March 29, 2016
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
As Georgia Tech began spring football practice Monday, Paul Johnson was the head coach who returned home to find cupboards not ransacked or bare but rather re-stocked.
The regular season is five months away, yet the return of so many injured players – especially on offense — sure felt better than last season when the Yellow Jackets lost so many players that it was difficult to keep track.
“It was great. It was good be back out there,” Johnson said after the first of 15 practices that will culminate April 23 with the spring game. “We’ve still got a real young team. It was good to get a lot of the guys who redshirted a year ago, and get them worked into the system.
“We’re going to have a lot of competition at a lot of positions. A lot of the young guys had to play last year out of necessity so the guys who got hurt that they replaced will be back so that ought to breed some really good competition.”
Tech has nine returning starters on offense although there are no guarantees that the same student-athletes will retain those positions.
The Jackets have more players to choose from than last season.
Running back C.J. Leggett, who had a leg up a chance to play B-back last season as a freshman before suffering a season-ending knee injury in summer practice, is back in action. Johnson said Leggett may not engage in contact this spring, but he’s just one of many more running backs in the picture.
Quaide Weimerskirch is back from a foot injury suffered last spring that prompted him to redshirt last season. KirVonte Benson, who redshirted last season after suffering a knee injury in his senior season of high school is in the mix, and early enrollee Dedrick Mills will get a look.
Marshall’s already become an old head, and he likes having company.
“It feels good to have a little more experience and know what I’m doing,” he said. “They look to me to answer more questions . . . I feel like that’s going to make everybody work harder.”
At A-back, Isiah Willis, TaQuon Marshall and Clinton Lynch are back among double-digit candidates, and Qua Searcy is in action after he was limited to the first three games last season before being shut down by injury.
Nathan Cottrell is expected to be ready to practice by summer after redshirt his freshman season with injury, and Georgia transfer J.J. Green is in the running now with several others.
Senior center Freddie Burden has the most secure hold on a starting spot on the offensive line although he’s sidelined this spring after off-season surgery that Johnson has said was on his thumb.
Junior Chris Griffin, who missed last season with a knee injury, is going to work at guard after starting seven games in 2014 at tackle.
“Last year was last year; we can’t worry about it,” said senior quarterback Justin Thomas. “We’ve got a new group of guys, the same group of guys also . . . We’ve got to put last year behind, look into the future.
“We’ve got a good amount of new faces, people who didn’t play last year or couldn’t play. J.J., Lynn [Griffin] starting off at running back. You’ve got a few more guys. Quaide is back, C.J. is back. It’s good to see those faces out there again.”
The biggest offensive change is in coaching with the addition of long-time assistant Ron West. He’ll help Mike Sewak coach the offensive line.
“I wanted to experiment with the special teams coach and I like the old model better so I wanted to get back to having two offensive line coaches,” Johnson said. “I think it’s virtually impossible for one guy to coach five guys with what we do. I think getting two up there will help us.”
Not to be left out of the expansion, the wide receiver position has grown, too.
Junior Ricky Jeune, Tech’s leading receiver with 24 receptions, is joined by Brad Stewart and Antonio Messick, who played last season, and 6-foot-3 freshmen Christian Philpott and Harland Howell. They’re coming off redshirt seasons to join several more aspiring wideouts.
The Jackets will soon move into pads and start cracking.
“Spring’s more physical than once you get into the season,” Johnson said. “I think it’s an opportunity where there is no scout team and everybody gets to play. The competition’s always great.”