A visible sign of regime change for the Georgia Tech football program will be on display this week, when the Yellow Jackets begin their first spring practice under new coach Geoff Collins.
Collins was hired away from Temple University in December to replace Paul Johnson, who stepped aside after 11 seasons. Starting Tuesday, the Yellow Jackets will begin a month-long spring practice under Collins and his completely overhauled coaching staff. The preseason work will culminate with the annual spring game on April 26.
Judging by the spike in tickets sales, there appears to be more interest among Georgia Tech fans since Johnson brought his triple-option attack to The Flats in 2008. More new season tickets have already been purchased than a year ago.
It is expected to be a different sort of spring practice.
Since his appointment, Collins has exhibited high energy and implemented innovative ideas to rebrand the school’s football program. Collins has been quite visible courting recruits, both in-person and on social media. He is trying to enhance the school’s connection to Atlanta, evidenced by the “ATL” or “404” hats he wears or his obsession with Waffle House. It’s an effort to make the Georgia Tech football program seem cool and relevant.
“First thing we worry about is branding, what we worry about is culture,” he said. “Those things matter. In this culture, in an age where recruiting is such a priority … you have to establish a strong culture that attracts the strong players to your program and retains the elite players that you have. It has to be such a bond that players gravitate toward it.”
Now it’s time to see what the product will look like on the field.
Here are questions about the upcoming spring practice:
What will the offense look like?
No one knows for sure, but it will certainly be different than the triple-option attack that was Johnson’s trademark. During Collins’ two seasons at Temple, the Owls ran it 61 percent of the time in 2017 and 54.5 percent in 2018. Georgia Tech ran the ball 85.5 percent last year under Johnson.
And with innovative offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude on the job, you can expect Georgia Tech to offer plenty of new twists.
“It’s fun to kind of put all the pieces together, kind of see what we have, see what the strengths are, see what the offensive line can do,” Patenaude said. “A lot of it will be predicated on the guys up front and just kind of mixing and matching, watching what the quarterbacks can do.”
Who will play quarterback?
Before the coaching change, the job would have defaulted to Tobias Oliver. He played 12 games last season and rushed for 876 yards and 12 touchdowns. But Oliver’s skill sets — particularly passing — may not mesh with the new offense. It will be revealed whether Oliver, who played at Northside (Warner Robins) High School, will compete at quarterback or be moved to another position.
The favorite at quarterback may be Lucas Johnson, who missed last season after suffering a foot injury in preseason. Johnson has good size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), good speed and a big arm. He was the No. 2 quarterback a year ago when he was hurt.
What will the defense be?
It certainly won’t be the same 3-4 scheme that Georgia Tech used last year in its only season under defensive coordinator Nate Woody. The new scheme will look more traditional, but will operate with the goal of creating pressure. New defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said the idea is to make the opposition uncomfortable.
“It’s an effort-based defense,” Thacker said. “Our emphasis will be on takeaways and third downs. Once we figure out what fits our personnel best to get off the field on third down, we’ll put more structure to it.”
Which returning players will prosper under the new regime?
Athletic guys with high motors will likely thrive under the new defensive staff. It would not be surprising to see linebacker Charlie Thomas, safety Juanyeh Thomas and cornerback Tre Swilling take a higher profile.
On offense, KirVonte Benson rushed for 1,000 yards in 2017 and played only two games in 2018 before going down with a leg injury that required surgery. An above-average receiver, Benson could be a centerpiece for the offense.
Receivers Malachi Carter and Stephen Dolphus, another graduate of Northside, should get plenty of opportunities at a position that will command greater attention under the new system.
Which players will opt to leave for greener pastures?
Georgia Tech has already lost two-time All-ACC offensive lineman Parker Braun. He left as a graduate transfer and will play at Texas. His loss won’t help the transition, but it doesn’t decimate the position that was already. No one has said who else might be leaving, although more defections are expected for those who don’t fit the new mold.