(Notes for Tuesday’s paper. I realize some of the Darren Waller material has already been posted.)
1. Georgia Tech wide receiver Darren Waller has caught only eight passes this season. The past two may be indicative of where he’s headed.
Waller caught two passes in the ACC Championship game loss to Florida State, the second one a crucial 17-yard reception on a 3rd-and-14 from the Tech 11-yard line on the Yellow Jackets’ final possession. Tech was driving for a go-ahead touchdown, but the drive ended with an interception.
Waller said he gained confidence from the two receptions as well as the trust that quarterback Tevin Washington showed by throwing to him with the game on the line.
“Knowing ‘Tev’ can trust me, that’s a great feeling,” Waller said. “Coming a long way, not even starting at the beginning of the year, just trying to fight for opportunities.”
Waller, a 6-foot-5, 228-pound sophomore, played on special teams last year as a true freshman. He has started nine games this season.
“What people fail to realize is he had never played wide receiver (at North Cobb High),” wide receivers coach Buzz Preston said. “There’s a lot of nuances, learning curve, that happen out there. Now it’s all starting to make sense. It’s like, ‘Aha! I’ve kind of figured this puzzle out.’”
With the departure of leading receiver Jeff Greene, Waller’s role will likely increase in the Sun Bowl against USC on Dec. 31. He’ll probably be in a rotation with Jeremy Moore and Chris Jackson.
“As long as he keeps the work ethic that he has and the desire to want to improve, I really think he can maybe start to reach (his) potential,” Preston said.
2. Safety Isaiah Johnson did not practice Monday with an undisclosed injury. Coach Paul Johnson was uncertain about a return date, saying the injury was “not good.” Johnson has been among the more improved players since interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly replaced Al Groh after the sixth game of the season. If he can’t play in the Sun Bowl, potential replacements include Jamal Golden, Chris Milton and Demond Smith.
Offensive tackle Ray Beno is expected to return Tuesday from surgery to repair a broken finger.
3. Quarterback Justin Thomas received considerable practice time with the second-string offense through the first six practices, when the workouts were focused more on fundamentals and less on game planning for USC. In the five practices this week, coaches are turning attention to preparing for the Trojans.
Johnson said Thomas, Washington and Vad Lee split snaps equally. Thomas also fared well in the scout-team scrimmage Saturday.
“We only had about 25 or 30 plays,” Johnson said of the scrimmage. “There was some good hitting going on. The defense has a big advantage from a scout standpoint because they see (Tech’s offense) a lot faster at them every day. But it was good.”
4. Defensive end Emmanuel Dieke, B-back David Sims and cornerback Rod Sweeting were among Tech students graduating Saturday. Dieke earned a business administration degree, while Sims and Sweeting majored in management. Both Sims and Sweeting completed their degree work in 3 1/2 years, while Dieke, an early enrollee in 2009, took four.
Sims and Dieke have another year of eligibility remaining. Sims said he plans to cross-register at Georgia State and take education classes to pursue his goal of becoming a college coach.
Former players Brad Jefferson and Jahi Word-Daniels also graduated Saturday.
5. Johnson said that to the best of his knowledge, the team is in good shape academically after final exams. “I guess they’ll let me know if it isn’t,” he said. … Defensive end Izaan Cross said he received an invitation to play in the NFL Players Association all-star game, a pre-draft exposure event. He is waiting on other offers.
Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog