In college football, the rule of thumb is that you don’t want to look too far ahead. In football coaches’ terms, that’s not past the week ahead.
But, human nature being what it is, there’s just no way to avoid looking ahead to the season-opener. It’s the reason the words “Alcorn State” have been used more by Georgia Tech student-athletes in the past month than since, well, late August 2015, the only other time the Yellow Jackets met the Braves.
The good news is they won’t have to look too far to see the opener, as it actually is the week ahead — next Saturday, to be exact. T-minus-10…
“We’re getting to the point now, where it’s, as I told our guys, it’s close to game week,” said head coach Paul Johnson following Wednesday’s practice. “We’ll go in shells [Thursday] and play a Friday game. Then we’ll give them the weekend off and hopefully get their legs back. I know they’re a little leg-weary.”
Johnson feels his players are locked in enough. So tunnel-visioned, in fact, that they’ve measured their excitement for next week’s opener, kind of not seeing the forest for the trees.
“I think you’ll see [the excitement] when you get to game week,” he said. “Right now, it’s still a long way off to them.”
Things will get a lot closer on Friday.
“Friday will be a game-scrimmage. We’ll go through all the situations,” Johnson said.
“All the situations” means ALL the situations. That’s creating more than a little anxiety for Johnson and the staff.
“You never have enough time. You stress about going through everything that you have to go through and just you hope that you can cover everything,” he said. “I’ve been doing this long enough, I’ve got a long list of stuff that can happen in games and we’ll try to get all of it in on Friday.
“It’s interesting. Sometimes I’ll tell the quarterback to throw it to the other team and he’ll look at me like, ‘You’re nuts,’” he added. “But you’ve got to practice all that stuff. Score on defense and the other team scores on defense and all those kinds of things you need to practice.”
There also are still some position battles to be won. On the defensive side, first-year defensive coordinator Nate Woody is still getting a good look at his depth and trying to settle some of those roles.
“I think they want to play a lot of guys,” said Johnson. “I’m sure what’s going to happen is early on they’re going to roll some guys and then whoever ends up playing the hardest and playing the best will be the guys that get to play the most.”
The stinger linebacker position is one such battle.
“[Jalen Johnson] and Christian [Campbell] are competing at that stinger position, so I’m sure they’ll both play,” said Johnson. “I know that (Johnson’s) had to fight a lot of injuries but he’s pretty healthy now so hopefully he’ll get to play. [Freshman] Charlie Thomas is there, too. I don’t know how much he’ll play. It just depends how deep they get and what they’re doing, I imagine.”
Strong safety also is up for grabs, with Kaleb Oliver and Tariq Carpenter expected to see time. About the only edge Johnson would give in that competition is to Oliver — Johnson jokingly said that Oliver has “stood out” more because he literally stands two inches taller (6-4 to 6-2).
It’s said there’s safety in numbers and Tech certainly has numbers at both safety positions.
“They’re just kind of rolling,” Johnson said. “Juanyeh [Thomas] is back there some, Malik [Rivera], all those safeties are interchangeable. Kaleb … Christian could go back there if he had to. There’s just a bunch of guys rolling back there.”
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line will continue to be closely watched as the opener nears.
“We’ll just see who’s available. That’s always the thing,” Johnson said. “I think we know who the starters are if everybody’s out there but we’ve got probably nine or 10 we can rotate. Probably will in the first game.”
Wednesday’s practice served as an example of what the head coach meant by “we’ll just see who’s available.” Potential starting right guard Brad Morgan return to action after an injury and Andrew Marshall, who’s spent almost all of camp at tackle, got some reps at center before having to leave practice himself (although Johnson said Marshall’s injured foot, which cost him all of last season, wasn’t an issue and expects him to be okay).
Marshall was at center because last year’s starting left tackle and this year’s presumed starter at center, Jahaziel Lee, is at home in Louisiana due to a death in his family. Lee is the presumed starter at center because last year’s starter, Kenny Cooper, isn’t expected to return to practice until next week due to a lower-body injury sustained during spring practice.
There’s also a slew of youngsters competing for a backup guard position — among them are true freshman Austin Smith, redshirt freshman Charlie Clark, sophomores Connor Hansen and Chet Lagod and junior Scott Morgan.
“It’s just a constant move-around,” said Johnson.
Johnson and the staff will continue to evaluate and the evaluation period will likely continue into the season. There’ll be no rush to judgement.
“I usually don’t single guys out. We’ve had guys that had good summers,” he said. “We’re getting ready to play. Let’s let them play a little bit before we start singling them out. We’ll know soon enough.”
Paul Johnson (Post-Practice Press Conference – Practice No. 19 – Thursday, Aug. 23)
Paul Johnson (Post-Practice Press Conference - Practice No. 18 - Wednesday, Aug. 22)