ATLANTA — After just three days of practice, Georgia Tech’s roster is lighter by two.
Safety Fred Holton was kicked off the team Friday for violating team rules. Holton, a junior who missed the past two seasons with separate injuries, followed offensive lineman Catlin Alford, who informed Johnson on Wednesday that he was leaving the team.
“It was probably both our decisions,” Johnson said of Holton’s departure. “He chose to break a rule, and I chose to let him no longer be on the team.”
Holton’s offense was not a legal matter. The Thomasville grad was expected to compete for a starting position. After a promising freshman year, he missed the 2011 season after tearing his Achilles tendon in the preseason and missed the 2012 season after he tore a different tendon in his lower left leg in the preseason.
“I think he can be a really good football player, and hopefully that’ll happen for him somewhere,” Johnson said. “It just didn’t seem to work out here. He’s been about as unlucky as you could be.”
Holton’s departure thins the safety position, where Isaiah Johnson is returning from an ACL tear and may not play in the season opener Aug. 31. Chris Milton, who probably was the team’s top special-teams player last season, is among the candidates at safety, as well as Jamal Golden, Demond Smith and Lynn Griffin.
“It hurts,” cornerback Louis Young said of Holton’s dismissal.
Young continued: “We’ve got to keep really moving forward. I wish he was out there with me, but I understand certain circumstances are out of my control.”
Alford told Johnson on Wednesday, the day that players reported, that he did not want to play football anymore and gave indication he would transfer.
Mending coach: The team also is temporarily short one assistant coach. Wide receivers coach Buzz Preston has been absent after suffering a blood infection from a surgical procedure. On Saturday, he was at home resting and is expected back this week, Johnson said.
Tech great Joe Hamilton, hired in the spring to the recruiting staff, has been filling in for Preston.
“I try not to mess those guys up,” Hamilton said. “Coach Preston is such a great coach. I call him and make sure I continue the same drills and echo the same things he’s saying to those guys, been saying. As soon as he gets back, I’m going to step back in my role and give him his role back again.”
‘Coach’ Finch: Center Jay Finch has been serving as something of a student coach as he recovers from shoulder surgery that he underwent in the winter. Finch, a two-year starter who was named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy (top center in the country), expects to be cleared in the preseason. He said his doctor wanted to give him six months before releasing him, which would be about Aug. 20.
In the meantime, he is taking part in individual drills, but staying out of contact drills, and he helps coach his substitutes at center, including Ray Beno, Thomas O’Reilly and walk-on freshman Niko Anderson. He even gets a clipboard.
“It’s OK,” Finch said. “At first I wasn’t too partial to it, but I want to help any way possible, so if that’s what I can do, that’s what I’m doing.”
B-back changes: Johnson said that running back Broderick Snoddy, who played B-back last season and entered this preseason third on the depth chart with Matt Connors behind David Sims and Zach Laskey, will get some practice time at A-back to help him get more playing time. Running for the indoor track team last winter, Snoddy broke the school 60-meter dash record three times.
Johnson also said that Connors, a junior walk-on from Marist, has been put on scholarship for the year, as the team was under the 85-scholarship limit going into camp.
Connors follows in the footsteps of Preston Lyons, another Marist grad who came to Tech as a walk-on B-back before eventually earning a scholarship.
Practice report: Tech held its third practice of preseason camp Saturday. The Jackets practiced in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts, which they will do again Sunday. They will practice in full pads for the first time Monday.
“There’s playing in shorts and helmets and there’s playing football,” Johnson said. “Starting next week, we’ll find out if they’re football guys. Some guys are real good in shorts and helmets.”
Johnson spoke with considerable enthusiasm about the work done in the first three sessions.
“The last three practices have been very productive,” he said. “The work ethic has been really good, effort, intensity.”
Evaluating newcomers: Senior defensive end Euclid Cummings gave praise to freshman defensive end Darius Commissiong. He said he showed his size and speed in a one-on-one pass rush drill in Saturday morning’s practice.
Commissiong caught Cummings’ eye for “just being able to take on a guard and actually get in the backfield,” Cummings said. “That was impressive to see him do that.”
Quarterback Vad Lee on wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, who is joining the team after playing baseball for three years: “I know he’s not used to all the running that receivers do, but he’s looking good.”
Optimism from Johnson: Coming off a 7-7 season, Tech was picked to finish fourth in the ACC Coastal Division and did not receive any votes in the USA Today coaches preseason poll released Thursday, the first time that the Jackets have been shut out of that preseason poll in several years. Regardless, Johnson likes his team.
“I think that they work hard. I’m hopeful that we’re going to be a little better than people think we are. I think we have a chance to do that.”