ATLANTA — At his Media Day press conference last Saturday, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson named only two players who had earned the honor of being declared starters for the upcoming season: quarterback Joshua Nesbitt and inside linebacker Brad Jefferson.
On Thursday, Johnson opened up to reporters about a few more positions that have drawn his final stamp of approval.
After a week of competition at offensive guard, the Yellow Jackets now know that Omoregie Uzzi, a sophomore, will start on the right side of the Georgia Tech line. The left position is still up for grabs, Johnson said, with Dublin native Nick McRae still in contention with redshirt freshmen Will Jackson and Ray Beno.
At inside linebacker, Washington County product Brandon Watts will get the nod next to Jefferson, Johnson said. The head coach did, however, make the assertion that Watts has long been slated to play.
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“Linebackers have been pretty well set coming out of spring,” Johnson said. “Brandon Watts and Brad Jefferson are the two inside backers, and Kyle Jackson and Steven Sylvester and Julian Burnett are kind of battling behind them.”
Burnett and Sylvester were stalwarts in the Yellow Jackets’ three-linebacker base setup last season. The former Westside standout, Burnett started as a true freshman in 2009, but has practiced with the second and third groups this preseason. Long tabbed as a smaller linebacker, Burnett’s size could be pushing him deeper into the shuffle.
At outside linebacker, Johnson said Anthony Egbuniwe and A.T. Barnes would start for the Yellow Jackets, wrapping up the four-linebacker set.
Even more roster placements should be set in the coming days, as the Yellow Jackets on Saturday participate in first preseason scrimmage. While Johnson doesn’t like to put all his stock in how players perform during such games, they will have an impact, nonetheless, he said.
“You have a lot more practices. There will only be a couple of scrimmages,” Johnson said. “Now, certainly, someone can turn someone’s head in a scrimmage but you’re going to rely on what you see everyday than what you see once or twice.”
In what has become a daily trend, the weather once again found a way to color a Yellow Jackets practice.
With the Thursday workout freshly in the books, Johnson lumbered with his long, purposeful strides through the Callaway Plaza and into the player’s lobby at Bobby Dodd Stadium, where he plopped himself on a bench with a cup of Gatorade in hand. Usually a hardened weather warrior, even the coach found himself slightly weakened by the sun’s unrelenting rays.
Apparently, he wasn’t alone.
“We’re having a hard time fighting through it, but (heck), it’s hot,” Johnson said. “As long as they (the Yellow Jackets) keep trying and pushing through, that’s all you can ask from them. It’ll make us better in the long run.”
To accommodate practicing in the afternoon heat — which had indexes soar as high as 105 — Johnson said he cut short certain position drills and ended practice a little earlier than normal. While it may make it tough to put in every little detail that he wants, the heat will not prevent from full implementation.
“Any time you cut time, it’s going to take away, but we’ve got enough time, it won’t be a problem,” Johnson said.
One other player who has seemed to draw his share of attention from coaches this preseason is redshirt freshman Jay Finch.
Like many on Georgia Tech’s offensive front, the lineman has seen action at guard, tackle and center during his brief stint on the Flats. But by all accounts, it would appear he has finally found a home.
Throughout the preseason, Johnson has declared Finch in a position battle with senior Sean Bedford at center. While the incumbent Bedford, a preseason All-ACC selection stands to win out the race before too late, the competition will only help in giving the backup reps and moderate playing time in games this season.
“That’s what coach has been telling me,” Finch said. “He says, ‘Just keep up the good work.’ I just have to keep giving him what he wants.”
Between the end of last season and the start of camp, Finch has gained nearly 30 pounds, jumping up to 295 pounds, he said.