ATLANTA — Former Fitzgerald standout Jemea Thomas will have to wait at least one more season before he can start for Georgia Tech.
Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson on Saturday confirmed that the once highly-touted recruit will spend what would have been his sophomore season as a redshirt freshman. That means that next year — although it will be his third at Georgia Tech — Thomas will return to the team as a sophomore.
With a stacked secondary this preseason, the speedy 5-foot-10 safety was getting lost in the shuffle and coaches had a very hard time getting him meaningful snaps in the talent-filled unit.
As a result, when asked following Saturday’s scrimmage if redshirting was an option for Thomas, Johnson said, “Yeah, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The previous week, during his Media Day press conference at Georgia Tech, Johnson hinted that his staff was considering whether to offer redshirts to certain players who, like Thomas, played as true freshmen last season.
The underlying issue here is that the Yellow Jackets this fall are beginning to see the type of depth and physical numbers on their roster that they have not seen since Johnson’s arrival three years ago. Because of scholarship restrictions that affected his first two teams, Georgia Tech’s roster lacked certain spots in 2008 and 2009. Now that those restrictions have eased, the Yellow Jackets were able to recruit more players this past offseason. In the process they added four true freshmen defensive backs, one of which likely will play often in tandem with veterans Cooper Taylor and Mario Edwards.
Thomas, who was heralded last season as the next big safety star, just couldn’t fit into that rotation, which also boasts the likes of junior Jerrard Tarrant.
“We’ve got pretty good competition at every position,” Johnson said. “That usually makes you better.”
During Saturday’s scrimmage — the first look fans and media had of the Yellow Jackets — Thomas played very sparingly, getting his most reps with the last group of the practice.
Johnson was noncommittal when asked if any other redshirts may be coming.
After being named to the All-Middle Georgia team his senior year of high school, Thomas appeared in all 14 of Georgia Tech’s games last year, playing mostly on special teams and in backup duty to now departed All-ACC safety Morgan Burnett. Thomas had 10 tackles last season.
Burnett biding time
Another now veteran player who could draw a redshirt is sophomore Julian Burnett.
While it appears coaches are still trying to mix the former Westside product into their plans at inside linebacker, he could earn a redshirt simply because of the type of depth and numbers issue that affected Thomas.
Burnett, who started three games and had 41 tackles in 2009, has run mostly with the second- and third-team units this fall. As a result, he is not oblivious to the fact that his playing time might be greatly diminished.
“I try not to look at it so much as first-string, second-string, it’s just working with a new coach and making improvements, making steps forward in the process,” Burnett said. “That’s all I can do. I’m just here for my team whenever they need me. I want to be there for them.”
Like all the defenders, Burnett is still learning new defensive coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. It is one that has already placed native Middle Georgians Brad Jefferson and Brandon Watts into the starting rotation at inside linebacker. The smaller framed Burnett has been working in backup capacity alongside juniors Kyle Jackson and Steven Sylvester.
But despite his lack of playing time, Burnett made the most of one opportunity Saturday when he came up with an interception in his team’s end zone. Returning it more than 30 yards downfield, he celebrated with Tarrant.
“That’s our thing. If somebody on the defense makes a good play, we want to congratulate them, show a little enthusiasm for them,” Burnett said.
The Yellow Jackets have settled on just two place-kickers this preseason, but the competition for No. 1 player remains anybody’s guess.
Although both kickers were a perfect 2-for-2 on their combined four extra point attempts, neither could drill home their lone, long field goal attempts of the scrimmage.
True freshman Justin Moore was first up with his 52-yard attempt sailing just wide right. The kick, however, had the distance.
Junior Scott Blair, who buried three field goals from beyond 40 yards in Georgia Tech’s ACC championship win over Clemson, missed his only attempt, as well, when the ball drifted wide of the mark right also.
Words of wisdom
After each practice, B-back Anthony Allen offers his self-titled “words of wisdom” to reporters.
Often witty, Haiku-style sayings, the running back gives his views on life and very seldom provides words pertaining to the gridiron.
On Saturday, however, he blended the two.
“All week, I’ve been pushing,” Allen said. “You know what P.U.S.H. stands for? Pray Until Something Happens.”
With temperatures just shy of 100 degrees nearly everyday last week, he said he was doing a lot of praying. Perhaps that explained the markedly cooler, low 80-degree, cloudy skies the Yellow Jackets practiced under Saturday.
The key plays of the scrimmage:
*No surprises on the first-team groups, although Taylor, Edwards and freshman Isaiah Johnson rotated in at two safety positions. Paul Johnson said not to read too far into their setup. It could change.
*Allen had a pair of first-down runs on the opening drive, while Nesbitt added a 20-yarder that ended when he plowed into Edwards. Edwards’ hit popped Nesbitt’s helmet loose.
*Backup quarterbacks David Sims, Jordan Luallen and Synjyn Days combined for four fumbles off muffed snaps.
*In addition to Burnett’s interception, true freshman Louis Young picked off a Days pass that completely missed the target. Young leapt high and actually crashed into Burnett on the way down.