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Change in the air for Jackets football after losing season

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ATLANTA -- Paul Johnson is facing an unusual situation, at least for him.

For only the second time in his 14-year head coaching career, one of his teams is coming off a losing season.

So, he figured, it was a good time to shake things up a bit heading into spring practice at Georgia Tech.

"I want our guys to understand exactly what I expect out of them," Johnson said Monday before the Yellow Jackets took the field for the first of 15 practices, capped by the annual spring scrimmage on April 23. "They need to know exactly the way things are. I want them to know what is good and what is bad. That's not debatable. What I think is good is what counts."

To that end, he began holding leadership meetings every Tuesday, hoping to rebuild the swagger of a program that plummeted from Atlantic Coast Conference champions in 2009 to 6-7 last season. He's also getting more involved in special teams, one of the team's most glaring weaknesses a year ago.

For the most part, though, the changes are subtle.

There are certainly no plans to abandon the triple-option offense that is Johnson's trademark, even though fumbles were another major problem in 2010.

"We've had a lot of success at what we do," Johnson said. "We didn't meet expectations last year. We had some injuries, and we probably didn't do as good a job of coaching them as we should have. There's all kinds of things we could've done better. But we don't want to start over and blow it up. We've been fairly successful for 14 years.

"There will be a tweak here and there," he added. "We'll identify our shortcomings and move on from there."

Much of the focus during the spring will be on the quarterbacks. Tevin Washington started four games last season in place of injured star Josh Nesbitt and has the inside track to keep the job. But he'll be challenged by redshirt freshman Synjyn Days.

"Tevin is the starter coming in. He earned that," Johnson said. "I don't get too hyped up on freshman. Until they show they can do it on the field, I don't want to hype them all that much. Synjyn has a lot of ability. But he's got to beat Tevin out. It's Tevin's job."

Nesbitt isn't the only key offensive player who must be replaced. Top rusher Anthony Allen (1,316 yards, seven TDs, 5.5-yard average) departed as well, leaving a wide-open fight at B-back.

Redshirt freshman Charles Perkins could claim the position. Senior Preston Lyons and junior Richard Watson will be in the mix. And don't forget versatile sophomore David Sims, who will start out the spring in the secondary but could also get a look on the offensive side -- maybe even at quarterback.

Whoever wins the job, Johnson expects the same sort of production he got from Allen and the previous B-back, Jonathan Dwyer.

"I'm comfortable with that position," the coach said. "We've probably got more depth there than anywhere. There are some good players back there."

Johnson also is counting on major improvement from the defense, even though the entire starting secondary must be replaced. The Yellow Jackets still gave up far too many yards after bringing in Al Groh as coordinator and switching to a 3-4 alignment.

"If you look at the stats from two years ago and last year, there's really not a lot of difference," Johnson said. "You hope in the second year (of Groh's system), there will be a little more familiarity, that kind of thing. The bottom line is winning and losing games. That's really all that matters."