If Vad Lee’s time as Georgia Tech quarterback doesn’t start Monday in the Sun Bowl, it will begin soon after
Upon the Yellow Jackets’ return to campus for the spring term, Lee assuredly will gather up wide receiver Darren Waller and whoever else wants to join for some throw-and-catch. Perhaps then, as his spirals pierce the still air of the Tech indoor practice building, Lee will take over. Justin Thomas will be right on his heels.
“Vad’s time’s coming really fast,” quarterbacks and B-backs coach Brian Bohannon said. “Whether it’s (in the bowl) or not, I don’t know, but after that, they’re going to have to be able to run it. They’re going to have to be able to do it.”
Tech closes the 2012 season against USC in El Paso, Texas, in the Jackets’ 16th consecutive bowl game. Tech can break its seven-game bowl losing streak, even its record at .500, provide coach Paul Johnson with his first bowl win at Tech and gain a measure of satisfaction from a season that has been something less than
Through 13 games, arguably the most gleaming highlight was Lee’s play in the North Carolina game, as he led the Jackets to 55 points in Tech’s 68-50 win
. Lee’s leadership and playmaking offered promise that he could be a galvanizing piece of the 2013 Jackets team that could have 16 starters back.
Coaches have largely gone with starter Tevin Washington since the UNC game, staying with a pattern of giving Washington and Lee two possessions each and then deciding on playing time from there. For the Sun Bowl, coach Paul Johnson has said only that both will play.
“I’ve been through a lot of key situations, so I kind of feel comfortable, and whenever my number’s called, I’m just ready to go,” Lee said.
Lee is only at the start of his development. In some cases, he hasn’t assessed defensive alignments well enough to check into the right play before the snap. He has become more adept at executing option plays, but needs to improve. He has shown a willingness to learn and an appetite for work.
“He wants to be good,” Bohannon said, “and he’s working at it.”
The North Carolina game offered a snapshot of his progress. Bohannon said Lee told him that “there were times I was just balling” – relying on his playmaking instincts rather than reading keys to execute plays as designed.
Yet, on a triple-option play in the same game, Lee handled what Tech calls a “blood stunt” flawlessly. On the play, the defense charges the quarterback with both the play-side defensive end and a second defender as he is in the mesh – the point where the quarterback has the ball held out to the B-back and has to decide whether to hand off or keep.
The defensive players are trying to swat the pitch from the quarterback and force a possible turnover, Lee said. Lee had faced blood stunts in practice, but never before in a game. He made the instant decision to quickly separate from the mesh and pitch to A-back Orwin Smith.
With two defenders taken out of the play, Smith ran 22 yards for a touchdown.
“I was pretty proud,” Lee said. “That game, I was pretty tired so I was happy that Orwin scored and I could get a breather off the field.”
Meanwhile, Thomas has impressed players and coaches on the practice field with his work with the scout team and also in occasional duty with the second-string offense. Thomas doesn’t have Lee’s size, but he was a state sprint champion in Alabama and is said to be an accurate passer.
“We’ve got a young one behind him who really picked up on things pretty fast, so I’m excited about those guys,” said Bohannon, referring to Thomas. “I think that’s a bright future at that position.”
When they begin spring practice, Lee will likely be listed as the starter with Thomas the backup given Lee’s playing experience.
“But when you go into spring, anybody could beat anybody out,” Johnson said. “It really doesn’t matter. They’ll both have their opportunity.”
If Johnson needs Lee Monday, he knows where to find him.
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Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog