Georgia Tech freshman quarterback James Graham at preseason practice August 7, 2018. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Redshirt season for QB James Graham, if Paul Johnson can help it

Georgia Tech freshman quarterback James Graham will use his redshirt this season if coach Paul Johnson can help it.

In a Sunday teleconference, Johnson acknowledged that he’ll probably develop a package of plays for Graham to run, “but he’s still learning the offense and coming along, and we’ll see. I’m not going to play him just to put him in the game. If he’s going to play and we need him to win, then we’ll use him. Otherwise, we’ll save that (redshirt) year for him, too.”

In a Friday interview with 92.9 FM, Johnson said that Graham “might be as good an athlete as we’ve ever had at that position.” Johnson previously called Graham “dynamic” with ability that can’t be taught. Clearly, he has been impressive in the preseason. With Johnson, “O.K.” can be a compliment.

But, Johnson spelled out the plan for Graham this season, which generally follows the plan for all freshmen at Tech. If coaches believe they need him to help them win games this season, then he’ll play. Otherwise, he’ll redshirt, as it’s better to have Graham contribute as a 23-year-old redshirt senior than a 19-year-old freshman. 

Particularly for the quarterback position, there is also wisdom in redshirting Graham in order to keep balance at the position. Lucas Johnson, out for the season, is a sophomore. No. 2 backup Tobias Oliver is a redshirt freshman. Coaches’ preference likely would be for Graham to not be in the same class as Oliver.

More: Center Kenny Cooper is scheduled to return to practice. More on his timetable to return to the field.

Paul Johnson’s assessment of Graham earlier in the preseason

Paul Johnson shared updates on injuries and the depth chart on Sunday

Further, there’s no telling what Oliver can do in a backup role. He’s a tough runner whose true utility may not have been revealed in spring practice or the preseason, when quarterbacks have been in gold (non-contact) jerseys. To the extent that a backup quarterback will be needed to play this season, Oliver may well obviate the need for Graham to also be on the field.

Johnson said earlier in the preseason that playing in gold affects Oliver more than quarterback TaQuon Marshall “because he’s more of a slasher, and the way we play, if somebody one-hand touches them, they’re down.”

Saturday’s game against Alcorn State will be the first time Johnson will have to reveal his hand about how he plans to use the new NCAA rule which permits players to play up to four games and still use a redshirt.

It would not be a surprise if the score on Saturday permits Tech to go deep in the depth chart. It could be an ideal situation to acclimate players like Graham to the college game. However, that would also use up one of their four games where they’re likely not helping determine the final outcome.

There may be games later on where the depth chart gets thinned by injury and a freshman can help the Jackets ride through a game or two. Is it better to use a possible blowout game to get players some experience and then pick and choose the final three opportunities or to keep all four games pocketed for when the freshmen might be more needed?

Johnson said Sunday that he had no plan for putting Oliver or Graham in a certain series. Instead, the score and feel of the game will likely influence such decisions.

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