GREENSBORO, N.C. — Mondays don’t get Paul Johnson down. Not this Monday, at any rate.
On the second and final day at the ACC Kickoff, the Georgia Tech coach was full of kind words for his players, evidence perhaps of his excitement for the season ahead. Johnson also provided a series of updates coming back from injuries or dealing with other situations complicating their status for the season.
“I think overall, we’ve got a pretty good bunch of kids, but I think, Georgia Tech, that’s kind of the nature of where we are,” Johnson said. “The chemistry might be better, we’ll see. Like I said, I’m kind of ‘show me, don’t tell me.’”
Regarding his players, Johnson said that B-back Zach Laskey had the best spring practice of any player on the team, in part due to his increased confidence, strength, size and maturity. Laskey was the backup to David Sims for the past two seasons but is slated to start this fall.
“I could be wrong, but I think if he’s healthy, he could have a special year,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that he thought that guard Shaquille Mason has been “kind of the anchor up there” on the offensive line, even when he was playing last year alongside three senior starters.
“I think he’s a really good player,” Johnson said.
Quarterback Justin Thomas, Johnson said, probably has the quickest throwing release of any quarterback Tech has had in Johnson’s tenure.
He saved a particularly noteworthy comparison for backup quarterback Tim Byerly. Prefacing his remarks by saying he wasn’t sure if it was fair, Johnson said that Byerly reminded him a little bit of former quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, the force behind Tech’s 2009 ACC championship team.
The comparison was due to “the style (Byerly) runs and the toughness,” Johnson said. “Hard-nosed. And I say that as a real compliment to Tim, because I thought Josh Nesbitt might be one of the toughest players I’ve ever coached.”
Johnson reiterated that Byerly enters the preseason as the No. 2 quarterback, but added that “he could put himself in position to play some.”
Defensively, he said that “we’ve got to find a way to replace (All-American defensive end Jeremiah) Attaochu,” but then brought up early-enrollee freshman KeShun Freeman as a possibility.
“I really liked KeShun Freeman’s motor in the spring,” Johnson said. “I think he can make plays.”
Among Johnson’s updates:
Incoming freshman A-back Myles Autry’s admission to Tech is waiting on paperwork between Norcross High and the NCAA clearinghouse.
“As soon as they get that worked out, he should be cleared to play,” Johnson said.
Defensive end Jabari Hunt-Days, who is academically ineligible after falling behind an NCAA-mandated checkpoint measuring progress towards graduation, will remain in school and can practice with the team as a non-scholarship player after having his grant rescinded.
“If he gets himself back in good graces and back eligible, we’ve talked about putting him on scholarship again at the end of the (fall) semester,” Johnson said.
Tech has sought a hardship waiver for offensive lineman Eason Fromayan, who transferred to Tech this summer from TCU, which would enable him to play this season. A-back Deon Hill, who missed time in the spring due to his Crohn’s disease, has been cleared and is expected to take part in practice. Wide receiver Anthony Autry, who missed last season after tearing his ACL, should be ready to go in the preseason, also.
Linebacker Anthony Harrell (knee) is expected to be cleared by the season opener Aug. 30.
Johnson also spoke again on his intention to re-commit to the option game after the Jackets threw more frequently (78/22 run/pass ratio) last season, to little effect, than any of his previous five Tech teams.
“That’s what we do,” Johnson said. “More option, more triple option. We really got away from it a year ago. We ran very little triple option. We weren’t very good at it.”