“There’s going to be some strategy in when do you play them,” Johnson said at the ACC Kickoff on Wednesday. “I don’t think you just go throw ’em out and play ’em the first four games. You kind of have to watch and see.”
In the past, decisions on whether to place a freshman on the depth chart, in anticipation on having him play that season, have been made during the preseason. Sometimes, Johnson has kept freshmen out of games early on in the season, waiting to see if their redshirts can be protected, or if they develop to the point where coaches decide they’re ready to contribute.
Sometimes, that has been a source of frustration for Johnson.
“One of my most frustrating things is, I sit in a staff meeting and the assistant coach or position coach says, ‘I’ve got to have (a certain freshman) to play,’ so we put him in that first game, or you put him in a blowout game, or you put him in a game, and then he never plays again and you’ve wasted a year of eligibility for 10 plays.”
In recent seasons, defensive lineman Tyler Merriweather and offensive lineman Connor Hansen are two who fit that description. Merriweather, now a senior, played sparingly in his freshman season. It cost him a redshirt season, although he effectively gained it back when he redshirted as a sophomore. Hansen played in three games as a reserve last season.
Coaches will have more leeway in cases like this.
“What this’ll be able to do for me as a head coach – ‘OK, we’ve got to have Jimmy the first couple games,’” Johnson said, offering a situation of an assistant making a case for a freshman. “Now, if he’s not playing in Game 4, that’s over, pal. You’ve no longer got Jimmy. He’s redshirting. I think it protects the kids, it helps you, it does a lot of things.”
One issue Johnson raised is getting freshmen ready to play. In the past, freshmen who were to be redshirted played on the scout team, preventing them from gaining experience practicing the team’s offensive or defensive schemes. A freshman who works solely with the scout team would have a difficult time playing with the offense or defense in an actual game. Special teams might be a different matter.
“That’s going to be a challenge to transition them to see who’s going to play,” Johnson said.
Johnson also was hopeful that, for such players, the chance of playing in games will improve morale.
“It’ll keep those guys more interested,” he said. “They feel like they’re more part of the team.”
The most notable player on the Tech roster who would have benefited from the rule is quarterback TaQuon Marshall, who played in two games as a sophomore in 2016 as the No. 3 quarterback. Had the rule been in place then, Marshall would be a fourth-year junior this season and not a senior.
Marshall said he looks backs and wishes he could have redshirted. The first reason he gave was that doing so would have enabled him to take 4-1/2 or five years to complete his degree work and not four.
“My school load would be completely different than it is right now,” he said. “And just to be able to sit back and know that instead of going into my last year, I’d have two more years of this. That rule right there is literally a huge rule change. It’s going to affect a lot of players, a lot of teams.”