ATLANTA — Paul Johnson likes to describe himself as a “show me” kind of person.
Meaning, the Georgia Tech head coach often reserves judgment about anything until he feels he has enough visual evidence to make a full determination about it.
In this particular case, “anything” would be his team; specifically its outside linebackers.
“You’re playing against the scouts, so we’ll know (how they look) when the bullets start firing,” Johnson said Thursday when asked about the linebackers’ progress.
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The bullets start firing Sept. 4, when South Carolina State comes to Bobby Dodd Stadium.
With the start of the regular season nearly a week away, the head coach — among others — is anxious to see just how well the outside linebackers perform. Points of emphasis in the 3-4 defense, they are noted for the speed, intensity and passion which define their roles. Essentially cleanup players, they are the ones most likely to have clutch tackles, finishing the job that linemen and inside linebackers started when they flesh ballcarriers out of the middle of the field.
“On defense, you have to be intense. That’s part of the mindset you have to have, it’s a violent game,” junior outside linebacker Steven Sylvester said. “We’re the ones that have to bring the pain. So on defense, if you’re passive, it’s not going to get you too many places to be a violent defense and a force to be reckoned with.”
Before last week, Sylvester had been running as a backup inside linebacker. But due, in part, to his level of game experience and his speed, coaches moved him outside, where he now stands alongside the first-team unit and opposite senior Anthony Egbuniwe.
“It’s fun, getting back into the swing of it,” Sylvester said, smiling, when asked about the move.
While Johnson will reserve any semblance of praise for the unit until it performs in a live game situation, he feels encouraged by its high level of expertise.
“You’ve got guys out there who have been playing a little bit,” Johnson said. “Egbuniwe has played a little at end, Steven Sylvester played last year.”
Egbuniwe played defensive end last season before moving to outside linebacker in the spring.
UNC probe widens
The news came out of Chapel Hill, N.C. in waves Thursday afternoon, just as North Carolina officials were setting up an evening news conference.
Multiple Tar Heels players this offseason have been the subjects of investigations by the NCAA for alleged improper activity. Much of what was unveiled Thursday involved allegations that a tutor completed assignments for players.
While no official suspensions have as of yet been handed down by the university nor the NCAA, there is an overwhelming belief that they will come. It is when they come that could have a major impact on the Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech travels to North Carolina the third week of the season for what will be the Tar Heels’ second overall game and first ACC contest. With both teams picked in the top 25 by numerous polls, the game is one that has drawn plenty of early attention as a key conference showdown.
When asked if he was familiar with the latest rumblings from his home state, Johnson directed his focus upon his own grown.
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” he said. “I’ve got enough problems taking care of Georgia Tech.”
Although Johnson’s attention is fully honed on his own program now, the Yellow Jackets likely will be curious about North Carolina’s status in a few weeks.
Although the rehab process has been long and arduous, junior Kyle Jackson’s return from a foot injury appears promising.
That comes as little surprise to Johnson.
“Kyle’s always been smart,” the coach said. “He picks up things real well. I think that really what’s happening is he’s got a little better grasp.”
After missing all of spring practice to rehab a dislocated lisfranc joint, Jackson has emerged as a legitimate contender in the most recent of practices.
With redshirt freshman Brandon Watts sidelined with his own injury some of the last few practices, Jackson has stepped up and worked with the first-team group at inside linebacker alongside Brad Jefferson. When Watts becomes fully healthy, Jackson is expected to share time with him.
Jackson had 61 tackles two years ago, before missing all of last season with the injury.
Johnson said the Yellow Jackets will scrimmage Friday.
The workout will, in part, help determine the final position battles still on-going.
Following the practice, the players will be given the rest of the weekend off, “if (the scrimmage) goes according to plan.”