ATLANTA -- The key to running an option-based offense is to have a quarterback who can, well, run the option.
Georgia Tech fans are hopeful that won’t be an issue this year with Justin Thomas preparing to line up under center as the starter. The sophomore has a strong arm (his high school team threw the ball a lot), but he is comfortable and confident running the spread option that Georgia Tech employs.
“When I came here I knew that’s what we’re running, so there’s no surprise,” Thomas said.
That fact might have sneaked up on Vad Lee, last year’s starter. He never got the hang of running the option, and it got so bad that head coach Paul Johnson stopped calling the play.
“There was a point I knew fairly early. I think I said we weren’t very good at running the option,” Johnson said. “I was calling plays. I knew it. But you’ve got what you’ve got, and you’ve got what you’re committed to, and you try to play that hand.”
Lee rushed for 513 yards and threw for 1,561 yards in 2013 as a sophomore but opted to transfer to James Madison after the season.
That meant the job belonged to Thomas, who played 10 games last year as Lee’s backup. Thomas ran for 234 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 131 yards and one touchdown in spot play.
Thomas won the job outright in the spring, with Tim Byerly set at No. 2. Thomas will be the starter when the season begins Aug. 30 against Wofford.
“Justin is more of a make-you-miss guy, and Tim is more of a run-over-you, run-through-you guy,” Johnson said. “They have to be able to run the offense and stay within the system. We got away from the system some last year and want to try to get back to it.”
Thomas has many of the same skills as former Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, who was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame this year. Hamilton was an undersized player with tremendous quickness and a surprisingly good arm. Thomas talks to Hamilton when he gets a chance and likes his upbeat, positive attitude but admits any comparison to a Heisman Trophy runner-up is a bit premature.
“Joe is a good motivator. He’s always upbeat,” Thomas said. “We’re both competitive, want to be successful.”
Thomas was ranked as a four-star athlete coming out of high school. He led Prattville, Alabama, to the Class 6A championship in 2011 and was the MVP of the championship game. Thomas originally signed with Alabama but flipped to Georgia Tech when he was promised the opportunity to play quarterback. The Crimson Tide wanted Thomas as a defensive back.
As the No. 1 quarterback, Thomas gets to take most of the reps and is getting more used to running the offense.
“Right now I feel more comfortable, getting my reads down,” Thomas said. “The more reps you get, the more comfortable you get. All I can do is go out and play and stay prepared.
“It’s a different feel, but I’ve still got to put that work in no matter what, go to practice full speed every time, so I can get that game feel.”