Just returned from the kickoff luncheon at the Cobb Galleria. Coach Paul Johnson spoke last, after athletic director Dan Radakovich, former center Sean Bedford and A-back Roddy Jones. Johnson had a few noteworthy things to say:
1. He said he was “embarrassed” by the way the team finished the 2010 season, “and I hope our football team felt that way.” That the team wasn’t thrilled with the season isn’t news, but I don’t think I’ve heard him use that strong a word to describe it.
2. Johnson quote: “I really believe you’re going to come out and see a football team that’s going to be hungry, that’s going to fly around, that’s going to play extremely hard and just be kind of generally [hacked] off. We have a lot of reasons to be in that mode, and if we’re not, I’m going to be really disappointed and I’m going to make sure they get in that mode fairly quickly.”
3. He kicked coaches and players off the field with about five minutes left in Thursday’s scrimmage against the scout team because he didn’t think players were playing with necessary intensity. Johnson: “That’s the message we’re trying to send. It’s a message of urgency. Nobody respects you, nobody thinks you can do anything, so it’s up to you to prove them wrong.”
4. Johnson said he believes the “sky’s the limit for our football team” and that the team “might be as talented or more talented athletically and physically than we’ve been since I’ve been here.” Not a small claim, considering the 2009 team had six first-team All-ACC players, including the 2008 ACC player of the year and two NFL first-rounders, as well as a third-rounder and also a 2011 seventh-round pick.
He said he’ll probably play eight or nine true freshmen and seven or eight redshirt freshmen. The true freshmen I am sure will play: guard Trey Braun, defensive back Zach Laskey and wide receiver Jeff Greene. True freshmen I think could play: Guards Errin Joe and Shaq Mason, wide receiver Darren Waller, quarterback Vad Lee and long snapper Sean Tobin. I imagine a linebacker or two will play, but I confess I have no read on that.
Redshirt freshmen I’m confident will play: A-back Tony Zenon, quarterback Synjyn Days, A-back Deon Hill, B-back Charles Perkins, inside linebacker Quayshawn Nealy.
5. Johnson said he thought the defense will have two senior starters on defense, maybe three, and for certain one on offense and possibly two. I would think that would be defensive tackle Logan Walls and defensive end Jason Peters, with outside linebacker Steven Sylvester the “maybe.” Linebacker Brandon Watts has challenged Sylvester.
The sure thing on offense is A-back Roddy Jones and the maybe is wide receiver Tyler Melton, who is competing with Greene for the starting job. Melton missed time in camp with a calf strain.
6. He said he likes the schedule and is how he would draw it up if he could, with three non-conference games to start.
The Western Carolina season opener is a chance “to lay the foundation for something special.”
He said he thinks Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 10 “will be a Super Bowl-type game for them,” in that a BCS conference team is coming to its place.
The Blue Raiders lost to Minnesota at home by a touchdown last year, beat Maryland on the road in 2009 and Memphis at home and three years ago, beat Maryland at home and lost to Kentucky on the road 20-14.
“It’ll be wild,” he said.
(An aside: The school’s nickname is the Blue Raiders, but the school’s athletic logo includes a white winged horse on it. Perhaps the Raiders ride atop such magnificent steeds.)
As for the Kansas game Sept. 17, he said, “I’ve got a long memory of standing on that sideline a year ago in Lawrence, Kans. It was not a happy moment or a happy place. Hopefully our guys have the same kind of desire (to avenge the loss).”
North Carolina, Sept. 24: “I hear a lot of people writing off those teams (like Miami or North Carolina). Sometimes that can be a real rallying cry.”
That was about as far as he got on the schedule, though he noted the next game is North Carolina State, “who beat us at our place a year ago.”
He said the team shows consistent improvement as opposed to the 2010 season, which he termed a roller-coaster ride where “we were never really quite sure what we were going to get.”
7. The team will vote for captains after a few games after all of the seniors have a chance to be game captains. The game captains for the opener will be Jones, Walls and Sylvester, who were chosen by the coaching staff.
8. Bedford delivered an impressive speech. He spoke about his appreciation and indebtedness to the school, how he felt blessed that his playing career traveled the course it did and that how the story of his career – hard work, dedication, academic success – isn’t so different from that of his former teammates’. I imagine many of you on the blog would have had heart palpitations hearing it.
He also included a few jabs at the NCAA and Georgia. He appreciated the choice Tech fans make to follow the Jackets and for not falling in line with the trendiness of cheering for Georgia and the ease of being able to “go to a Walmart and buying a red cap with an ugly ‘G’ on it.”
The man knows his audience. I spoke with him briefly aftewards. He started law school at Florida Monday and flew up to give the speech at the luncheon. He said he has 300 pages to read over the weekend. Aiyee.
By Ken Sugiura, AJC