Hope you’re well. I’m headed back home from Pinehurst after two days of interviews at the ACC football kickoff. There’s a lot to sort through, though you’ll be surprised to know that every coach and player is excited about the season and believes his team has a chance to compete for an ACC title.
The focus Monday was the hour that Georgia Tech Paul Johnson spent talking to print media. While most of the time was spent answering football questions, he answered plenty about the recent NCAA ruling, and became a bit impatient with the questions.
I wrote about it for Tuesday’s paper. I don’t know how interested you are in hearing more about it. He talked a lot more about the upcoming season than the NCAA investigation and sanctions, which I’m guessing you’d like to hear more about. So, four things I learned from Johnson.
1. He has considerable hope for the offensive line. I wrote about this previously, that his outlook has improved since the spring, but he shed a little more light on it Monday. He acknowledged the youth – two new starters, four second-string players who are sophomores or freshmen and have played a four three games – but said “We’ve got some guys who can do what we want them to do.”
It bears noting that all of the linemen in the two-deep are players that Johnson recruited. He pointed out that the group he expects to start didn’t get a lot of time together in spring practice because of injuries, but he said he was encouraged by the group’s athletic ability and potential, players like Jay Finch and Morgan Bailey, among others.
“I’m actually excited about our offensive line,” he said.
2. Vad Lee might have a little more chance to play this fall than I previously thought. My take on the incoming freshman quarterback was that he would almost certainly be redshirted given the short time he would have to digest the offense. Comments from Johnson at different times downplayed the possibility. However, Johnson said coaches will “take a good, long look at Vad in fall camp. If we feel like he gives us the best chance to win, we’ll either play him or have a package for him or have something that he can do.”
It’s probably parsing, but to me Johnson left the door open a little more to the possibility of Lee playing.
3. Johnson likes the personality of the team. Plenty has been written about the team being more dedicated and so forth after going 6-7 last season, but Johnson shed a little more light on what he’s seen.
“This is a fun group to be around,” he said.
Players are often hanging out in the football offices talking with coaches, he said, which is a little different than the past. He allowed that it might have something to do with the fact that the team is largely made up of players he recruited. That’s probably true to an extent, but it’s also true that many of the team leaders were recruited by Chan Gailey, players like Roddy Jones, Logan Walls, Jason Peters and Steven Sylvester.
“Sometimes when you don’t do as well, it kind of draws everybody together, too,” Johnson said. “You find out who your friends are and who your enemies are.”
4. Cornerback Ryan Ayers is transferring to Liberty, as I mentioned it in the notes. Ayers turned down offers from Georgia, Alabama and Auburn coming out of South Paulding High and was going to compete for a spot in the lineup, behind Rod Sweeting on the pre-camp depth chart. Johnson said a member of Liberty’s strength and conditioning staff is someone he grew up with and considers a brother, and “from a personal standpoint, he felt like that would be something he needed to do.” Johnson also said Liberty offered a major that Ayers was interested in.
Johnson granted the release. “I think that might be a good move for him,” he said.
5. Tech has a new poster boy in Albert Rocker. The former linebacker had a year of eligibility remaining but had graduated, and was offered a job with Microsoft. Johnson said Rocker would have helped the team this season, but Johnson thought the choice was obvious.
Said Johnson, “I’m like, that’s what you came to Georgia Tech for. Here’s your opportunity.”
Johnson liked the idea of using Rocker as part of his recruiting pitch, putting a picture of Rocker next to those of NFL players Calvin Johnson or Demaryius Thomas in recruiting send-outs.
“I’m just as proud of him as the guys who are in the NFL,” Johnson said.
My buddy Matt Winkeljohn wrote a piece on him worth reading last week.