Given the chance to take a victory lap to celebrate the rule change he brought about to the ACC’s scheduling model, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson did something that doesn’t come naturally to him. He punted.
At the ACC Kickoff on Friday, Johnson praised the rule change, reported Thursday by the AJC, that will limit the number of times that teams can be assigned games in which their opponents will have extra rest and practice time. But he didn’t take the opportunity to needle the conference.
“I think all anybody looks for is something that’s equitable and fair to everybody,” he said. “I think that’s a good rule.”
In January, Johnson unloaded on the ACC for again having given the Yellow Jackets league games in which their opponents will be coming off an open week and Tech will not. The Jackets play two such games this season, against Wake Forest and Clemson. Including the coming season, Tech has had 12 ACC games with a rest disadvantage in Johnson’s 10 seasons, more than any team in the league, twice as many as North Carolina.
At the time, Johnson repeated his contention that teams were requesting to play Tech after their bye week, and that the league was complying, which the ACC has denied. At the league’s spring meetings in May, athletic directors unanimously passed a proposal crafted by Tech athletic director Todd Stansbury (with the league’s help) that will limit each team to be in that situation just once per season.
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“Truthfully, I’m not sure some of the coaches even knew there was that much of a disparity because if it isn’t affecting you, (you don’t notice),” Johnson said. “But I think Todd did a nice job presenting it to the athletic directors, and they were really the ones who pushed it through.”
Asked about commissioner John Swofford’s comments Thursday that “Paul was not accurate in some of his comments,” Johnson replied, “Well, everybody has an opinion.”
Asked later if he still held the opinion that he gave in January that “the conference tries to screw us every way they can,” Johnson was atypically reticent.
“You’re not going to get me to say anything else about the schedule,” he said. “The rule’s in, it’s great. I think it’s a good rule.”
Johnson disclosed later that he was fined for his comments in January.
Johnson was more eager to discuss other topics at the media event, expressing particular optimism in his younger offensive linemen, namely center Kenny Cooper.
“I really think some of our young offensive linemen have a chance to be really, really good if they’ll continue to work,” he said. “They could be some of the better players we’ve had since I’ve been here. Probably already are.”
Cooper is slated to take over for All-ACC center Freddie Burden, a three-year starter.
“Kenny Cooper can be a tremendous player,” Johnson said. “He has a chance to be as good as anybody we’ve had there at that position if he’ll commit to keep his weight down and work hard. He’s a very talented young man.”
Among those who have preceded Cooper at center in Johnson’s tenure: Sean Bedford, a two-time first-team All-ACC selection. Cooper was one of three freshmen to start on the offensive line last season, a rarity. Guard Parker Braun, who led the team in cut blocks despite starting just eight games and Thursday was named to the Outland Trophy watch list for top interior lineman, is one. Offensive tackle Jahaziel Lee is the other.
“Parker got described to me by one of the opposing coaches before a game as ‘a rolling ball of butcher knives,’” Johnson said. “That’s a pretty good description for an offensive lineman.”
Johnson confirmed quarterback Matthew Jordan’s expectation that he’ll be ready for preseason camp after undergoing surgery to repair a foot injury suffered in the preseason.
“He’s way ahead of schedule,” Johnson said. “Actually, I talked to (sports medicine director Jay Shoop) (on Thursday) and we expect him to be full go in fall camp.”
Johnson called the job Jordan’s to lose, but repeated the optimism he expressed in spring for the whole quarterback group, including junior TaQuon Marshall and redshirt freshmen Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones. Johnson said that Jordan is tough and respected. Jones is very talented but has to learn better ball security. Lucas Johnson “plays well beyond his years” and has “a little moxie,” the coach said, but just needs experience and confidence. Marshall is highly confident.
“If you ask him, he’ll tell you right now he’s the best, but I think they all will,” he said. “And that’s what you want.”
Asked if it was the best group of quarterbacks that he has had at Tech, Johnson replied, “As a total group? Oh, yeah, no question.”
Johnson said that he expects the whole roster to be ready for camp, which begins in early August, including A-back Clinton Lynch, who sat out spring practice with an undisclosed injury.
“I think I saw where somebody had ranked our schedule as the seventh toughest in the country, but we’ve had a good offseason, a good spring practice, and looking forward to getting started,” Johnson said.