ATLANTA — The days are running low around Georgia Tech, as the Yellow Jackets make final preparations for next Saturday’s season-opener with South Carolina State.
As a result, they took part in a brief scrimmage Friday afternoon inside Bobby Dodd Stadium to go through one of their final live, full action workouts before the first actual game.
Head coach Paul Johnson appeared less than thrilled about the energy he witnessed during the scrimmage, but hopes that by giving the players Saturday and Sunday off, that they will return more lively Monday.
“We got out of it what we needed, it is what it is. It’s scripted, it’s not really a game and we didn’t have a whole lot of energy,” Johnson said.
The scrimmage was mostly comprised of situational plays, such as safety kickoffs, post-safety drives and opportunities for the defense to score, Johnson said
During the scrimmage, assistant coaches took to their pressbox booths to provide a walk-through of what calling the action will be like when the games begin.
Of all the assistants, however, defensive coordinator Al Groh was the only one on the field next to Johnson.
“It’s good to have Coach Groh on the sideline with us,” outside linebacker Anthony Egbuniwe said. “I had two plays where I messed up, and it was good to have him there to be able to correct me and tell me what I did wrong. I’m glad he’ll be on the sidelines during the season.”
Some of workout’s highlights included: a 53-yard, untouched touchdown run by starting quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, a 23-yard touchdown run by A-back B.J. Bostic after recovering his own fumble, blocked field goals by Mario Butler and Egbuniwe and a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Jerrard Tarrant.
Those statistics, of course, came against the scout team.
Indoor facility coming?
With the start of the season now one week away, Georgia Tech on Friday held its annual “Can’t Wait Until Kickoff” Luncheon at the Cobb Galleria Center in northwest Atlanta.
During the paid ticket event, Yellow Jackets fans were able to hear from Johnson, select players, radio announcer Wes Durham and other administrative and alumni representatives.
One of those speakers, Stephen Zelnack, a 1969 alumnus and CEO of the Martin Marietta Corporation, implored attendees to help sponsor the building of an indoor football practice facility for the Yellow Jackets.
“We’ve got a practice facility that needs to be built,” said Zelnack, the primary donor of Georgia Tech’s latest basketball practice facility which bears his family’s name. “It’s going to cost a lot, but I hope each of you can help find a way to make it happen. Coach Johnson and the players are doing great things, but in order for us to take them to the next level, we need great support for that facility.”
Mentioned during one of athletic director Dan Radakovich’s past web addresses to fans and alumni, the building would give the team another venue to practice in, and would keep them on campus when the weather turns inclement.
During the last two years — twice during 2009’s spring practice and at least once last regular season — torrential downpours in Atlanta forced the Yellow Jackets to workout inside the neighboring Georgia Dome, or at the Atlanta Falcons’ indoor facility at Flowery Branch. Each time, the program was forced to rent buses and deal with the hassle of practicing away from their normal on-campus spaces.
In the past, when asked about the impact an indoor unit would have on his team, Johnson has deferred comment.
The general message Johnson, Radakovich and others involved with the Friday luncheon tried to impart was that the 2009 season was over, and now a new year begins.
In an effort to get players and fans to direct their thoughts upon the future, the tactic will be put to the test next Saturday, when the season begins with a 1 p.m. kickoff against South Carolina State.
At least one player, however, will try to relive two particular games from last season, and that is place-kicker Scott Blair.
The architect of a game-winning field goal against Clemson and a four-field goal effort against the same Tigers in the ACC championship, Blair has designs of picturing orange and purple every time he takes the field.
“Mentally, you’re playing Clemson every week, aren’t you?” Durham asked Blair in front of the luncheon audience.
What was his reply?
“Exactly,” Blair said. “Every single game.”
‘Come a long way’
Other players joining Blair at the luncheon were outside linebacker Anthony Egbuniwe, offensive tackle Nick Claytor, receiver Stephen Hill and safety Mario Edwards.
When Durham asked Claytor his thoughts on the impending year, the junior told a brief story about the journey the Yellow Jackets have taken the last three seasons.
“We watched spring practice from when they (Johnson and his then-new staff) first got here, and they looked terrible,” Claytor said. “We’ve come a long way.”
That first spring under Johnson — 2008 — fumbles, botched reads and misread meshes were the defining characteristics to the foundation of his option’s genesis at Georgia Tech.
The Touchdown Club of Atlanta handed out two awards during the luncheon. One went to Johnson and another to former defensive end Derrick Morgan.
Johnson was recognized as the club’s ACC coach of the year for leading the Yellow Jackets to an ACC championship, an 11-3 record and an Orange Bowl berth. Morgan, the ACC’s sack leader from a year ago was named the club’s defensive lineman of the year.
Morgan’s mother accepted the award in his honor, as her son is in the middle of his first year with the Tennessee Titans.
Morgan had 12.5 sacks last season. In January, he joined three other junior teammates in leaving Georgia Tech for NFL careers.
One of those other players who left early was safety Morgan Burnett.
On Thursday night, during a primetime, nationally-televised game between his Green Bay Packers and the Indianapolis Colts, the Atlanta-area native intercepted Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning.
As Manning tried to complete a quick pass to one of his wide outs, Burnett jumped quickly in front of it.