Justin Thomas developing, but has a long way to go

The progress report for Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas was at once encouraging and sobering.

“He’s done all right,” quarterbacks and B-backs coach Bryan Cook said Wednesday. “He’s got a lot of work left to do.”

To emphasize the training that still remains for the likely starter for the Yellow Jackets next season, Cook elongated his pronunciation of “a lot.” Thankfully for the Jackets, Thomas still has eight more spring practice sessions before Tech wraps up. Tech is scheduled to scrimmage Saturday morning at Bobby Dodd Stadium in a closed practice.

“It’s going well,” Thomas said. “Just got to keep the momentum going because it gets tiring and you get hurt, a little banged up, a little sore, so we’ve just got to keep the mindset of getting better each day.”

Thomas rose to the top of the depth chart after 2013 starter Vad Lee transferred to James Madison after his first season as the starter. Thomas is backed by Tim Byerly, Ty Griffin and early-enrollee Matthew Jordan.

Cook’s goal for Thomas is to maximize practice repetitions, whether in option drills, seven-on-seven passing drills or 11-on-11 scrimmaging. Having played a limited role last season as a redshirt freshman behind Lee, Thomas needs as much experience as he can acquire. In Wednesday’s practice, Cook said, there were successes and failures.

“There’s probably four things he learned out there in live plays today that he needed to learn,” Cook said.

Cook is trying to hone in on three points — finishing runs, gaining comfort in the option game and reading defenses in the passing game.

“All the basic things to being a quarterback,” Cook said.

Thomas is improving his option reads. Cook said that he probably doesn’t value the option repetitions as much as he needs to, “but we’re getting there.”

Last season, Thomas showed potential, rushing 33 times for 234 yards, a 7.1 yards-per-carry average. Five of his runs extended 20 yards or more, a reflection on the speed that made him an Alabama state high school champion in the 100-meter dash. By comparison, Lee had one run of 20-plus yards in 182 attempts last season after recording eight in 96 carries in 2012.

Thomas completed nine of 17 passes for 131 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

“I’m more comfortable with the offense, know the reads, the checks,” he said. “I feel better as a whole.”

While the first game is still more than four months away, Thomas’ playmaking ability gives Cook comfort. In 11-on-11 work this spring, Thomas has bailed out the offense on multiple occasions by turning broken run plays and pass plays into big gains. For an offense that will replace three starters on the offensive line and two at running back, that’s not a bad skill.

“I’d rather have that because you can’t coach that,” Cook said. “I’d rather drive myself nuts coaching the other stuff and have a guy that can do that, if I was choosing.”

The flipside of his playmaking threat on broken plays is that his judgment on when to surrender was sometimes imprudent last season, as he sometimes made a bad play worse by trying to keep it alive. With four fumbles, his ball security also was an impediment. Both are on his list this spring.

“Mainly just taking care of the ball, not giving up negative plays, not getting a big play, then going back five yards,” Thomas said, ticking off his list of priorities. “That can kill you, just something that small. Just trying to keep the momentum going forwards and not going backwards.”

Within each play and throughout spring practice, it’s a practical objective.