Georgia Tech’s players reported for preseason practice Thursday, healthy and happy and ready to begin head coach Paul Johnson’s 10th season with the program.
The Yellow Jackets return 16 starters from last year’s 9-4 team that won the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. Plus, they welcome a recruiting class that is considered one of the best in Johnson’s tenure. Optimism is high going into the season opener against Tennessee on Labor Day at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We’re excited to finally get started,” Johnson said. “I think we’re one of the last teams to get started. We had a good offseason, a good summer. I think our guys are champing at the bit to get out there and get going.”
Including the much-awaited opener against the Volunteers, Georgia Tech begins the season with three games in 13 days.
“We’ve got a challenge in front of us,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to plan camp and make sure everybody’s ready.”
Johnson said this team reminds him of the same scenario as 2014, when the Yellow Jackets had an experienced team but a new quarterback. That season, Justin Thomas broke through as the starter, and the team went 11-3 and won the Orange Bowl.
“This team is really composed like the ’14 team,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a new quarterback, but the majority of them have played. We’d love to have the same result we had in ’14. But until you get through with fall camp and see the injuries, it’s really hard to gauge a team.”
Other than incoming freshman safety Tariq Carpenter of Long County, who had surgery and likely will be redshirted, the Yellow Jackets had no issues to report on the day before practice begins. It is a fit team that begins the quest to see if can avoid a letdown and contend for the ACC Coastal Division championship.
Healthy again is quarterback Matthew Jordan, who injured his foot and missed the entire spring practice. But Jordan enters the preseason as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart, a decision based on his experience and results.
“About six weeks ago, we knew he was ahead of schedule,” Johnson said. “No reservations. We may start him out in a gold (non-contact) shirt, but as we get through the five-day aclimatization period, he’ll be ready to go like everybody else.”
Jordan is No. 1 on the depth chart, but will be pushed by TaQuon Marshall, Jay Jones and Lucas Johnson in what could be the deepest talent pool the program has ever enjoyed at the position. The coaching staff will be pressed to make a quick decision on playing time so the top candidates can spend the most time with the first team.
“It’s going to be really quick,” Paul Johnson said. “We’ve got a framework in our mind of the pecking order and what’s going to happen. You can’t rep four guys very deep in camp. We’re going to have to make a decision and go with a couple of guys. It’s going to be important for those guys to come out of the gate early and compete. You’d love to see one of the guys separate himself from the other guys. That’s what you’re shooting for.”
The Yellow Jackets were left out of the USA Today Coach’s Top 25, a fact that neither disturbed nor surprised Johnson.
“It gives people something talk about and debate,” he said. “I glanced at it. Some of it’s laughable. You could literally pick the same teams every year, and (the coaches) are the guys that do it. The coaches poll, there’s a real tendency to vote for your conference. I don’t think polls matter a whole lot until you get three weeks in and become more realistic. It will sort itself out. I don’t worry about that.”