Johnson talks pigskin

MACON---- Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson addressed a small group of media on Tuesday at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame for the annual pigskin preview. Jacketsonline was there to hear what the Yellow Jackets' football coach had to say about a variety of topics including the 2010 season, the 2011 outlook and how Coach Johnson sees things playing out in 2011.
"We were certainly disappointed with the way our season ended last year and it wasn't up to our standards or expectations. I have been encouraged by the attitude and work ethic of our kids in the offseason," Johnson said. That has been a real positive. The thing about college sports and college football is every year you start anew. Therefore, we start camp in August, 2010 will be behind us, and it will be the 2011 season. A new football team and we will see where we go from there. I am looking forward to it and I am excited about the opportunity we have in front of us."
Johnson said ultimately the 2010 season fell apart after then starting quarterback Joshua Nesbitt broke his arm in the middle of the Virginia Tech game. Without Nesbitt, Tech went 1-4 last season, but Johnson stated there were bigger problems than just the record, chemistry problems on the field an in the locker room.
"It can be hard to fix or rectify chemistry issues. Different things like being hungry and expectation levels and there were some places last year where I did a bad job trying to beat those out," he said. "For those of you who know me, you know I am pretty tough and am not complacent. I am never satisfied in a lot of ways. I think the early success we had and the success from the year before (2009 ACC title) kind of got away from us a little bit. We lost some really good players too. That was my first experience losing underclassmen and we lost four of them who were all good players. I knew they were good players, but I didn't know how much they were leaders on the field for us."
Going into the 2011 campaign, Johnson expects the rising juniors who were the first true recruits brought in under his watch to take over the leadership mantle.
"I think we have some guys who can step up into that leadership role this year. We have a small senior class with only 12 scholarship seniors, so we still have a young team, but I am not of the belief that you have to have seniors be your leaders. I think we have some guys in our senior class that will fill that role, but we have some young guys who will fill it too," Johnson said.
Nesbitt's injury was really the back breaker in 2010 and Johnson says too many people don't understand how important he was for the Yellow Jackets.
"The one thing people fail to realize or talk about is Nesbitt's injury. We finished the season with the record we finished with, but people tend to forget we are 5-3 in Blacksburg on Thursday night and probably got them on the ropes a little bit, we lose our quarterback, then win one more game. I am not sure we would even be having this conversation if that play had a different outcome and hadn't happened. We would have probably been where we were the first year or even the second year," Johnson said. "Injuries are part of the game and happened, but the biggest thing last year was we didn't take very good care of the ball. We lost at least two games off the top of my head at the end of the year (UGA) and the bowl game (Air Force) were if we hold on to the ball we have a chance. That is something we have to get better at."
Heading into the new season, many preseason publications and websites are picking the Yellow Jackets to finish in the bottom half of the ACC and that doesn't surprise Coach Johnson.
"I think my first year everyone picked us to finish near the bottom," Johnson joked. "I am not sure where they picked us my second year, but I know it wasn't first. They do what they do and we do what we do. We will see how it unfolds. I have never paid much attention to that. Where did they pick Auburn to start last season?"
With Tevin Washington and Synjyn Days as the only quarterbacks on the roster heading into camp, a pair of true freshmen athletes will get a fair share of work and a shot at some playing time if they can pick up the offense quickly.
"Both Vad Lee and Demontevious Smith as freshmen coming in will get a look at quarterback for the fall," he said. "It is hard for me to evaluated either Vad Lee or Demon when I haven't seen them practice one day. If they can win football games for us and they make us a better team then they will play. I think that is a very high expectation to place on a true freshman coming in and it may border on unrealistic, but we will see. They will have every opportunity."
Washington is currently the number one quarterback heading into camp according to Johnson, but the competition is open. Johnson says the B-back position is very similar with Preston Lyons going into camp as the starter and Charles Perkins, another redshirt freshman like Days as the number two.
"Tevin is the number one quarterback and Synjyn Days is the backup right now," he said. "I don't know if it will be a rotation or not, but Preston Lyons is the starting B-back and we have some depth at that position and we will see what happens. I am confident in Preston's abilities if he can stay healthy and play. Richard Watson and David Sims can play as well as Charles Perkins. So there are several guys in there that can play. I don't have any plans to go in there and say hey we will rotate these guys in at this time. I am going to let it take care of itself."
Johnson compared the B-back situation to last year when people were wondering how Anthony Allen would replace the back-to-back season Jonathan Dwyer put up. Dwyer ran for 1395 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2008 and 1395 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2009. Allen amassed 1316 yards rushing and seven touchdowns last season replacing Dwyer.
"Last year we were here talking about replacing Jon Dwyer's' numbers, but they weren't a lot different compared to Jon's. I hope that will be the case next year at that position. That has been the nature of it throughout the years," he said.
When Coach Johnson's favorite topic, special teams came up, the effusive headman clammed up a bit.
"We have work to do there like anywhere else. We have some guys who are capable, but we need to be consistent. Consistency is something we need to work on a lot in fall camp," he said. "It is probably narrowed down to a couple of guys, but I won't get into who it is right now."
On the defensive side of the ball, Johnson seems happy with the direction the team is going with the rebuilt staff led by Defensive Coordinator Al Groh.
"The more you practice it, the better you get at it," Johnson said of mastering the 3-4. "We have some guys especially up front that have played a lot and I think we are probably the most athletic we have been on defense since I have been here. I don't think we have a Derrick Morgan or a Morgan Burnett who will be a great individual player, but as an overall group, we are more athletic than we have been. That is a positive and hopefully the production will be great."