Tech coach still facing QB questions

ATLANTA - Ever since Paul Johnson took the head football coaching job at Georgia Tech, he's fielded questions about how well his option-based spread offense will fare against high-level competition.

Many of those questions surrounded the starting quarterback situation, and they continued to pop up as Tech held its annual Media Day prior to the traditional meet-and-greet with the fans Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

"I don't think they'll ever stop," Johnson said bluntly about being questioned about his offense. "As soon as we lose a game, that's going to be the reason. I find it amusing, really."

What isn't quite as amusing is the youth and inexperience the Yellow Jackets will have under center, with redshirt senior Calvin Booker being the only one of the seven quarterbacks on Tech's roster having more than one year of college experience.

What's more, three of those quarterback are non-scholarship walk-ons, including former Norcross standout Bryce Dykes.

And considering how critical the quarterback is in running Johnson's systems, those youngsters will have to grow up in a hurry.

"Let's say Josh Nesbitt (currently at the top of the depth chart), ends up with the starting job," Johnson said hypothetically. "He's only a sophomore, and there's a good chance the backup could be either a freshman or someone like Bryce Dykes (a redshirt freshman).

"And it's not like there were a stockpile of (quarterbacks) on scholarship when we got here. There are voids at lots of positions (that) young guys are going to have to play and back up."

For now, Nesbitt seems to be the man on the spot. After seeing snaps primarily to run the ball out of the shotgun as a freshman last year - when he rolled up 339 yards on 53 carries - the 6-foot-1, 214-pound sophomore figures to take on a much more expanded role this fall.

And missing much of spring practice with a groin injury hasn't helped him with gaining experience in Johnson's spread option - though Nesbitt doesn't necessarily believe he comes into preseason workout behind in the learning curve.

"We're all on the same level," Nesbitt said of his fellow quarterbacks. "(The system) is new to us all, but we're getting better. We're going to have mistakes, but we're practicing to get the kinks out."

While Nesbitt is currently atop the depth chart, he is hardly assured of taking the first snap when the Jackets square off against Jacksonville State in their season opener Aug. 28 at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Among those challenging him for playing time is Dykes, who turned out to be a pleasant surprise during spring practice and entered the preseason at No. 2 on the depth chart.

The 6-1, 181-pound redshirt freshman seems to have picked up the option fairly quickly considering how radically different it was from what he ran at Norcross for coach Keith Maloof.

He's also benefited from a new coaching staff open to anyone who can produce, which could mean playing time if he continues to pick up the system.

"(The new coaching staff) came in with no biases," Dykes said. "Everyone has an equal opportunity. ... I'd love to be on the field and see some playing time, but we're all out here to get better."

While the system may be strange to most of the quarterbacks, Jaybo Shaw - with Tevin Washington one of two true freshman quarterbacks on Tech's roster - may be the most familiar with it.

The 6-0, 190-pounder from nearby Flowery Branch ran a very similar system during his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Falcons, though he admits working it under Johnson is a whole different proposition.

"It's definitely different here than it was in high school," Shaw said. "But really, the main thing I'm having the most trouble with is the speed of the (college) game. That's the biggest thing I'm getting used to."

That's exactly what concerns Johnson about playing either Shaw or Washington, though he hasn't ruled out either scenario depending on what they show him as the Jackets put on pads for the first time this season today.

"I don't think any (coach) on any level would like to start a (true) freshman," Johnson said. "In a perfect world, I'd redshirt them all, but in our situation, we can't do that. Some of them will play. I just can't tell you which ones right now."