Lots of stuff from Paul Johnson’s group interview at ACC Media Days in Greensboro, N.C., that didn’t get into my story in Tuesday’s paper. Some of it you’ve probably read, some new stuff. Read on…
1. The biggest difference that special-teams coordinator David Walkosky has made thus far is in motivating players to want to be on special teams. Previously, Johnson said, many players played on special teams because they knew it was expected of them.
“I think there’s a renewed excitement,” he said. “Everybody’s looking forward to doing something a little different.”
(Wide receiver Darren Waller spoke with reporters Wednesday and mentioned the same thing, saying that because of his enthusiasm, intensity, various schemes and bag of gadget plays, players want to participate.)
That said, “The proof’s in the pudding. We’ll see when we start playing if we’re better.”
2. With one assistant (Mike Sewak) coaching the offensive line instead of two, graduate assistant Preston Pehrson will assist Sewak. Johnson said he hadn’t determined how coaches will be placed during games. Previously, Sewak was in the box and former line coach Todd Spencer was on the sidelines.
3. The topic of recruiting prospects early in high school was brought up. Johnson reiterated his preference that players could sign letters of intent at any point rather than signing periods.
“If somebody said they were coming, you put it in front of them and they sign it and it’d be over,” he said. “And if they didn’t sign it, they weren’t committed.”
4. On playing Virginia Tech in the first game of the season: “Certainly, it’s going to be a huge game; it has been for our division, but there’s a ton of football left after that game, so it’s not do-or-die.”
A point about both teams’ schedules: Tech’s Atlantic Coast opponents are Maryland, Boston College and Clemson. The Hokies get Florida State, Clemson and Boston College. I think if you took a poll of coaches about which team they’d rather face, I imagine Maryland Boston College would win fairly handily over Florida State.
4. Johnson said fall camp won’t be any different because of Virginia Tech. The first two weeks will be devoted to fundamentals and scout-team work will begin two weeks prior to the opener.
He gave his standard response to a question about Virginia Tech having extra time to prepare for the offense: “We get all of August to prepare for theirs, too. I’ve never worried about that. I’m sure they’ll have a good plan. Hopefully, we will, too.”
5. As he’s said in the past, Johnson sounded a little concerned about the short turnaround after Virginia Tech. With the Presbyterian game five days later, the Jackets won’t practice Tuesday and probably won’t do much Wednesday.
“By Thursday, we won’t be in pads,” he said. “We may play the next game without ever putting on pads.”
While Presbyterian doesn’t exactly inspire fear, “I remember the mighty Gardner-Webb Bulldogs, and we had to block a field goal (to win). I think Virginia Tech had a little taste of that, too, playing on Monday and then again on Saturday. It’s tough.”
6. With his first recruiting classes having become upperclassmen, “I think our guys just have a better overall feel for what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re to the point now where they all know what they signed up for. They all knew what we were doing when they came. It’s not somebody doing something that they necessarily didn’t want to do or whatever, and I think they’ve embraced it.”
7. The offensive line “could possibly be the best group we’ve had,” he said. “Now, you’ve still got to do it on the field, but we’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot. … I think that they can play a lot better and I think they will this year.”
Johnson said he could see four guards getting rotated – Omoregie Uzzi, Will Jackson, Trey Braun and Shaquille Mason.
The depth was a topic he went back to repeatedly, bringing it up in regards to the running backs, defensive line and linebackers.
8. Johnson said that, with the absence of Julian Burnett, he sees leaders forming in each position group, naming cornerback Rod Sweeting, linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and defensive end Izaan Cross.
9. Starters at wide receiver have not been determined. The leading contenders are Jeff Greene, Chris Jackson, Jeremy Moore and Darren Waller, followed by incoming freshmen Anthony Autry, Travin Henry and Micheal Summers.
“My experience has been somebody will step up and we’ll find a go-to guy,” Johnson said. “We’ve always had one, so we’ll find one. We just don’t know who it’s going to be right now.”
He said that Waller has “unlimited ability. The kid is 6-6, 230, can run 4.5. He’s got ability. Now, potential – the big ‘P’ word. We’ll see can we get it to the field.”
10. Like most, if not all, coaches, Johnson said his preference is to play eight ACC games rather than nine, as the Georgia game locks Tech into 10 games and limits scheduling flexibility. He figures that it will probably mean more FCS opponents in the future to ensure home games. The ACC will start with nine games in 2013 when Pitt and Syracuse join.
It appears that, at least from 2013 through 2018, Tech will play five league home games in even years, so it will have a five-and-five split every year with ACC games and the Georgia game. That will leave the two non-conference games. One will be an FCS opponent and the other will most likely be either another FCS team or an FBS team from a non-power conference. Most schools want to get to seven home games, if not eight. If Tech wanted to play an SEC or Big Ten school, it would almost certainly require a home-and-home, which would produce seven home games one year and six the next. Even if Tech contracts a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 with a school like Middle Tennessee State, that would still leave Tech with six home games on occasion. Schools could still pay a team like MTSU for a home-only series, but the cost has become prohibitive.
“The 2-for-1’s and 3-for-1’s probably aren’t going to fly,” he said.
There’s a few reasons behind nine-game league schedule. First, ESPN and its sacks of cash want it. Second, I think administrators want it as it adds another marquee opponent to sell tickets for. Third, it’s more equitable. If the schedule remained at eight, teams would have to either give up their permanent crossover opponent or else play the other six teams in the opposite division once every six years.e
11. Asked for his thoughts about the preseason poll that picked Florida State to win the title: “I don’t know. They pick the same team to win the league every year, don’t they? All four years I’ve been here they have.”
(Not entirely true. FSU was picked to win the league in 2011, but Virginia Tech was the favorite in 2010 and 2009 and Clemson was the top choice in 2008. The Seminoles have been overwhelming favorites to win the Atlantic the past three years, and again this year. Regardless, FSU has made one title-game appearance – a loss to Virginia Tech in 2010 – in that span.)
More Johnson stuff coming Thursday. Tech sports information director and avid power lifter Dean Buchan lined up a slew of interviews Tuesday and Wednesday with players, so those will be coming out the chute in coming days. You can read about Quayshawn Nealy’s tuba skills, Jay Finch’s new nickname, Orwin Smith’s ambitious goal and Rod Sweeting’s kangaroo-like vertical. Plus more.
Walkosky feature from March.
Tuesday story about Johnson from Media Days.
Blog about preseason poll.
Story on offensive line’s aspirations from July.
Game story from Tech vs. Gardner-Webb.
Thanks for reading.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog