Johnson defends offense's cut blocking

Following Georgia Tech’s 38-14 win over Duke on Saturday, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe questioned the safety of cut blocking and advocated that such blocks be eliminated from the game.

On Tuesday, Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose offensive scheme includes a heavy dose of cut blocking, responded.

“I would be the first guy to (endorse a ban on cut blocking) if you can give me some data and show me some proof that more guys get injured that way,” Johnson said at his weekly news conference. “Nobody wants to hurt anybody, but nobody can (offer proof). Every time it comes up, I go, ‘Well, where’s the research?’”

While the Yellow Jackets have gained something of a reputation for blocking below the waist, often below the knees, virtually every team employs cut blocks to some degree.

“They cut block us as much as we cut block them is what’s hilarious,” Johnson said, referring to the Blue Devils.

After the game, in speaking about Tech’s cut blocking, Cutcliffe mentioned the increasing attention to player safety and the complexity of rules covering blocks below the waist.

“The officials can’t officiate it, in my opinion,” he said. “That’s why I’m a proponent to just take it out of the game. It’s easier to officiate, it’s safer for the kids.”

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, whose team faces Tech on Saturday, also weighed in.

“It is legal and part of the game,” he said. “Who am I to complain about that?”

Injury report: On Tuesday, nose tackle Shawn Green participated in a full-pads practice for the first time since spring practice, when he injured his shoulder and then had surgery.

“I was pretty eager to get out there and hit somebody,” said Green, whose first hit in practice was on walk-on A-back Sam McNearney.

Green said he needs to improve his footwork and his technique with his hands, but hopes he can play Saturday against North Carolina. Tech could use Green’s help, as the Tar Heels run an up-tempo offense that can wear out defenses.

Safety Isaiah Johnson took part in some of Tuesday’s contact practice, defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. Johnson, coming back from an ACL tear, has been cleared, but is exercising caution in his return.

“A step in the right direction,” Roof said. “Getting closer and closer and see how it goes.”

Scouting report: While North Carolina's marquee player is record-setting quarterback Bryn Renner, Tech coaches are concerned with tight end Eric Ebron. Paul Johnson called him "probably an NFL guy." Ebron caught 40 passes for 625 yards last season, setting a school record for tight ends for catches and receiving yards. He has a team-high seven catches for 92 yards this season.

“We’ve just got to play our scheme and get guys around him, try to pressure the quarterback,” Johnson said. “He’s going to make his plays.”

Special-teams work: Tech's kickoff-return game needs to improve, special-teams coordinator David Walkosky said. In the first two games, because of the Elon shutout and a touchback and a failed onside-kick try by Duke, the Jackets have had two actual returns, both by Jamal Golden. They produced 44 yards.

Walkosky said improvement requires “just me coaching individual positions better. That’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job.”

He was proud of the punt-return team against Duke, as the Blue Devils punted out of multiple formations that required Tech to defend against a possible fake.

Thomas plan: Johnson said that plans remain the same regarding backup quarterback Justin Thomas, who played only the final clock-killing series of the Duke game. Johnson said he won't put Thomas in the game for its own sake.

“I’ve said all along, it’s by situation,” Johnson said. “Justin continues to work hard, and I have no problem putting him in the game if it warrants. I didn’t see a reason last week to put him in the game.”

Next week: Tech will wear throwback uniforms for its Sept. 26 game against Virginia Tech in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Grant Field. More than 35 Tech All-Americans will attend the game and be recognized at halftime.

The game will also be a “white-out.”