling okay. We moved Jabari Hunt-Days from linebacker to end. Shawn Green is a guy who had been injured some, but he was able to go through all of spring practice. Adam Gotsis had a really good spring. At end, Tyler Stargel had a pretty good year and KeShun Freeman is a young freshman that came in midyear and we think has a chance to help us.

There was a great deal of talk during the spring about using the 4-2-5 as Georgia Tech’s base defense. What advantages does that scheme give you?
There’s really not a big difference from what we did last season. Last year we ended up playing more snaps in nickel than what we call base (4-3), so we just made the nickel our base. You have five defensive backs, two linebackers and four down linemen, as opposed to having three linebackers and four defensive backs.

Does the 4-2-5 make you more athletic?
Well, it makes you smaller, but it allows you to match-up better against personnel groups, so you should be quicker and faster. Most of the teams that we play run some form of a spread, so you’re going to have five defensive backs on the field the majority of the time.

Another topic coming out of the spring was the use of the no-huddle on offense. How often do you see that being used this fall and what does using the no-huddle give you?
I don’t know how often we will use it. We’ve worked on the no-huddle in the two-minute drill since I’ve been here. It’s a trade-off. With a young quarterback, it may help that I can help call plays and they won’t have to check (out of the play) as much, but they’re still going to have to know what’s going on. The other thing is, if you’re going to run more snaps, the other team is also going to run more snaps. So, it’s a trade-off. It’s not a magic elixir that’s going to change the world. We may use it some, we may not. We will make that decision this fall.

For the second straight year you enter a season where you don’t have a quarterback who has ever started a game. I know you feel like Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly both had good springs, but what’s your overall feeling about the quarterback position right now?
I feel like the quarterbacks will be fine. I have a lot of confidence in them. JT played some last year. Tim had a really good spring. He’s a tough, physical kid. I feel really good about both those kids.

You’ve said that Justin Thomas will enter the fall as the leader to start at quarterback. Is there a big gap between Thomas and Byerly?
I think Tim closed the distance a lot. I thought he had a really good spring. But like I said, I feel really good about both those guys. In addition, Matthew Jordan will get better the more he gets reps.

Shaqulle Mason (Sr., OG) is an All-American candidate in 2014. Who else on the offensive line is close to securing a starting job?
Trey Braun is probably a guy who has played the most at left guard. He started most of last season. Bryan Chamberlain started about half the games. Freddie Burden will be new. And whoever plays the other tackle – if Chase Roberts returns, if not, Chris Griffin will be new.

On paper, special teams looks solid with one of the best kickers in the ACC, an experienced punter, two experienced long snappers and a bunch of return guys, including Jamal Golden. Could this be your best special teams year since you’ve been here?
Possibly. You hope so. You never know until you play. I think Harrison (Butker) is a really special kicker. He’s got to be consistent. And you’ve seen what those guys can do in the return game at times, so hopefully that will be an asset to us.

Who on this team do you think will emerge as a leader in the fall?
I think that’s an on-going process. If you have to pick someone out defensively, I’d say Quayshawn Nealy, Isaiah Johnson, Jamal Golden. On offense, probably Shaq Mason, maybe Zach Laskey. It’s important for us to have leadership on both sides of the ball next year.

You have said that you think your team has a chance to be better than what most think. What have you seen from this team to give you that optimism?
I think we’ve exceeded the preseason predictions every year. The kids have worked hard, and they’ve bought in. Staying healthy, as always, will be a key. We were in pretty much every game last season and I don’t see a drop-off (in talent). Last year we weren’t very good, or as good as I would like, at running the ball. I think we’ll be better running it this fall. That has been an emphasis of ours all spring.

How do you expect your team to approach the summer?
The off-season is key to how good we can be. I think our guys need to have a great off-season, getting bigger and stronger and working on the things that will make them, and our team better. We’ll have everyone here for the summer and I think they are motivated to work hard.

What does the summer hold for you? What are your plans?
There’s not much of a summer break any more. In June we have a Junior Day, a kid’s camp and an evaluation camp. We do get two weeks the second half of June and I’ll take some time off, but don’t have plans to go any place this year. We may go up to North Carolina. In July, we have two evaluation camps, the ACC Kickoff is around July 20th, then you’re back in the office. The kids report the end of July and you start practice.

You have the Chick-fil-A Golf Challenge coming up on Monday. You and Jon Barry have won the event two times. What are your chances this year and who is going to be your biggest competition?
We have a great chance to win if I can get Jon to be in his room by curfew (laughing). It’s impossible to predict because they use handicaps. Some of the other coaches are good golfers. (Steve) Spurrier and (Sterling) Sharpe are pretty good, they’re always in the hunt. It’s an event we look forward to every year. It raises money for great charities and we are glad to be a part of it.


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