ATLANTA — Fans can worry all they want, and reporters can scratch their heads if they are so inclined, too, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson contends.
For now, however, he will be remaining calm and exercising some patience.
He hopes his players join him.
“Anytime we struggle a little bit, we jump to conclusions right away,” Johnson said Tuesday morning during his weekly news conference. “Let’s let the thing play out.”
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With that comment, the head coach specifically was referring to the analysis he seems to have grown weary of hearing his players offer whenever losses come and poor play follows.
“If we don’t play well (defensively), it’ll be because the no-huddle got us, and we didn’t see that formation and we were flat and all the usual reasons,” Johnson said. “If we play well, it’ll be, well, we played fast, it was simple, we knew what we were doing. That’s generally the way it works.”
Detect the sarcasm?
Despite certain inconsistencies Johnson admits his team as having this season, he is not ready to call 2010 a lost year.
“We can play better all the way around, and we need to,” Johnson said. “I don’t have any doubt (in their confidence). I’ve told them. We’re not playing up to our potential; I’d be the first guy to say that. But it wouldn’t be hard to play a whole lot better.”
To get the Yellow Jackets to play better means Johnson has been forced to play a role he’d rather avoid.
“It’s like I told the team (Monday), I’m up their tail right now and I’m going to be until they play up to their potential. I’m not trying to be their friend; I’m trying to be their coach,” Johnson said. “Do I want to be that heavy all the time and be the bad guy? No, I want someone else to do it, but I don’t see anybody else doing it. Therefore, that leaves it up to me.”
Nesbitt not a concern
Likewise, Joshua Nesbitt, the Yellow Jackets’ starting quarterback who led them to last week’s 24-20 comeback win over Wake Forest, is no concern for Johnson, either.
The senior has experienced his share of ups and downs this season, with questions about his passing skills seemingly haunting his every move.
Against the Demon Deacons, however, he put those concerns to rest. Going 11-for-21 passing with four dropped balls and a pair of touchdown throws, he was able to completely rebound from his constantly-under-duress, five-completion outing in the loss to North Carolina State the week before.
But “rebound” might not be the word Johnson would use to describe Nesbitt’s efforts.
“He’s been back,” Johnson said. “Yeah, he missed some reads in the N.C. State game. He missed some in the Wake Forest game. You’re never going to get them all right. But what he did down the stretch was, he made plays.
“He played like I said, like a warrior in the North Carolina game. That doesn’t mean he did everything perfect, but he puts people on his back sometimes and that’s what he did.”
Against Wake Forest, Nesbitt led the Yellow Jackets downfield on back-to-back scoring drives, and capped the victory with a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Correy Earls with 15 seconds remaining in the game.
“The quarterback played like an experienced quarterback and he made plays,” Johnson said. “He’s like everybody else. Sometimes he plays well and sometimes he doesn’t play as well as he can play.
“(But) he’s at a different standard. What’s ‘playing well for him?’ I’m going to hold him to a higher standard than a guy that hasn’t played at all. And I think he holds himself to a higher standard than that as a quarterback. If I had to do pick one thing that separates him from other guys, it’s his toughness and he’s competitive. That’s two pretty good things to have if you’re going to be a football player.”
Earls turning a corner
The fact that Earls was in position last Saturday to make the game-winning catch comes as no surprise to his coaches.
“In practice, he’s worked a little harder and it’s clear to see he’s got the ability to run routes,” Johnson said. “You just hope that he’ll continue to grow and play better.”
For much of Johnson’s tenure at Georgia Tech, Earls has been down on the depth chart. A young receiver with upside under former head coach Chan Gailey’s scheme, Earls had been hoping to still factor readily into the Yellow Jackets’ offense when Johnson arrived with his run-based system three years ago.
But seeing his playing time dwindled, he switched to defense for a season before coming back to offense this fall.
Johnson has been glad to see Earls’ contributions at receiver — the senior has three receptions this season — but wants to see the veteran continue to grow in his final season.
“He caught one ball, right? It was a big catch, but hopefully he can be a guy,” Johnson said. “Correy’s got athletic ability. He’s always had athletic ability. That’s never been an issue.”
Former Jackets injured
Three former Georgia Tech players experienced season-ending injuries in NFL games last weekend, with Derrick Morgan and Morgan Burnett headlining the list.
Both Morgan and Burnett tore ACLs in respective games for the Tennessee Titans and Green Bay Packers. Juniors last season, they joined B-back Jonathan Dwyer and receiver Demaryius Thomas in leaving for the professional ranks one year before their college eligibility was completed.
At the time of his morning news conference, Johnson said he had sent text message well wishes to Burnett, and was planning to do the same for Morgan, whose injury he had learned about moments prior.
Of the four, only Thomas, a West Laurens product, remains active for his NFL team. In addition to starring at receiver, he also has returned kickoffs, taking one back 65 yards last Sunday.
The third injured former player was Chris Reis, a safety who plays for the New Orleans Saints. Reis played under Gailey.