Aug. 7, 2010
Saturday was Media Day at Georgia Tech as several Yellow Jackets spoke with a large group of media from 3-4 p.m.
HEAD COACH Paul Johnson
“It seems like we were just here. [We’re] excited to be kicking off another season. I think that we’ve got a good nucleus of players back. A lot of people want to talk about the guys we lost, and we lost some very good football players, but I’d rather focus on the 15 starters we have coming back. I think for the first time since I’ve been here we’ve got a really large senior class. We’ll have some seniors who are playing. Last year’s team, I think, had six scholarship seniors and not very many who played. So [we’re] excited about the upcoming season. We understand that we’ve got a tremendous schedule, especially our road schedule in the league and out of the league, as well. It’ll be interesting. I feel if we can stay relatively healthy and continue to make progress, I think we can have a good football team. So we’ll see what happens.”
On this preseason compared to past years:
“They’ve been working hard so far. We’ve had two shorts practices and today we went shells, so we’re three days in. All in all, they’ve worked hard. I think they had a good offseason, a good summer. They understand our tempo now and what we want, so we haven’t had a day where they took off yet. All three days have been productive.”
On the players’ motivation for the upcoming season:
“I think a lot of people motivate themselves differently. We talked about that a little bit last night in a team meeting, not about having a chip on their shoulder, about where people predicted us to be and where they think we’ll finish. The good thing is we get to play the games, so we get to determine that. They don’t. All you ask for is a chance to play the games. If you get beat, you get beat.”
On Anthony Allen at B-back:
“I think Anthony will have a really good year. We’ve got some other guys who play in that position. Lucas Cox, who we moved their in the spring, had a great spring. Preston Lyons can play in there. Richard [Watson] can play in there, so we’ve got some depth at that position, and it may be more than one guy. But Anthony’s a very talented guy, and I think he’s excited about moving in there. Anthony did [work at B-back last year], and he actually was a B-back when he came here. That’s where he first started, so it’s not like he’s going back there and just having to learn from scratch.”
On the depth of this year’s roster:
“I think we’ve got depth. We’ve got pretty good competition at every position. That usually makes you better. We are probably going to be up in scholarships. We are getting closer to 85. But we’ve had a lot of players that we’ve recruited playing already, and it makes for a good story to paint it the other way, but it’s not necessarily true. I think if you go back and look at the starters and the guys who’ve played a lot; it’s been a pretty good mix. Maybe the higher-marquee names were here, but there’s been a lot of these guys play, thus 15 starters back. I think where guys have redshirted a little bit has been on the line of scrimmage.”
On offensive line:
“We’re going to play the five best guys, and truthfully, if you asked me who is going to be starting up there, I couldn’t tell you. I think there’s competition. Sean Bedford is going to have his hands full everyday to keep his job. We’ve got four guards that could start. There are at least three tackles, maybe four, that could start. So we’ll see. Either we’ve got depth, or we don’t have anybody any good. We’ll see.”
On position battles:
“Brad Jefferson is probably pretty solid. Joshua Nesbitt is probably pretty solid. Other than that, there’s competition at most of the other spots. So it may start out with some guys starting early, and then you’ll go to the other guys before you get very far into the season. And you never know what’s going to happen with injuries. A lot of depth can disappear in one practice if you cart two or three guys out, especially if they’re at the same position. Even on defense–I’m looking out there this morning–[at safety] you’ve got two guys who started. They were playing second team. We don’t have a first- or second-team, but you’ve got Cooper Taylor and Isaiah Johnson who are playing with one group and Mario Edwards and Jerrard Tarrant playing with another group. And then you’ve also got, whether he plays corner or whatever, Dominique Reese. There’s Rashaad Reid. There’s Mario Butler. There’s Rod Sweeting, not counting all of the other new guys. There’s some competition. It’s going to be good for everybody.”
On the possibility of having to burn redshirts for true freshmen:
“I don’t think we’ll have to at any position. We may play some true freshman. Certainly Isaiah Johnson is going to play. I can tell you that already coming off the spring. There may be a handful of other guys play. But it won’t be because we have to. It’ll be because they can help us win and they’re good players.”
On playing time for players who missed the spring:
“Well if you’re not out there practicing, it’s hard to be on the first team. There are exceptions. Our quarterback came back, and he was on the first team. I don’t have a hard and fast rule, but if there’s competition and there’s a guy close to you, then when you start fall camp he’s going to be in front of you on the depth [chart]. Now, does that mean you can’t beat him out before the first game? No. Now if [the player who missed the spring is] clearly better than [the player who didn’t], then there’s no use jacking him around. So that’s kind of the way we approach it.”
On Nesbitt returning to practice this fall:
“He’s fine. He’s 100 percent, wide open.”
