When Georgia Tech began spring football practice on Monday, there was only one question on the mind of most Yellow Jacket fans: Who’s going to play quarterback?
That’s a query that hasn’t been posed for the last three years. Justin Thomas has owned the job for three seasons and emerged as one of the school’s all-time greats at the position. Thomas was adept as a runner and a passer, but more than anything else he knew all the intricacies of head coach Paul Johnson’s offense.
Thomas was productive, throwing for 4,754 yards and 40 touchdowns and rushing for 2,412 yards and 22 touchdowns. Thomas won games; Georgia Tech was 23-16 during those three seasons. He was also durable, missing just one game during the three years he had a grip on the job. That aspect should not be undervalued.
Now, the scramble begins to find a replacement.
“Any time the quarterback leaves, especially when you have a three-year starter, it’s going to be fun,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The four contenders are Matthew Jordan, TaQuon Marshall, Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones.
“It’s going to be a good competition at quarterback,” Johnson said.
Jordan has a headstart on the others based on his experience. He played five games as a freshman and nine games as a sophomore. The obvious highlight is his lone start was when he produced a huge road win at Virginia Tech that helped keep Georgia Tech’s goal of a nine-win season intact.
Jordan is a big guy (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) who prefers to run the ball. He rushed 65 times for 243 yards and six touchdowns in 2016. He carried 32 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Hokies. Last season, he completed 3-of-9 passes for 111 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“Matthew is our starting quarterback. Guys will have to beat him out,” Johnson said. “But when we had our last morning run, I told them every position is up for grabs. You get to make an impression starting Day 1 when you come back from spring break.”
Marshall (5-10, 185) spent his freshman season at A-back before being moved back to quarterback, where he started at Harris County. He played in games against Mercer and Vanderbilt and ran for a touchdown against the Bears.
Marshall has seen how the offense works from many angles for the past two years. He is a dangerous runner, but was prone to keep the ball more than necessary.
Johnson (6-3, 200) and Jones (6-0, 175) are both redshirt freshman.
Johnson grew up in San Diego and totaled 3,687 yards his senior season; his father Jackie, played for the Tampa Bay Bucs. Jones was ranked as high as the No. 4 prospect among “athletes” in Alabama and draws comparisons to Thomas.
“Matthew brings some things that are different from Justin; they’re different guys,” Johnson said. “TaQuon Marshall has a chance to come in and compete for a starting job. So do Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones.”
Johnson and Jones were the scout team quarterbacks all season.
“They’re dynamic,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a good competition.”
Defensive backs Jalen Johnson and Christian Campbell and A-back Clinton Lynch will not participate in spring drills because of unspecified injuries.
“It’s probably more detrimental to guys like Jalen and Christian than it is for Clinton because he’s played so much,” Johnson said. “It’s going to give other guys the opportunity.”
Wide receiver Mikell Lands-Davis is not be returning to the team. He will remain in school, but told Johnson he would not play football. The Douglasville native appeared in 11 games last year as a wide receiver and special teams player and caught two passes.
“It’s disappointing for him,” Johnson said. “He’s got some things he has to deal with and get right in his life, and hopefully he can.”
The Georgia Tech spring game will be April 21.