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7 notes from Paul Johnson’s teleconference

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson spoke with media Sunday afternoon via teleconference. Johnson said that center Kenny Cooper, who has been out since suffering a foot injury late in spring practice, is expected to return to practice Monday.

Among other updates and notes shared:

1. Johnson identified two of the candidates to return kickoffs for the Yellow Jackets, Juanyeh Thomas and Jaytlin Askew. Johnson said that in Friday’s scrimmage, Thomas had “a really good kick return” and Askew had “a nice kick return.” Also, Johnson said, Dontae Smith had some nice returns for the scout team.

Thomas is a freshman safety. Askew is a sophomore cornerback considered to be one of the fastest players on the team. Improving kickoff return has been a priority in the preseason, as the Jackets generated only two returns last season of 30 yards or more, and one of them was off Miami’s botched onside kick try that Lamont Simmons returned 42 yards for a touchdown.

Kickoff coverage has to improve also. The Jackets gave up eight kickoff returns of 30 yards or more last season, tied for 106th nationally. Kicker Harrison Butker was clearly missed after four years of making touchbacks routine. Johnson called it a work in progress.

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“A lot of it comes down to kicking the ball,” he said. “You’ve got to kick it with some hang time and kick it in the location you’re supposed to kick it in.”

2. Johnson also said the winner of the kicking competition between Brenton King, Shawn Davis and Wesley Wells has not been determined.

In the scrimmage, Johnson said that the kickoffs were decent but there was also a missed extra point. He said a starter will probably be named by Wednesday or Thursday.

Johnson said he had “no idea” if backup quarterbacks Tobias Oliver or James Graham would play on Saturday in the opener against Alcorn State. 

“I have no plan on putting them in in a certain series or whatever,” he said.

3. The starter at right guard will be Brad Morgan, a junior who is coming back from a back injury that limited him to four games last season. He has yet to start a game.

4. Johnson affirmed that David Curry will likely start at weakside linebacker ahead of Bruce Jordan-Swilling, though he said that both will play.

After gruesome thumb injury, David Curry competing to start

5. Safety Christian Campbell remains at the Stinger position (a hybrid safety/linebacker spot), where he’s competing with Jalen Johnson and freshman Charlie Thomas. Johnson said he did not know who would start there. Campbell had been at free safety, where grad transfer Malik Rivera is now the starter ahead of Juanyeh Thomas.

6. Johnson is eager for the season to see how well his team can play.

“When you play against yourself all spring and all camp, you really don’t have as good an idea as you’d like for both sides (offense and defense),” he said. “We may not find out for two, three weeks before you really get a feel for it.”

Johnson is particularly curious to see how his younger players respond against actual opponents.

“It’ll be good to finally play somebody in a different color jersey, somebody that you haven’t played against for eight weeks – four weeks of spring and four weeks of camp.”

7. Johnson was asked his assessment of his team’s preseason. His response:

“I think we got a lot of things done. We got a lot of reps in. We’ve got a lot of young guys that, the more reps you get, the better. We’ll see. You always like to be better than what you are, but overall, I can’t complain.”

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