Tech Tuesday Review: Thomas called on to lead over summer

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31: Justin Thomas #5 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets warms up before the Capital One Orange Bowl game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Sun Life Stadium on December 31, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit predicted Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas will be the game's most exciting player this season. (GETTY IMAGES)

Credit: Ken Sugiura

Credit: Ken Sugiura

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 31: Justin Thomas #5 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets warms up before the Capital One Orange Bowl game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Sun Life Stadium on December 31, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit predicted Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas will be the game's most exciting player this season. (GETTY IMAGES)

1. Injuries to Georgia Tech B-backs C.J. Leggett and Quaide Weimerskirch have been unsettling, but at least one of the the most significant priorities of the spring – to get quarterback Justin Thomas through the 15 practices without incident – was achieved.

Under the protection of a gold jersey – the first time coach Paul Johnson has placed a quarterback under non-contact orders for an entire spring – Thomas ran two possessions with the first-team offense Friday night and led the unit to one touchdown. Among his best plays was a 21-yard dart on the sideline to Ricky Jeune, who was under tight coverage by cornerback D.J. White.

“I thought he did a pretty good job,” Johnson said. “I’m standing behind the huddle, but the one wheel route he threw down the sideline, he hit the kid right in the hands. I think he dropped the ball. He did some good things this spring. I think he’s got a better understanding.”

Thomas now will be called upon to lead the team through the summer months, which could prove critical for an offense with so many new pieces. There were no small number of drops on Friday night, not the first time that problem has surfaced this spring. After practicing the mesh with Leggett and Weimerskirch this spring, Thomas and backup Tim Byerly now have to learn Marcus Allen, and he them.

The work begun with wide receivers Ricky Jeune, Antonio Messick and Harland Howell, as well as Micheal Summers, will continue in throwing sessions and 7-on-7 workouts. Christian Philpott, Brad Stewart and possibly Dorian Walker (listed as a WR/DB) will arrive in the summer. The A-backs, too, who were not immune from drops, will also need to train (voluntarily, of course) with Thomas and Byerly to aid their development in the passing game.

“They’ve all got to get together and work on it,” Johnson said last Monday. “That’s stuff they’ve got to work on. (Thomas) will do it. He’s willing to work. The other guys have go to work with him.”

It would be unreasonable to expect that any of the wide receivers could contribute in a way that DeAndre Smelter did the past two years or that running backs Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch and Allen can pick up right where the likes of Charles Perkins, Deon Hill and Synjyn Days left off in the Orange Bowl.

But the closer they can to being sound in assignment and scheme understanding and more sure-handed with the ball in the air, the more Tech can take advantage of the talents of their best player. Thomas said he feels the responsibility of leadership more this year, with veterans like Waller, Smelter, Days and Hill graduated.

“Last year, those guys kind of took me under their wing and I just kind of developed as time went along,” Thomas said. “Now, having been out there for a year and gotten the experience I’ve gotten, the younger guys, I’ve got to take them under my wing, try to develop them the best way I can.”

Even before spring practice had ended, he was seeing how they could best use their time over the summer. For instance, in learning a particular pass play, receivers have a specific route to run, but they also need to learn the adjustments on the route depending on coverage.

“Just small things like that,” Thomas said. “Just going out there, seeing a defense. It’s not just my job to see the defense. Everybody has their own part in it.”

2. As noted widely, it was the third consecutive year that weather put a damper on the Friday night spring game. Attendance was estimated at 4,000 Friday.

I like the idea of having it on Friday night. The first one, in 2012, drew 18,000, which was the largest attendance in recent years. However, weather has depressed attendance and, to some degree, enthusiasm for the Friday night slot.

I get the sense that, because of the weather trouble, the Friday setting has been branded with the inclement weather, which could make it more difficult to draw fans in coming years. It’s on the irrational side, given that the weather is obviously beyond control. Further, it has rained in Atlanta on the Saturday following the spring game each of the past three years.

Regardless, I’d wonder if moving it back to Saturday, or perhaps alternating it, might rebuild enthusiasm for the event, probably in the same way that moving it to Friday did in 2012.

3. The Tech baseball team, on the verge of breaking into the top 25 of multiple polls after two consecutive ACC series wins, fell back down the hill. The Jackets were swept by Boston College and, in fact, scored one run in 27 innings while mustering just 11 hits in 88 at-bats (.125). They collected eight of them in the second game, a 6-1 loss. The other two scores were 1-0 on Friday and 4-0 on Sunday.

Boston College had won just one out of six ACC series previously this season.

The sweep killed a stretch in which the Jackets had won seven of their previous nine and were in position to firm up their hold on second place in the Coastal behind Miami. Tech is instead in a tie for third at 9-12 with Virginia, a half-game ahead of Virginia Tech at 8-12 and 1 ½ games behind second place North Carolina.

Against Boston College, Tech was going for its third consecutive ACC series win, something it hasn’t done since 2011.

