With the ACC Media Days now concluded, it’s time to take a closer look at what Georgia Tech’s three-man delegation of Paul Johnson, Ricky Jeune, and KeShun Freeman had to say about progress during the offseason and expectations for the season to come. Below you’ll find the first installment of the series, focusing on what Paul Johnson had to say about the quarterback battle and replacing key special teams players Harrison Butker and Ryan Rodwell.
On quarterback Matthew Jordan: “I think a year ago Matthew Jordan had to go up to Blacksburg — which is a really tough place to play — and start the game, and we were fortunate that he won the game there. I think that gave him some confidence and gave our guys some confidence in him, and then this spring he had an injury and missed most of the spring.... it’s Matthew’s job to lose but I think we’ve got four guys at that position that I can call a game for right now.”
On the topic of Matthew Jordan, Johnson really confirmed what everyone had expected to be the case even before the interview: the starting job is Jordan’s to lose. The offense was hardly fluid against the Hokies last season, but the fact that Matthew Jordan was able to come in on short notice and win a road game against a top-15 opponent has clearly resonated as strongly with his head coach as it has with everyone else. He remains the most stable and experienced option, even at this advanced stage of the offseason and even despite missing all of spring practice with an injury. Could a younger player upend Jordan by the time Labor Day rolls around? Unquestionably, but the fact is that Paul Johnson values good decision making and a strong grasp on the offense above all else -- two things that tend to be notably absent when it comes to breaking in a new signal caller on week one but which are strong points of Matthew Jordan’s repertoire.
Paul Johnson rarely gives glowing reviews to his quarterbacks at this point of the offseason, and when he does they are well-deserved. The fact that he claims he would be able to call a game with all four of his top options really speaks volumes to the hard work that everyone has put in following the departure of Justin Thomas; judging from the coach’s commentary, he’s quite comfortable with what he has to work with. That bodes incredibly well for week one against Tennessee, a game that certainly deviates from the usual cupcake matchup to open the schedule.
On quarterbacks Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones: “[Matthew Jordan’s injury during spring practice] gave some of our young guys a chance — Jay Jones, and Luke Johnson, who are both redshirt freshmen, who may actually be the most talented kids we’ve had at Georgia Tech since I’ve been here, at quarterback.”
When his commentary turned to the performance of freshmen Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones, Paul Johnson provided some incredibly high praise for the young duo. The fact that he remarked on both Jones and Johnson being two of the most talented players he’s seen during his decade on the Flats says everything you need to hear about them; there’s a very good chance that we could finally see a four-year starter at the quarterback position. Paul Johnson is famous for his straightforward and candid interviews, so the fact that he’d give two young players such high praise is noteworthy to say the least. In fact, it’s flat-out exciting to hear that the emergence of a young phenom or two could help the team avoid a post-Thomas slump entirely. That’s almost unheard of in the world of college football and would be a massive asset for the Jackets in 2017.
On returning talent helping the future starting quarterback: “[The starting quarterback] is gonna have the luxury of being surrounded... by a bunch of guys who have a lot of experience and who have played a lot of football. And for us, four of the five offensive linemen are back, all of the running backs, and the leading receivers, so he’s gonna be surrounded -- whoever he is — by a group of guys who have played a lot.”
Lost in the speculation surrounding Justin Thomas’ eventual replacement is the fact that whoever the starter may be will walk into an ideal situation for a new quarterback. The way that the 2017 Yellow Jackets figure to line up mirrors the 2014 team significantly more than the 2015 team that struggled so mightily after losing a plethora of talent on both sides of the ball; from the offensive line to the defensive backfield, there is talent and experience all around. Breaking in a new center to replace the always-reliable Freddie Burden will be a challenge, but those issues should be alleviated by an All-American caliber guard in Parker Braun plus depth at the tackle position. Unlike we saw in 2015, an injury or two shouldn’t completely derail this 2017 offensive line unit -- an underrated trait for a position group.
The same is true at the offensive skill positions, where the likes of Ricky Jeune and Brad Stewart will hold down the wide receiver position while an incredibly balanced group of runners -- adept at both blocking and carrying — will suit up at A-Back and B-Back. The receiving abilities of Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch plus Dedrick Mills’ absurd ability to get tough yardage will make life relatively easy for a new quarterback.
“We think we’ve recruited guys that can step up and [hit field goals/punt], but until they do it in a game you never really know. The key to that is to not punt much and hopefully we won’t have to kick too many field goals.”
We were likely spoiled by the reliability of Harrison Butker over the past four seasons. There were frustrating moments, but Butker’s with the Carolina Panthers for a very good reason: he was an astronomically good college kicker. Stepping in to replace him will be Brenton King, a well-regarded kicking prospect who stepped in to replace new Alabama kicker Joseph Bulovas after he decommitted from Tech late in the recruiting process. King has promise, but I wouldn't necessarily qualify the above quote from Paul Johnson as a vote of confidence in either he or new punter Pressley Harvin III. The goal is obviously to never punt or kick a field goal, but it would be nice to hear a bit more confidence at this stage despite the lack of in-game experience.