Georgia Tech is about a month and a half from the start of spring practice and about seven months from the season opener.
But the ascension of quarterback Justin Thomas to the top of the Yellow Jackets’ depth chart has begun. After the unexpected transfer of Vad Lee to James Madison, Thomas, along with backup Tim Byerly, has been the one bringing teammates together for twice-weekly workouts at the team’s indoor practice facility.
“It comes with the role,” said Thomas, a sophomore from Prattville, Ala.
Thomas and the other quarterbacks have taken snaps with centers, thrown with receivers and backs and participated in the team’s winter workout program in the morning. He has spent time in the video room watching game and practice clips. He can’t deny that it’s exciting to know that he’s in the top slot.
“I feel ready to get this show on the road,” he said in an interview Monday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Hopefully, we do good things this year.”
Thomas said he was surprised when he learned of Lee’s transfer from teammates via text messages. His reaction for what it meant for him was mixed.
“It’s like, you want the job, but you don’t want it like that,” he said. “If it comes, you’re going to take it.”
He made this much clear — he’s comfortable running Tech’s option-based spread offense. Lee left Tech when his expectations that the offense would shift more toward passing weren’t met. As a four-star prospect, Thomas reneged on a commitment to Alabama and chose Tech after learning he couldn’t play quarterback for the Crimson Tide. Thomas recalled coach Paul Johnson showing him video of the base offense.
“He was saying, ‘This is what we run, this is what we do,’” Thomas said. “I was like, That’s cool. It’s fine with me. I feel like I can roll with it.”
He has plenty who believe in him.
Former Tech B-back David Sims touted Thomas in the spring. On top of Thomas’ speed — he won the state 100-meter championship as a high school senior — Sims said recently that he has a good feel for the option game and good footwork.
Further, “he has a pretty good arm,” Sims said. “That’s what a lot of people don’t know about Justin.”
Former Tech offensive lineman Will Jackson said that in conversations with Lee before his transfer, the two came to the conclusion that Thomas was a better fit for the offense than Lee was.
“He’s one of the most dynamic playmakers I’ve been around,” Jackson said. “When he has the ball in his hands, I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody run the ball in football pads that’s as fast as he is.”
He showed glimpses as a backup behind Lee, averaging 7.1 yards per carry on 33 attempts last season. He completed nine of 17 passes for 131 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Memorably, he sped through the Syracuse defense for a 50-yard touchdown run on a triple-option keeper. After evading a tackle at the Syracuse 40-yard line, he reached the 20, running at a slight angle, in roughly 2.2 seconds.
While his promotion was unexpected, Thomas does not seem overwhelmed. He has met a couple of times with Johnson, wants to build cohesion and trust within the team and is trying to do his part to bring center Freddie Burden and wide receiver Anthony Autry, who both missed the season with knee injuries, back up to speed.
He wants to add six pounds to get to 190 — “no fat, though,” he said — and watches video looking for mistakes to correct. From his review, he has noticed that he became more comfortable with the offense as the season progressed.
He is otherwise not too impressed with his standing.
“You’re starting, but you’ve still got to prove yourself, no matter what,” he said.
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