The NCAA may have given football players the freedom to play four games in a season and still count it as a redshirt season, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen on a widespread basis.
While Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson called the measure “very much needed” and “good on so many levels” at the ACC Kickoff in July, he indicated at the team’s media day last week that he may not make much use of the rule.
“We’ll have to see as it plays out,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to impact a whole lot. We usually look at the freshmen, and if they’re good enough to help us win, we play them.”
Johnson’s perspective on the matter stems from the value that redshirting freshmen provide through performing on the scout team. Generally, they’re more useful on the scout team than as fourth-stringers.
“If you want to be good, you’ve got to make the scout team as good as you can get it for the other team,” Johnson said. “So we’ll have a lot of scholarship freshmen on the scout team on both sides of the ball.”
In practice, the starters and backups expected to play in games run plays against the scout team, which mimics the coming opponent’s look. That being the case, scout-team players don’t have much opportunity to learn Tech’s schemes and plays and, further, to do so well enough to help the Yellow Jackets win games. It’s especially so given the fact that they were put on scout team in the first place because coaches judged them not ready to contribute on the field.
Could special teams be another route?
“I guess,” Johnson said, “but I’m not going to put ’em out there just so I play them. They’ve got to give us a chance to win.”
Johnson also had qualms about giving freshmen a handful of plays in four games – at which point another game would require them to use a season of eligibility. That plan could backfire if there were a string of injuries at that player’s position and then he had to play a fifth game in an emergency role, thus burning his redshirt with fairly minimal return.
Using redshirting freshmen in emergency situations might be the most likely way that Tech uses them in four games or fewer. Guard Connor Hansen, for instance, played three games in a backup role last season as a freshman when line depth grew thin.
Another situation might be a player who develops over the course of the season enough to the point where coaches determine he can help in the latter part of the season. Coaches sometimes shuttle players from scout team to what they call the “varsity” to develop depth. Such a freshman might be used now where he wouldn’t have been previously.
But, for freshmen wanting to see the field this season for certain, the preseason is essential.
“Sometimes we’ll roll guys back and forth,” Johnson said. “But if you don’t want to be on the scout team, you’d better show something the first two weeks (of preseason).”
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