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#TGW: It's Time to Roll

Sept. 3, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Paul Johnson would love to see the Yellow Jackets pick up tonight against Alcorn State where they left off last season, but Georgia Tech’s coach plans on problems.

Kids tend to mess things up.

Quarterback Justin Thomas and enough Yellow Jackets return from whipping Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl that Tech is ranked No. 17, yet several freshmen – perhaps nine, 10 or more — are going to play.

This will not be because the Braves are an FCS team, nor because Johnson expects to flatten the defending SWAC champions in the teams’ first meeting.

When your top three B-backs graduate, both starting wide receivers go to the NFL, and five of the top six A-backs move on, there will be serious spinning of the player Rolodex.

Add prevailing opinion that these freshman may form Johnson’s most bountiful recruiting class, and there will be a lot of fresh faces in Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“I think that as a whole, the freshman class was really good [in preseason practices],” Johnson said. “We are excited about them. There will be several guys who will play a lot out of that class. We were pleased with that overall group.”

Until wide receiver Micheal Summers returned to practice from injury, Brad Stewart was in line to be the first true freshman to start for Tech since Tyler Melton in 2008.

Stewart still will play, and fellow true freshmen A.J. Gray, Marcus Marshall, Anree Saint-Amour, Brentavious Glanton, Kyle Cerge-Henderson, Meiko Dotson and David Curry are not likely to redshirt, either.

They’re in the mix, on the Jackets’ two-deep along with true freshmen TaQuon Marshall, Will Bryan, Harland Howell, Victor Alexander and Brant Mitchell. Redshirt freshmen Qua Searcy, Trey Klock and Jake Whitley are listed as well.

Patrick Skov will be the oldest new face. The Stanford graduate is expected to start at B-back, where he, Marcus Marshall and junior Marcus Allen are tasked with filling shoes worn admirably last season by Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days and Matt Connors to the tune of a combined 1,888 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.

None of them have ever carried the ball for Tech in a game.

On the flanks, Searcy will see his first college action, and TaQuon Marshall may get work at A-back behind starters Broderick Snoddy and Isaiah Willis.

Stewart, Howell and sophomores Ricky Jeune and Antonio Messick – who have one combined catch between them — will help Summers fill out at wideout.

You may not know their names yet. Johnson does and as long as they do, the head coach is ready to go. Asked about calming the younger Jackets, he balked.

“No, not really; I want them excited,” he said. “If they are running around and cannot remember their names, we will kind of have to do something. I fully expect that we are not going to be perfect . . .

“We are going to play some freshmen and they are going to make some mistakes. You just hope that they don’t make enough of them to really cost you.”

Fortunately, as the Jackets ramp up with so many new names in the backfield, Tech is more experienced up front.

Offensive linemen Bryan Chamberlain, Trey Braun, Freddie Burden and Errin Joe have 60 combined career starts, and new right guard Shamire Devine played in 13 games as a redshirt freshman.

Line coach Mike Sewak’s group is tasked with giving others room to grow.

“Any time you’ve got an experienced group, there are more expectations because they have to carry the other groups because the inexperience is going to show,” he said. “It always manifests itself in the early part of the year.

“I’ve seen a lot of guys making plays [at the skill positions], and sometimes they’re numbers that I’m not used to . . . but I’m sure those guys are capable. The guys who are going to play have earned that responsibility.”

Tech’s new offenders may also be afforded more time by a defense that returns eight starters, and appears to have admirable depth.

Their chief assignment will be to check Alcorn State quarterback John Gibbs, Jr., a 6-foot-6, 220-pound junior who last season passed for 2,482 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 1,006 yards and 11 scores.

“He’s definitely a great athlete, someone you don’t want to underestimate because he’s big, he’s fast,” said sophomore defensive end KeShun Freeman, who recently proved that freshmen can leave marks. “We really have to make sure we’re in the right spot at the right time.”

Chances are the Jackets won’t always hit their marks, but Thomas doesn’t believe that he will have to do more than usual while younger teammates nurse.

“Not really,” he said. “I hold myself to a high standard, and I expect the guys around me . . . they’re all the same. I expect the guys around me to play as hard as they can. That’s all that I can ask.”

As a fourth-year junior with 27 college games and 19 starts behind him, Summers likewise disapproves of chatter about slow and steady indoctrination.

“Our expectations have been the same ever since I’ve been here: to be the best team possible,” he said. “I get the sense that everyone is focused, locked in and knows what the objective is going forward.”

Johnson knows the Jackets won’t be perfect, but as long as they grow from whatever fits and starts they endure, he’ll take what he gets.

“The important thing is that we go out there and start to develop our identity as a team,” the coach said. “And when we make a mistake, we do not make the same one over and over again; we learn from it.”


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