Collins Hill grad Charles Perkins is listed as one of Georgia Tech’s A back starters entering the season opener. (File photo)
ATLANTA — With its 2014 football opener against Wofford just days away, Georgia Tech faces a lot of question marks, many of which involves new faces, familiar faces in new places and familiar faces back after absences.
Coach Paul Johnson addressed those questions Tuesday during his first weekly media conference of the season, and not surprisingly, the biggest focus was on the quarterback situation.
With the transfer of last year’s starter Vad Lee to James Madison, all eyes now turn to Justin Thomas, who saw limited action in relief of Lee last year.
Johnson said the 5-foot-11, 189-pound redshirt sophomore’s presence figures to help the Yellow Jackets return to many of the basics of his spread option offense as they prepare for Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. kickoff at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I feel good about Justin,” Johnson said of Thomas, who ran for 234 yards and threw for 131 more in eight games a year ago. “I think he played a great deal a year ago, and I think he fits what we want to do. He’s had a good spring camp and a good fall camp, and for that matter, so has Tim Byerly. So, I feel good about that position being able to deliver what we want to do with the offense.”
But quarterback is hardly the only position that could feature a different look.
The departure of last season’s two leading rushers on offense — David Sims and Robert Godhigh — and two of the team’s leading tacklers on defense — Jemea Thomas and Jeremiah Attaouchu — also have Johnson and his staff eager to see who steps up to revamp each unit.
The answers may come, at least in part, from a handful of players returning after being either severely limited or missing last season entirely due to injury.
One player who will be looked to on offense is redshirt senior and Collins Hill grad Charles Perkins, who is finally healthy after being limited to injuries throughout his career and is penciled in as one of the starters at A-back.
The defense will be boosted by the return to health of even more experienced players, such Grayson grad Shawn Green, who is set to start at nose tackle after battling various injuries that limited him to just seven games a year ago, and safeties Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Golden.
In the case of Perkins and Green, both seem as healthy has they’ve been in their entire careers, and Johnson says the relative health the team has enjoyed so far in preseason, minus a few minor bumps and bruises, is an encouraging sign for the team’s fortunes this season.
“Keeping guys healthy is key to having a good season no matter what you do,” Johnson said. “And if they’re first-team players that means they are first-team players for a reason. That means they’re better than the guys backing them up. So making sure that those guys are healthy and get to play, the better you’re going to be.”
“Charles Perkins came to Georgia Tech with a shoulder injury with which most people wouldn’t be playing. When they finally did the surgery on it, the team doctors didn’t think he would play again. That (injury) didn’t happen at Georgia Tech. That happened in high school. That’s the case with a lot of these guys. And then when you get to a higher level where the game’s a little faster and a little stronger it shows. But I think Shawn (Green) and Charles both could have great seasons if they stay healthy. Charles has had a really good camp and I think he’s back to his old self. And Charles has played a lot. We forget that a couple years ago he started a couple games at B-back. He’s played a lot.”
While there are several other players with plenty of experience, the excitement of a new season for veterans and newcomers alike is something that Johnson likes season.
But he also wants to temper that excitement with focus on the task at hand, even with an FCS opponent like Wofford the first time out of the gate.
“I don’t think it matters who you play, the first game there’s going to be the butterflies, the excitement and the adrenaline flowing,” Johnson said. “You just have to settle down.”