ATLANTA — There was a visitor at Georgia Tech camp Thursday afternoon and it was one some Yellow Jackets hope to see numerous times once their college careers conclude.
Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots, stopped by to see his old friends Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson and defensive coordinator Al Groh, and to offer encouraging words to Johnson’s players.
“He said we need to have a tough camp in order to have the type of season we want to have. I think that’s so true,” safety Mario Butler said.
Belichick and the Patriots were in town much of the week for a Thursday night preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots also spent part of their stay practicing with the Falcons at Atlanta’s Flowery Branch facility.
Owner of three Super Bowl rings, Belichick has at least shown that he may understand the value of a strong preseason camp.
“We have one of the toughest camps possible, and during the season, it’s going to be tough, too,” Butler said.
Because of the innately physical nature of the camp, already, two weeks in, the Yellow Jackets have been slammed with injuries and red no-contact jerseys. Key players Tyler Melton, Nick Claytor, Brandon Watts and Cooper Taylor have been among those banged up this preseason. On Friday, Claytor was seen with crutches, and Taylor reportedly missed that day’s practice.
Despite the injuries, thanks to Belichick’s words, the camp will have its reward, Butler said.
“It (the speech) kind of gives you the mental focus that we need,” Butler said. “It will pay off by the end of the season. We’re going to be able to look back on this camp and feel like we made progress throughout it.”
For those who were curious, New England beat the Falcons 28-10.
Scouting has begun
With Saturday morning’s closed scrimmage, preseason camp has begun to wind down for the Yellow Jackets.
The intra-squad contest will conclude their training sessions for August, and when they return to Rose Bowl practice fields Monday afternoon after a day off, the remaining workouts will be all about South Carolina State.
As a matter of fact, they kind of already are.
During his post-practice interview Friday, Georgia Tech head coach Johnson said the Yellow Jackets have begun preparing for the Bulldogs, their Week 1 opponent.
Scout teams were set earlier this week, and as of Friday, they were put in place to mimic the offense and defense Georgia Tech will face during the Sept. 4 opener at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Last season South Carolina State finished with a 10-1 record, and won the MEAC championship.
Following the scrimmage, the Yellow Jackets are expected to attend funeral services for Fred Uzzi, father of starting offensive guard Omoregie Uzzi.
Fred Uzzi died Aug. 5.
After a brief position battle, the sophomore earned the starting right guard role and will begin playing there next week.
After the funeral, the players will be free from their football obligations for a day or so, as they prepare for the start of the academic school year Monday, and rest up weary joints and muscles.
“Guys are pretty tired and we need a day off,” Johnson said.
During the morning scrimmage, he will be keeping his eyes mostly on those younger, less experienced players on the fringes.
“It’ll be a lot more for the younger guys than the older guys,” Johnson said. “I’ve seen (starting quarterback) Joshua (Nesbitt) play 27 games, so one more scrimmage ain’t going to help me with him. So he might get a series or something like that.”
McCollum wants to speak
Georgia Tech’s current defensive line coach, Andy McCollum has spent several evenings in Macon.
He’d love to come back.
When he was head coach at Middle Tennessee State from 1999-2005, he was a Macon Touchdown Club regular, and often spoke about the inner workings of his program.
Joking with a reporter earlier this week, McCollum had a message to relay: “I want to say hello to all my Macon Touchdown Club friends, and I’m waiting on a phone call.”
Yellow Jackets head coach Paul Johnson has also spoken to the club each of his first two seasons at Georgia Tech.
Middle Tennessee visits Georgia Tech on Oct. 16.
Johnson celebrates 53
On Friday, Johnson celebrated his 53rd birthday.
When asked if he had any plans for the evening, the head coach replied: “Yeah. I’m going to go eat with the team.”