One how the team is responding to the start of practice this year compared to the last two:
“Well you’d hope it would be better. I think if you came to practice in 2008, walking off of the field, we were thinking, `What have we gotten into?’ Now when we practice, it’s totally different. They know the expectations. They know the speed. They know what we’re looking for. So we could have a better football team and still not win as many games, but if everybody stays healthy and they continue to work like they’re working, I think we’ll be OK. We’ll be competitive.”
On the B-back position:
“The only thing we’ve got to judge Anthony [Allen] on is the spring game, and he had a bunch of yards in one half. I don’t know if that’s good news or bad news because it was against us. He’s going to be a good player, but I feel good about the guys behind him. Lucas Cox had a great spring. That’s his natural position. That’s where he needs to be.”
On his confidence in the new defense cutting down on big plays:
“We struggled at times in the spring. [The scheme] was new. But we haven’t given one up all year, so we’ll see. You have to wait and see. I think everybody’s excited to see how it’s going to be. I know our players are excited. They’re anxious to learn more and more and ready to fly around and see if we can play better on defense. I think we can. It won’t be hard.”
On his level of confidence in this team considering the depth:
“I don’t know about confident. I just think that we have more depth than we’ve had the last two years. Now we were fortunate that we didn’t get a lot of guys hurt either. We pretty much played with six or seven offensive lineman for two years. I feel like we’ll have a chance to go into the first game and play two groups. We haven’t been able to do that. Now by the time you get mid-year or whatever, you still may be to seven or eight. But I just think we’ve got more depth. We’ve got more numbers. There were very few actual offensive linemen when we got here. If you think about last year’s team–and I think this speaks volumes for the kids who are playing–we go into the Orange Bowl [with] Brad Sellers, [who] came here as a tight end, moved to defensive end, moved to offensive tackle. He was 250 pounds. The center was a walk-on defensive lineman who didn’t think he was ever going to play. Our starting right tackle had been an A-back the first spring. He was a tight end. Now we’ve got some guys who were recruited for that position. Will the other guys play better? I don’t know. That’s why you play the games, but at least they came in recruited to play that position.”
On whether this team has as high of a ceiling as last year’s:
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t.”
“We haven’t written them down and put them up yet. I’m sure they’ve got them. We usually do that during fall camp sometime.”
On the polls:
“As long as they let you play the games, you control that. We talked about last night not getting caught up in all of that. My experience has been [to] take care of September, and then October becomes big games, and if you can take care of September and October, then you’re playing big ones in November. If you start worrying about the back end and going here and going there, it won’t be very important because you’ve already killed yourself before you ever got started.”
On being disrespected by the polls as the defending ACC champion:
“I tell [the players] everyday they haven’t done anything, and they haven’t. We’re 0-0, haven’t won a game. There is no defending. Every year starts over. It’s not like they say, `You’re the defending champ, you get to start out in first place, and somebody has to get you.’ You start over every year, and every team’s different. They all have their different identity.”
On the players’ reaction to a newer, more consistent defensive scheme:
“I’m not sure that’s all true. You know what I’ve found through the years? If you’re not very good, it’s somebody else’s fault. It’s exciting any time you change, but show me. That’s all we’ve got to do is show me. We weren’t changing schemes every week, I can assure you. Now, did we do multiple things? Yeah, we did a lot of things. We’ve just got to play better. It’s not rocket science. You’ve got to bend your knees and get off blocks and tackle people and not let them get behind you. If you do those things, you’ll play better defense.”
On the possibility that he has been able to focus more on offense this preseason:
“I’m always going to be informed, and I’m always going to know what’s going on over there [on defense]. I started out coaching defense. Now, do I have the time to do everything that needs to be done? No, and that’s why I’ve hired good defensive coaches, and I think you trust them to get the thing done. I want to make sure we don’t push all that off on Dave Wommack, because Dave was a good guy and a good coach. It wasn’t all Dave’s fault. We had issues. The reason I made a change is I just felt like we could play better than we were playing, and it wasn’t working. It wasn’t that what he was doing wasn’t sound. I just felt like we needed a change. I think the kids had lost some confidence, maybe, and we just needed to try something different. We’re excited that Al [Groh’s] here. He brings a package. He has a wealth of knowledge on defense. He’s had a lot of success. He’s high-energy. The kids enjoy being around him and playing out there in practice. We’ll see if it transitions to the game. I think it will. I hope it will.”
On whether the new defensive scheme has improved the players’ confidence:
“Sometimes you have to look within. Sometimes you’ve just got to rush the passer, and you’ve got to cover people, and you’ve got to tackle people. There is no magic scheme where they can hide somebody. If you’re getting your tail blocked six yards down the field, then you’re getting blocked six yards down the field. Nobody can help you there. You’ve got to man up and whip somebody’s tail occasionally.”
Joshua Nesbitt, Sr., QB
What is the best thing about this year that is different from previous years?