The Jackets play Kennesaw State Tuesday night at Russ Chandler Stadium at 6 p.m. and play a three-game series against Clemson at Russ Chandler this weekend. Tech is still No. 15 in RPI as of Tuesday afternoon after reaching as high as No. 11 last week.

4. Tech's athletes continue to achieve in the classroom. The mean GPA for all athletes was 3.01, a record, and was the second semester in a row that they earned a collective 3.0. Overall, 10 of the 13 varsity teams were above 3.0. The number of athletes on academic probation fell from 11 in the spring of 2014 to one in the fall of 2014 (that athlete graduated at the end of the semester).

Freshmen had a 3.07 GPA, also a record for Tech.

If you're wondering: Out of 390 athletes in the fall of 2014, 172 were in the College of Business (44.1 percent), 119 were in the College of Engineering (30.5 percent) followed by 40 in the Ivan Allen College (12.8 percent) and 28 in the College of Sciences (7.2 percent).

It’s not a true apples-to-apples comparison, but for fiscal year 2013, the percentage of degrees conferred for the entire student body was as follows: engineering (58.4 percent), business (13.1 percent), Ivan Allen (6.7 percent) and sciences (10.3 percent).

5. Former Tech golfer Richy Werenski won a Golf Channel reality show that has earned him a spot in the Barbasol Championship, a PGA Tour event in July in Opelika, Ala. Werenski, who was a part of three ACC championship teams at Tech, also won $60,000, an endorsement contract from Adams Golf and rental car and travel credit.

Werenski was the champion of “The Big Break,” a Golf Channel series in which aspiring professionals compete in challenges testing physical skills and mental toughness, with one competitor eliminated each week. Werenski won with a match-play win over Justin Martinson of Savannah. Former Tech golfer Kyle Scott was also on the show. The final show aired Monday night.

Werenski, who graduated from Tech last May, is No. 78 on the Tour with $17,561 in winnings in seven events.

6. The foundation for Tech great Calvin Johnson will hold a fund-raising dinner June 27 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. Tickets for the dinner are $125, with a table going for $500. The foundation's mission is to assist at-risk youth through free football camps, scholarships, leadership conferences and meals and gifts for the needy.

The event will also support pancreatic cancer research, following Johnson's mother Arica's diagnosis with (and subsequent recovery from)  the disease. For more information, visit the website for Johnson's foundation.

7. A handful of those athletes were also honored Monday night by their peers as the annual Yellow Jacket Celebration.

Women’s basketball player Kaela Davis and men’s swimmer Andrew Kosic were named the GTAA athletes of the year in a vote by Tech athletes and also for best record-breaking performances. Davis set the single-season scoring record with 652 points and was named first-team All-ACC. Kosic was a part of five school records set in this school year and earned two All-America citations at the NCAA championships. He leaves Tech holding with eight school records, either individually or as part of a relay.

Other winners:

Total Person Award: Morgan Jackson, women's cross country; Anders Albertson, golf

Rookie of the Year: Zaire O'Neil, women's basketball; KeShun Freeman, football

Best all-around team: Football

Best sports moment: "The Kick and the Pick" – kicker Harrison Butker's 53-yard field goal to force overtime against Georgia and cornerback D.J. White's game-sealing interception.

Spotlight awards (to athletes whose contributions to his or her team exceed athletics):

Football: Tim Byerly

Men's track and field: Jonathan Gardner

Men's cross country: Alex Grady

Women's cross country: Morgan Jackson

Men's basketball: Aaron Peek

Women's basketball: Antonia Peresson

Women's tennis: Alexis Prokopuik

Volleyball: Lauren Pitz

Women's swimming: Efrat Rotsztejn

Men's swimming: Mark Sarman

Cheerleading: Sarah Kate Somers

Softball: Morgan Taylor

Women's track: Jazmyne Taylor

Golf: Vincent Whaley

Baseball: Grant Wruble

Men's tennis: Daniel Yun

8. It has been a season of considerable challenge, but the men's tennis team finished its regular season with easily the biggest win of the season, upsetting No. 8 Duke 4-3 at the Ken Byers tennis Complex Sunday.

The Blue Devils were the highest-ranked team beaten by a Kenny Thorne-coached team since his arrival at Tech in 1998.

“This was an incredible match. Just a great college tennis match,” Thorne said in a news release. “We’ve been in this position in several matches this year, we did the right things and we didn’t get them. But these guys are young, and they have kept coming. This match shows what they’re made of.”

Carlos Benito won the deciding point in singles at No. 2 singles over No. 59 Raphael Hemmeler, 7-6 (13-11), 3-6, 6-3. Benito also won the clinching point in doubles, teaming with Eduardo Segura, playing the final home match of his career, winning at No. 1 singles 8-7 (7-2).

Tech will be the No. 10 seed at the ACC tournament and will play No. 7 seed Notre Dame Thursday in Cary, N.C.