Among the updates, opinions and pieces of information offered by Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson at his media-day news conference Thursday at Bobby Dodd Stadium:
1. Looking for wide receivers
Wide receiver is the one spot on the offense where coaches are still working on developing depth.
“We’ll take a good look at a couple of the young guys there, see if they fit in the mix, and there may be some freshmen that fit in at every position – you don’t know till you get out there,” Johnson said.
Returners Brad Stewart and Jalen Camp would seem entrenched in the rotation, if not the starting lineup. Coaches would love for one or two players to progress to the point where they would be comfortable putting them in a rotation without sacrificing too much in quality.
Contenders include sophomores Stephen Dolphus and Jair Hawkins-Anderson, redshirt freshman Adonicas Sanders and incoming freshmen Malachi Carter and Peje Harris. Wide receiver has been a position where incoming freshmen have sometimes been able to earn playing time, including Stewart and Camp.
2. Developing young secondary
The defensive coaching staff will have to sort through a number of young players in the secondary to identify the ones who can contribute. Among scholarship players, there are three freshmen (Jaylon King, Zamari Walton and Juanyeh Thomas) and four redshirt freshmen (Tre Swilling, Avery Showell, Gentry Bonds, Dameon Williams and Kaleb Oliver) in the secondary. Defensive backs have played as freshmen in Johnson’s tenure as much as any other position group.
Altogether, there’s 15 scholarship players in the defensive backfield.
“I think that we’ve got some talented guys back there, but we’ve got to watch ’em play and see what they do,” Johnson said. “That’s the one spot we may not play as many people as the other places. By the time we come out of the first two weeks of camp, we’ll have a good idea what the freshmen can do back there and who can contribute and who can play. We’ll go into that first game with a pretty good idea of what’s going on. It’ll be a gradual process the year; it always is. I think we’ve got some guys back there that can play.”
3. The competition behind TaQuon Marshall
Johnson expressed confidence in his backups behind quarterback TaQuon Marshall – sophomore Lucas Johnson, redshirt freshman Tobias Oliver and incoming freshman James Graham.
“Lucas has the experience and he’s played,” Johnson said. “I thought that until he got hurt he had a good spring. Tobias is a tough kid who had a good spring. It’d be hard for a freshman, but we’ll see what James can do. I mean, he’s very talented. I’m not worried about that position. I feel like we’ve got three guys that can play right now, and may have more than that by the time the season starts.”
4. Kicking derby wide open
Johnson said the kicking competition is wide open, mentioning the addition of two walk-on freshmen as candidates. Last season, Shawn Davis began the season at the top of the depth chart before tearing his ACL in the Miami game. Brenton King took over. Davis has been cleared to return. Cliff Gandis and Wesley Wells are the two freshmen.
“They’re all healthy and there ought to be some good competition,” Johnson said.
He said further that he is concerned both about field-goal kicking and kickoffs. King was 5-for-6 on field-goal attempts, but his long was 42 yards. He also had one touchback in 24 kickoffs. Davis was 2-for-4 on field-goal attempts and had eight touchbacks in 27 kickoffs.
“We’ve got to do better at all of it,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to do better at covering them, but we’ve got to do a better job in that facet of it, there’s no question. And our return game, as well. We were terrible in returns.”
Without a coach solely dedicated to special teams, Tech splits up coaching responsibilities for different special-teams units among assistants. Johnson reassigned jobs this offseason in hopes of improving play.
5. Thoughts on Ohio State
Johnson was asked about the situation at Ohio State, where coach Urban Meyer has been placed on administrative leave as the school investigates what he knew about domestic violence allegations against a longtime assistant coach.
“I think anytime something happens that’s high-profile like that, everybody kind of steps back and thinks about it and thinks about, what if that were a situation that you would be in,” Johnson said. “So certainly, it’s on people’s minds. Thank goodness it’s not my problem. But I think anytime you deal with those things, you’ve just got to go through the proper chain of command. You’ve got to let your people above you know and handle it that way. That’s the way you’ve got to do it.”
6. Excited by new locker room?
Johnson, if this season feels differently to him because of the changes with the locker room and the team’s apparel: “I think there’s some things going on. Some things’ll be different, but no, not really. I get excited every year for the season.”
7. Heat and humidity
Johnson said his concern with the second game of the season against USF is the weather. He surmised that “it’ll only be about 110 (degrees)” when the game kicks off in Tampa, Fla., at noon.
“We’ll try to get in the heat as much as we can,” Johnson said. “Having coached down in Statesboro for a long time, I’ve been plenty of teams come down there and melt. And the only way you can get used to it is by practicing in it and doing it. We’ll be outside every chance we get in the heat.”
Last year, according to timeanddate.com, the high in Tampa last year on Sept. 8 between noon and 6 p.m. was 95 degrees, with 71 percent humidity.