ATLANTA -- It hasn’t taken A.J. Gray long to make his presence known at Georgia Tech.
The true freshman from Washington County started the season almost exclusively playing special teams. Four games into the season, his role has grown tremendously. He’s now No. 2 on the depth chart at free safety and is logging plenty of minutes on the field during important situations.
It has been a quick trip -- although maybe not totally unexpected -- for the 2014 Georgia High School Player of the Year.
“He’s one of those guys who’s got it,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “Whether it’s instincts or anticipation or a combination of the two, football IQ ... it’s all of that. He’s made some mistakes, but I’m proud of him, and he’s made some big plays.”
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Last week, Gray intercepted a pass in the third quarter that set up a field goal. He also had two tackles, including one that prevented Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk from picking up a first down on a third-and-11 play.
“(Gray) was the free guy, and he had the quarterback one-on-one, and if he doesn’t make the tackle, that play goes for a long way because everybody else had their backs turned to the ball,” Roof said.
Gray has 10 total tackles this season (tied for seventh on the team), along with a fumble recovery. He also intercepted a two-point conversion attempt.
“We’ve got to keep bringing him along,” Roof said. “He’s repping more and more to eliminate the missed alignments, the things that put you behind the eight-ball before the ball is snapped. I’m certainly pleased with him, and I know he’s got a very bright future.”
With veteran Micheal Summers out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, the Yellow Jackets are trying to find another receiver to join Ricky Jeune and freshman Brad Stewart, who has moved into the starting lineup.
Johnson said he is seeking “someone who will block and run routes and know where to go and play receiver.”
The four most likely candidates are sophomore Antonio Messick, who got in more than 20 plays against Duke, senior Brandon Oliver, true freshmen Harland Howell and Christian Philpott. Redshirt freshman Jalen Johnson did not practice is questionable for Saturday’s game against North Carolina.
FIXING SPECIAL TEAMS
Johnson said there will be personnel changes on special teams, which last week allowed a 100-yard kickoff return and a long punt return to set up a touchdown.
“We look at the film every week and replace guys who don’t do a good job,” Johnson said.
There was some good news and bad news on the injury front. A-back TaQuon Marshall, who was hurt on the fourth play against Duke and did not return, was back at practice Tuesday and is expected to play. Also getting the go-ahead were guard Trey Braun and B-back Marcus Allen. The status of defensive lineman Pat Gamble (head) won’t be known until later.
Broderick Snoddy, on the other hand, is banged up and might not play Saturday.
ROSS HONORED BY ACC
Bobby Ross, who coached the Yellow Jackets to the 1990 national championship, is one of 14 named to the ACC Football Legends Class. The class will be honored at the ACC Night of Legends on Friday prior to the ACC championship game and during on-field ceremonies at the title game. Ross will headline the event on the 25th anniversary of the national title. Former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney will be honored as Virginia’s representative.