ATLANTA -- Head coach Paul Johnson believes that Justin Thomas is tough enough to succeed at quarterback for Georgia Tech.
Thomas, at 5-foot-11, 185, will take a beating in Johnson’s spread option offense, but Johnson said the sophomore is quick enough to compensate for an undersized frame.
When the Yellow Jackets open the season Saturday at home against Wofford, Thomas will be Johnson’s most recent full-time starting quarterback, following Josh Nesbitt, Tevin Washington and Vad Lee.
Only Nesbitt, who broke his arm trying to tackle a Virginia Tech player following a 2010 interception, was knocked out by a season-ending injury.
“If you go back and look, we’ve been here six years, and it’s the same party line every year -- that guys are going to get knocked out, and you need to have two or three of them with the licks they take,” Johnson said. “To be the best of my knowledge, we haven’t one knocked out yet.”
After beating out junior Tim Byerly for the starting job during spring and summer practices, Thomas will run an offense that has finished among the nation’s top six in rushing during each of its six years under Johnson.
Lee, last year’s starting quarterback, occasionally took snaps in a shotgun formation to take advantage of his passing arm, but that approach has been scrapped by Johnson to best use Thomas’ skills as a perimeter runner and passer.
Thomas’ primary asset is speed. He won the 100 meters with a time of 10.79 seconds among Alabama’s top three high school classifications. In 33 attempts last year for the Jackets, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 33 rushing attempts.
“I think we’re pretty good at what we do,” Johnson said. “Contrary to popular opinion, you can’t run the BYU passing offense one week and then transition to what we do and then the next week (use a) run zone read. You can do it, but you’re not going to be any good at it. So it’s like you want to get good at something.”
Georgia Tech, which went 7-6 last year, is one of only 11 FBS programs that doesn’t have a current quarterback with a career start. Thomas played in 10 games last year, Byerly in four.
Johnson says that Thomas has the skills and smarts needed to help the Jackets do what they do best -- control time of possession and wear down the defense.
“Depending on how they’re playing and how you block it and how you change things, you’ve got to be good at the fundamentals, or it doesn’t matter,” Johnson said. “If you can’t read the thing and you can’t keep the ball off the ground, it doesn’t matter.”