“I would say the expectations of the team. The expectations are higher than just an ACC Championship, settling for second or just getting to a bowl game.”
Coach thinks that this going to be your best year and that you feel the same way. Why do you think this is going to be your best year?
“I have prepared for this to be my best year. I feel like I am in the best shape in my life both physically and mentally. I think after my surgery, I knew where I had to get to and what I had to do and I was willing to sacrifice a lot to get there.”
How do you feel like you have grown from year two to year three?
“I am better as a person and a player from year two to year three. I never could be an expert at this offense, but I am surely trying. I feel like last year, I started out kind of slow in the first couple of games, but this year with this camp and the tempo that we have, I should hit my stride in the first game.”
Do you feel like it has become second nature to you?
“Yes, but sometimes I have to think about the little things. Sometimes I go out there and think about the big picture and forget about the little things. But you always have to go back to home base and remember it is the little things that you have to do.”
Do you think that the offense is more reliant on you with [Jonathan] Dwyer and [Demaryius] Thomas leaving, or do you feel like you have more weapons this year?
“You never know in the games. I may have to carry the ball 30 times, or maybe it is just 15 times a game. I think we have a great B-Back in Anthony Allen and two great A-Backs and plenty more to spare.”
Last year you had Dwyer with you and the focus was on both of you, this year you are it, do you feel like this is your team?
“You can say that. I think this is my team because you can look to me to be a leader, not just on the field, but off the field, too. I feel like I have earned everybody’s respect in the locker room.”
How much of a battle are the conference games going to be every week?
“It is going to be a tough schedule, and I think that we are building our mind and body right now so that we can be ready for it. We know that every game counts, so we are taking it one game at a time.”
Outside of the first game, what game on the schedule are you the most excited to play in?
“Right now I am just worried about South Carolina State.”
How do you feel about the connection with you and Anthony Allen at B-Back vs. Dwyer?
“Timing is about the same, but I think the angles that we both take are off a little bit. But we are working on that right now. Stephen [Hill] will be a good addition to the offense, too. I think he is taking the right steps to be the No. 1 receiver right now. I think he will do a good job with it this year.”
Who do you think the focus of the passing game will be on this year?
“I think you will see more people step up this year. We are rotating very nicely right now and have D.J. McKayhan, Tyler Melton, Kevin Cone. We have a lot of receivers and the A-Backs – they go out and catch too. One of the goals this year is to spread the ball a little bit more and be more efficient in the passing game.”
Where do you see yourself, and the whole team, fitting into the Georgia Tech tradition?
“I am hoping that we can make history. I am hoping that we go down in the history book for everything.”
Are you rejuvenated after missing spring ball?
“Today I had my first hit in about five or six months. I felt so good to just be out there on the field and take a little lick. I told everybody that I missed that. Being out on the field with my teammates and taking contact and knowing that you are a football player. I built my body to be ready to play. I can’t go out there and be scared that I might roll my ankle or get injured because I never know when my last play will be.”
Do you think being forced to sit out, and the only thing that you could do in the spring was prepare your mental game, that you are now a smarter and wiser quarterback?
“I feel like everything happens for a reason, and once I sat out and looked at the game from the sidelines it makes you look at things in a different way and respect the game more and get a better understanding of it.”
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Al Groh
Coach Johnson says you bring a lot of energy to his practice. What is the difference of energy that you bring being the defensive coordinator as opposed to the head coach?
“I am just being me. I am trying to coach the same way that I have always coached.”
What are some of the biggest obstacles that you see at the beginning of the season?
“I would rather think of them in terms of challenges instead of obstacles. Obstacles are things that can’t be overcome. Really we aren’t thinking that way at this time, we are just involved in a process right now and we aren’t doing much evaluation. Instead we are just trying to plow through everyday. The process is simply– we meet, we install, we go practice, we meet again and correct, we go to bed, we come back, and we do the same thing. We are in a routine and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, we just keep grinding our way forward and make the process as positive and as progressive as we can.”
What were your perceptions coming into this coaching staff and were they on target?
“You always learn a lot more when you are on the inside than when you are trying to figure it out from the outside. It is certainly consistent with the great heritage of football here at Georgia Tech and with what I would expect from Coach Johnson who is a head coach that has won national championships and been the Coach of the Year and won the ACC Championship. In other words, in every respect, a very high standard and very first class.”
Is it different being on this side of the spread option offense?
“We certainly don’t have to put as much research into it since the results don’t count, so we are putting more time in against the offenses that actually go up on the scoreboard. It is great to be part of it and certainly it is an offense that has been very effective in helping every team win every place that Coach Johnson has put it in place. So I am happy to be a part of that.”
How many times have you and Coach Johnson gotten together to discuss how you used to prepare against the Georgia Tech offense/defense?
