Georgia Tech linebacker Julian Burnett suffered an injury in the Sun Bowl that could affect his playing career. At a news conference Friday, coach Paul Johnson was vague in his comments about Burnett but offered an indication of the injury’s severity.
“There’s a lot of guys who are playing and have gone through it,” Johnson said in response to a question about players ending their careers because of an injuries or health issues. “But they’ve come out on the other end, that they’ve determined it’s O.K. for them to play. It happens a lot; it’s a violent sport, high-contact.”
Johnson declined to offer more detail about the injury, saying the matter was between Burnett, his family, doctors and himself.
“If Julian wanted to shed light on it, he could,” Johnson said, but has chosen not to do so.
Burnett was injured in the first half of the Sun Bowl and didn’t return to the game. He led the Jackets in tackles for the second consecutive season and was named second-team All-ACC.
“I think what has to happen is they’ll sit down at the appropriate time, we’ll sit down, and we’ll do what’s best for Julian,” Johnson said.
2. Johnson said linebacker B.J. Machen, who has a year of eligibility remaining, will not return, having taken a job with Microsoft. Other possibilities to follow suit, such as wide receiver Daniel McKayhan, have not yet decided on whether or not to return, Johnson said.
“Probably a lot of [his decision] is if he graduates in the spring,” Johnson said. “A lot of those guys have to see how school unfolds.”
3. The team doesn’t have plans to include a kicker in its upcoming signing class. Johnson isn’t opposed to signing a kicker, but said he wouldn’t sign a kicker just for the sake of it. This past season, kicker Justin Moore made all 56 of his point-after tries, but was 11-for-17 on field-goal tries and both he and kicker David Scully had trouble with kickoffs.
“I don’t think we’ve even visited a kicker” for a home visit, Johnson said, “so we probably aren’t going to sign one.”
Johnson offered an insight on his and other coaches’ reluctance to sign specialists out of high school, preferring instead to take walk-ons and award scholarships once they prove themselves at the college level. For one, good kickers are difficult to find. A defensive back, for instance, can play wide receiver or A-back if he doesn’t pan out.
“If you take a kicker who can’t kick, pal, you’ve got him,” Johnson said. “He’s not turning into anything else.”
4. Johnson offered his support again for defensive coordinator Al Groh, reiterating that he has no plans to change staff. Johnson did say “there’s a lot of things you have to take into consideration and there’s a lot of things we’re going to talk about” regarding the defense after recruiting ends.
“If I didn’t think they were doing a credible job, I’d make changes,” he said. “But can we play better? Sure. We can play better on offense, special teams, everywhere.”
5. Johnson did not have much comment on offensive tackle Phil Smith, who is not returning to the team. Smith was a two-year starter but was suspended twice this season for breaking team rules.
“Hopefully he’ll graduate this spring and if he wants to play somewhere else, I’ve given him his release,” Johnson said.
6. Regarding wide receiver Stephen Hill, who declared for the NFL draft with a year of eligibility remaining, Johnson said that “there’s a lot of factors that go into” such decisions that people don’t realize and that he also thought that Hill would’ve improved had he returned for his senior season.
“I gave them my take and [Hill's family members] had their take and they have to make a decision that they think is best for them,” Johnson said. “I wish him the best.”
7. Johnson wouldn’t call the spring-practice quarterback competition “open,” given that incumbent Tevin Washington has started for the past 1 ½ seasons. Washington’s challengers – Synjyn Days, Vad Lee and early enrollee Dennis Andrews – will have to beat him out to take the starting job, Johnson said.
“Do I think it’s impossible to beat him out? No,” Johnson said. “But I’m not going to say it’s wide open. The kid’s started for two years. I think he’s earned that right.”
8. Johnson spoke at length about recruiting practices and the volume of information surrounding it, not always accurate.
“I think what happens in general, maybe in media today anyway, but for certain in recruiting, is somebody will see a story on one of the sites and then they’ll use that as a source five times,” Johnson said. “The original one might not have been right.”
Johnson is in favor of having an early signing date, as he and his staff spend much of their energy and effort “babysitting” recruits who have already committed to make sure other schools don’t poach them.