March 28, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Outside it felt more like fall than spring on Monday afternoon.
That might be a good sign for Georgia Tech as it embarked on spring practice. Getting his team in the proper state of mind has been very much on Head Coach Paul Johnson’s mind.
It’s not changing the culture, so much as expunging some of last season’s bad habits.
“We’ve implemented a couple of different things,” said Johnson. “For instance we’re trying to do some team-building stuff. I’ve had a team meeting every Tuesday and we’ve gone over different stuff. Right now, we’re in the middle of a leadership seminar.
“As far as the every day nuts and bolts, not a whole lot,” he continued. “We’ve had a lot of success doing what we do. We didn’t meet expectations last year. We had some injuries. There are a lot of reasons. We didn’t do as good a job of coaching as we probably should have. You could name all kinds of things that we could have done better. But you don’t just start over and blow it up. It’s been successful for 14 years. So you tweak here and there and try to identify where you had shortcomings and you move from there.”
The team has moved on from last year’s 6-7 season, which saw the Jackets lose five of their final six games. Johnson said he’s seen a new attitude, a good place to start.
“We’re disappointed in the outcome, especially the last half of the year but other than one game, I think we had a chance to win every game we played at the end of the year,” he said. “A lot of it we self-destructed. If we don’t turn the ball over I think we win three or four more games. So I think we’ve got to understand the urgency of taking care of the ball, getting some turnovers on the flipside, and cleaning up what we can clean up. I’ve been encouraged so far in the off-season with the work ethic and the way they’ve approached it.
“I just think the whole attitude is better, a lot of the little things, from breakfast checks to class checks, extra lifting to extra workouts that they’re putting in on their own, out there throwing, catching, defensive backs doing drills. I can see out my window and there have always been a lot of people out there working.”
With the number of positional battles expected, Johnson believes this spring should be quite spirited.
One of the most potentially spirited competitions could come at quarterback, where redshirt junior Tevin Washington, who started the final four games after the season-ending injury to Joshua Nesbitt, will be in a battle to keep his job, as he’ll be challenged by redshirt freshman Synjyn Days.
But that’s far from the only position potentially up for grabs. When asked if there were positional battles he’d be watching closely during spring workouts, Johnson showed he’s in mid-season form.
“Yeah, all of them,” he said. “There’s going to be competition at most every position. We’ve got some young guys that we’ve redshirted the last couple of years that this is their opportunity to step in and show kind of show people what they can do. The marquee position, no matter what you do is quarterback. That’s what everybody wants to watch. We’ve got Tevin coming back and now Synjyn and that ought to be a good competition this spring. David Sims is going to play there a little bit, but mostly he’ll be at other positions.”
With two starters gone, the offensive line also will be a hotly contested area. Jay Finch will get the first shot at center, replacing Sean Bedford while the battle for tackles spots will feature as many as 10 candidates.
As far as who’ll carry the ball, The B-Back position is loaded, as Johnson said Tech has more depth there than anywhere. Tech will have a host of potential suitors at B-Back, including redshirt senior Preston Lyons, redshirt junior Richard Watson, redshirt sophomore David Sims and redshirt freshman Charles Perkins, who will get first crack.
“We’re going to start him at B-Back,” said Johnson of the former Collins Hill High School running back. “I think Charles is a guy who has a ton of potential. So we’ll see. I think he’s one of the better athletes on our football team watching him go through morning workouts and doing all those things. You’ve got to do it on the field but he could be a special guy.”
Also drawing Johnson’s attention is A-Back position, where another redshirt freshman, speedy Tony Zenon is a prime candidate
“Tony Zenon might be one of the fastest kids on the team. We want to try to get a really good look at him this spring,” Johnson said.
But Zenon is not alone.
“I’m excited about them,” said Johnson. “You’ve got Roddy [Jones] and Orwin [Smith] coming back, Embry Peeples who started a bunch of games, Marcus [Wright], Deon Hill, who’s another freshman we redshirted, Zenon. B.J. Bostic, who’s just kind of figured out where to go where he can play fast last year. So there are a lot of good athletes at that position. There ought to be some good competition.”
Similar battles are expected on the defensive side of the ball, especially at inside linebacker, where leading tackler Brad Jefferson is gone, and in the secondary, which lost all four starters from last season. Johnson is confident these positions will sort themselves out and that the defense will be better.
“I would hope that we would be more efficient,” he said. “You look at the stats from two years ago to last year, and there weren’t a lot of differences. We probably got a few less turnovers last year, probably gave up a few less big plays, but the total yardage, the points per game, all that was pretty much right in line with where we had been. You hope that in the second year there’s a little more familiarity. The bottom line is winning and losing the game and how many points you give up.”
Getting Johnson’s closest attention will be special teams, where he’s promised greater involvement.
“We’re going to work on the return game in Spring Practices,” he said. “We’re going to look at some different schemes and do some things and I’m going to get more involved.”
In short, there’s enough to work on to keep Johnson busy. Not that he’s keeping track.
“I’m not a big guy to write stuff down. I know what I want to get done but I don’t keep a list in my desk drawer or anything,” he said. “You want to get better every day you go out there. Like I said we’ve got some areas we’ve got to clean up. Ball security on offense is certainly one, return game and special teams is one. We’ve got to tackle better and play better on defense. So it’s not that complicated. There are a lot of areas we can improve on.
“Hopefully we can go out and lay the foundation to get ready to build this spring and get the program back to where we want it to be.”