With the addition of some offseason muscle and the luxury of two years in the system, this could be the season that A.J. Gray takes his skills to the next level.
The junior safety from Washington County will start at safety and be a part of a group that is considered the strength of the Georgia Tech defense.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me now,” Gray said. “I’m at a stage where I should know plays. It’s been hard work, grinding, getting better.”
Gray spent the offseason working on his footwork and revisiting his fundamentals. Members of the Georgia Tech defense spent a lot of time together and working in individual groups, finishing their time in 7-on-7 drills.
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“We’ve been working hard, grinding, getting better,” Gray said.
Gray has appeared in 23 games, missing two his freshman year due to an injury. He started all 13 games last season, collecting 93 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and forcing a fumble.
“A.J. Gray can be way more productive,” head coach Paul Johnson said prior to the beginning of preseason practice. “He’s got that kind of ability.”
There’s a chance that junior Clinton Lynch, the leading returning rusher among the A-backs a year ago, won’t play against Tennessee. Lynch has been out much of the preseason with an undisclosed injury. Johnson said if Lynch isn’t able to return by the end of the week, he isn’t likely to play.
That leaves Qua Searcy, J.J. Green, Nathan Cottrell and possibly Omahri Jarrett as the four players in the rotation. The Yellow Jackets could play as few as two, depending on the situation.
“It depends on who you’ve got and how it’s going,” Johnson said.
Lynch rushed for 415 yards in 2016, followed by Searcy with 273 and Green with 154. Cottrell had only one carry last season.
Searcy, a threat as a runner and receiver, said, “Whoever Coach decides to play, whether its four of us, six of us, even if it’s two of us, when we have practice, I feel like Coach will get us prepared. No matter what goes on, whoever he puts in will be prepared to make plays, no matter how many people we play.”
Searcy said the regulars get the same number of reps in practice.
“It’s still a learning process,” Searcy said. “Even for me. Things change every day.”
Johnson on national radio
Johnson appeared on the CBS Radio on Wednesday and reiterated his thoughts on the quarterback situation.
“It’s been kind of wild this offseason and fall camp,” he said. “We may not (name a starter) until game week. It’s still up in the air, and we’re keeping it in our pocket for now. The competition has been fairly close. I think we know what we’re going to do, but until we get into next week it’s a fluid situation.”
In light of recent protests in the NFL, Johnson was asked about whether he has talked to the team about proper etiquette for the National Anthem.
“We haven’t talked about it. In college a lot of that happens before you come out of the locker room,” he said. “It hasn’t been a situation, and we haven’t talked about it.”
Justin Thomas update
The former Georgia Tech quarterback but was picked up Wednesday by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thomas is trying to make in the NFL as a wide receiver.