Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson watched his Yellow Jackets lose four of their last six games last year, but he believes this season can be different with the depth he has on the roster.
ATLANTA — Coach Paul Johnson said Georgia Tech has so much depth that he’s yet to decide on starters at several positions.
The Yellow Jackets open the season Saturday at Virginia Tech, and with two more Atlantic Coast Conference games on the calendar next month, Johnson wants the jobs filled soon.
“I think we’ve got good depth, probably the most we’ve had there, too,” he said. “In my mind, we’re at least two deep at every position. It all works on staying healthy. You lose two guys at the same position and that depth goes like that.”
Georgia Tech went a combined 14-12 over the last two years, and 2011 was Johnson’s toughest yet in five seasons with the Jackets.
Before the season began, the ACC stripped the school of its ’09 league championship after the NCAA placed the Jackets on four years of probation.
Last season the Jackets won six straight games before losing four of their last six. They closed with a third straight loss to Georgia and a seventh consecutive bowl loss — this time to Utah in the Sun Bowl.
Senior quarterback Tevin Washington said the team has let go of last year’s disappointment. The goal this season is to win the ACC.
“I feel like being a competitor, when you set a goal and don’t reach that goal,” Washington said, “it’s like I’m back to the drawing board and I’ve got to get to that goal.”
Washington held off Synjyn Days and Vad Lee to retain his job after a productive spring overseeing Johnson’s triple-option offense.
The other spots to fill are at A-back opposite starter Orwin Smith, at B-back and both receiver spots.
Incumbent B-back David Sims and top reserve Charles Perkins are trying to recover from injuries and have left a chance for Zach Laskey to take the job. At the other A-back spot, Robert Godhigh and Deon Hill are the top candidates. B.J. Bostic is playing behind Smith, who will attempt to become the fifth player in school history with 4,000 all-purpose career yards.
With Stephen Hill and Tyler Melton having departed, candidates for the receiving jobs are Jeff Greene, Chris Jackson, Jeremy Moore and Darren Waller — none of whom has caught a pass in a game.
Former Deerfield star and Albany Herald Player of the Year Tony Zenon is also back for the Yellow Jackets.
Johnson recently told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Zenon will likely rotate in at the A-back position.
Zenon, who had 5,684 rushing yards on 650 carries and 65 TDs in his career with the Knights, was red-shirted in 2011 at Tech but showed potential last season during his freshman campaign.
He had one start last season when he gained 47 yards on six carries against Middle Tennessee State and caught a 73-yard touchdown pass on Tech’s first offensive play of the game.
Zenon also led the team in kickoff returns with nine, averaging 22.4 yards per return.
Back in June, Johnson told The Herald that Zenon could be on the verge of a breakout season.
“Nothing would make me happier than to see Tony Zenon have a big year,’’ Johnson said. “It would be great to see him have a good season. He’ll play the slot for us (this year). And he did a good job running back kicks for us. He’s an exciting player.’’
The offensive line, led by left guard Omoregie Uzzi and center Jay Finch, has its starters set. Johnson has given Finch more leeway to make calls once the defensive front sets before the snap.
Finch takes the role serious. The Jackets need more balance after finishing second nationally in rushing and 112th in passing.
“I’m a perfect example that when you’re dragging the team back, there’s no reason for that,” Finch said. “I’m probably the first one to get in somebody’s face when the players, let alone the coaches, can see the dragging. We’ve all got the same treatment, the same reps. It’s time to go.”
In defensive coordinator Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme, the Jackets need two inside linebackers to claim jobs.
Quayshawn Nealy, Tremayne McNair, Daniel Drummond and Jabari Hunt-Days are the candidates.
It will be tough for Georgia Tech to fill loss of Julian Burnett, the inside linebacker whose career was cut short a year because of a neck injury. Burnett led the team in tackles in each of the past two seasons.
The defense needs to give the offense a lift after finishing 60th nationally last year in scoring. Georgia Tech allowed an average of 32.3 points in its last four games with the only victory coming 38-31 at Duke.
Groh’s line is led by three-year starting end Izaan Cross. The other end spot will be decided between Emmanuel Dieke and Euclid Cummings. Nose tackle T.J. Barnes stands 6-foot-7, 345 pounds and has no competition for his job.
Outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu returns as the team leader with six sacks. Cornerback Rod Sweeting is tied with Barnes for most career games played among active players with 39.
Groh believes his third-year scheme, which he brought from Virginia after working nine years as the Cavaliers’ head coach, is now fully understood by the players.
“In the past we’ve had to really spell it out,” Groh said. “Now, a lot of them really understand the concepts of what we’re doing, so it gives us the opportunity to not only incorporate new concepts within a call, but to mix and match to solve the issues that the offense presents.”