“We really haven’t gotten into that at all. I am thinking from both of our perspectives, that was then. We are in a different time frame now and trying to do something different and put both of those teams together that might have clashed with each other on the field a couple times. We are trying to put that together to give Georgia Tech the best success that we can.”
How does the defense compare depth wise with the teams that you have previously coached?
“It is a little early to judge. I am usually somewhat resistant to comparisons because every situation is so different it is unfair to players. It is like saying who is the greatest hitter ever. The year has changed and circumstances have changed so what you do when you evaluate is to evaluate those hitters relative to their particular eras. Each thing changes with teams, but more direct to your question, we are in such an early phase of it that the development of playable depth is certainly one that we are aiming for. It is so competitive for positions right now and playing time that if you ask that question in a few weeks it will be more definitive as to what the playing depth looks like.”
You have more seniors on defense this year than you have had since Coach Johnson has been here, what are you looking at on a leadership standpoint?
“These players have been in games, won games and won championships, and that is an invaluable experience to have had. They understand what it is like to drive up to the stadium with a lot on the line every week. They have a maturity about them and purposefulness about them because this is the last opportunity for them to do anything in college football and for those that have ambitions to go further on, it is their best opportunity as seniors to prove what their future is. They are a very motivated group and are setting a very strong example of what they are able to show the rookies and younger players is what the work ethic and the focus in practice has to be in order to prove yourself everyday.”
Have there been any bumps in the transition between the two defenses for the veteran players?
“It has gone pretty positively. There have been some stages where there are some things that we have had to smooth out a little bit. We have been through this process on a number of other occasions, the installation of the system from scratch with a team that had been doing something previously. Every situation brings up a new set of circumstances but, there certainly are some that are going to be consistent from place to place and we have been able to anticipate those and hopefully have done and will be able to do a better job of installing that we have done at any other stage.”
Last year’s defense gave up a lot of points, when you reviewed the film what did you see what the cause and how could that be addressed?
“The issue of big plays is very pertinent. The No. 1 objective of every defense as it measures itself statistically is points allowed. Ultimately that is a total team function. Punts run back, interceptions run back count toward the total team total. By in large, points scored against a team come against the defense. That is the number one reason why, besides getting the ball back for your team, we play defense is to keep the points down. The fastest way the team scores points is on big plays. If the defense understands that what we are out there for is to get the point total down and to get our offense back on the field, the elimination of big plays is right there on the top of the list of things that we have to get accomplished and that is ingrained in our philosophy. The staff is on top of that and we expect that will filter down to the players as they put their game together.
“There were a lot of circumstances as to why that happened last year but really I would like to stay in the future and talk about what we are trying to do. They were doing the best that they could at that particular time and that is in the books now and we will try to write a new chapter.”
What about the outside linebacker position? Who do you have playing there and what are some new faces?
“The outside linebacker position in this scheme, and when we talk about the positions in this scheme we are talking about the regular defense, who is out there on first and second down. We have quite a few substitution packages that will go in and out regularly. In direct answer to your question as the outside linebacker as they play in the 3-4, if I would compare their relationship to the other spots to a baseball batting order, those are the guys that should be your 3-4-5 hitters. They have the opportunity to make a lot of big plays on the run, they not only have a chance but need to be productive pass rushers and have to be adequately functional out in big space. Probably, it requires as much versatility mentally and physically as any player on the defense. The players have to be very open minded to a lot of things. We have seen the players that have had to take on more jobs that previously in their career they have been positive in embracing all of those things that it takes to do that. Anthony Egbuniwe, Anthony Barnes, Albert Rocker are three veteran players that have been in games before. Malcolm Munroe, a kid that played some last year and is moving into the veteran stage a little bit. Those four are the guys who are in contention for the jobs but it is a little early to see how its going to go with players but you get some first impressions. We have a young player, Jeremiah Attaochu who has shown some positive things early.”
What about Brad Jefferson, a senior in the middle linebacker spot making the calls?
“Brad is a football guy. He likes all of the phases of it; the game makes sense to him. A lot of the stuff that we have installed has come to him easily and he is a physically rugged player who brings a high energy level. Not only does that aid our performance but sets a good standard, not only for rookies, but for other players. It is one of those things that a lot of times on a football team, leadership is about attitude and actions, not speeches. His actions put him in a position to set standards and that is a prime function of leaders, to set the standards. He sets the standards for toughness and effort and energy that hopefully will raise the whole defense.”
What is your impression of Isaiah Johnson so far?
“He is a very promising young player. Isaiah has a lot of athletic ability, really good instincts; his football awareness is very high. It is clear that he comes from an outstanding program where they have done a great job with him and we are really reaping the benefits of a lot of work by his high school coaches. He knows how to practice, pay attention in the meetings, he is very studious in that respect and he can transfer it to the field. He has made a very positive impression and is in the fight for game time.”