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Georgia Tech Football: 2014 Spring Practice Preview

Paul Johnson and his Jackets look to leave behind their lackluster 2013 campaign and return to the ranks of the ACC title contenders.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our "Behind Enemy Lines" series by taking a look at our fourth opponent—and first ACC opponent—for 2014: the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

From the "What Had Happened Was" File:

Overview Georgia Tech finished the 2013 season at 7-6 with a 5-3 record in the ACC. They "officially" tied for second in the ACC Coastal with VT and Miami; however two of their three ACC losses came at the hands of the Hokies and the "U". Due to that, they found themselves at the bottom of the tiebreaker totem pole.

vs. the Hokies Logan Thomas overcame an abdominal strain to have his best passing game of the season (19-25, 221yds, 1 TD). The LPD definitely held up their end of the bargain, holding GT’s relentless rushing attack to 129 yds on 42 carries, and quarterback Vad Lee to his own putrid stat line (7-24, 144 yds, 2 INT). The impressive young D-Block duo of Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller continued playing above their age, with each notching an interception and forced fumble. Facyson edged out Fuller in the stat line, also recovering a fumble. Kyle Fuller was an absolute freak show in this game.

Kyle Fuller forced fumble (via techsideline)

As the VT offense couldn’t capitalize in the second half, Georgia Tech plodded their way back to make the game interesting late (particularly after Cody Journell continued his trend of making Hokie fans want to throw things at their TV’s by missing a late 25 yard field goal); but they just couldn’t overcome VT DB’s with last names beginning with the letter F, and the Hokies held on.

Losses VT (17-10), Miami (45-30), BYU (38-20), Clemson (55-31), Georgia (41-34, 2OT), Ole Miss (25-17)

Signature Win The Jackets didn’t really have an impressive win in 2013 that jumps out at you. Aside from two thrashings of small schools, they did best eventual ACC Coastal champion Duke early in the season, 38-14.

Postseason It’s a true tragedy that teams who are .500 or one game above it are allowed to go to a bowl game, but I digress. Ole Miss beat Georgia Tech 25-17 in the Franklin America Mortgage Music City Bowl.

From the "Rebuilding or Reloading?" File:

The Jackets are entering Spring Ball looking to replace All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu, who is currently the topic of much NFL draft speculation among draft heads, is likely best remembered by Hokienation for this:

Jeremiah Attaochu punches Logan Thomas (via techsideline)

In reality, Attaochu—aside from his one moment of brain-lapse which more likely than not cost GT the game that day, was a very productive player whose presence will be sorely missed.

The GT staff was initially expecting to take a hard look at r-Fr. Kevin Robbins, Jr. to fill Attaochu’s shoes; however, he recently announced his intention to transfer, presumbably to a school with his desired major. (I’ll just assume he changed his mind on his major once at Georgia Tech rather than didn’t do his homework on schools before committing.) According to SBNation’s Joey Weaver in this nifty article:

"Robbins is the the latest this offseason to leave the team prematurely, following QB Vad Lee's transfer to James Madison, DE Anthony Williams' dismissal, and DT Justin Akins' decision to transfer. Alongside Akins, Robbins becomes the second from the 2013 signing class (already small with only 14 signees) to depart the team early."

That’s certainly a situation to keep an eye on moving forward. Small classes potentially mean a lack of depth in the future. And when players from small classes don’t even stick, that compounds the situation further. Unless they pull in a haul of d-linemen in an upcoming class, look for them to have issues at that spot in a couple of years.

This spring, coaches are taking a look at r-Jr. linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days (6-3, 249) to potentially make the move over to rush end and fill those shoes. The Jackets are also expecting JUCO transfer, Kenderius Whitehead, who could also end up in that role.

Whitehead, out of Lithonia, GA’s Martin Luther King, Jr. High, was listed by 247Sports as a 4* prospect and rated the #23 weakside defensive end in the country for the class of 2012. Trying to figure out his eligibility situation kind of gave me a headache. So, I’ll just again defer to Weaver, who wrote about Whitehead in this nifty article:

"By some miracle of loopholes in the rule book, even with two seasons at two different colleges in two different divisions, Whitehead comes to Georgia Tech classified as a redshirt sophomore, with three seasons of eligibility. (Actually, after redshirting as a true freshman at NCSU, he transferred down in divisions to a JUCO, making him eligible to play immediately as a redshirt freshman. Upon receiving a degree, he'll then be eligible to transfer again and play immediately. It's a pretty unique situation if you ask me.) "

Whitehead selected the Jackets as his transfer destination over offers from Marshall and West Virginia.

From the "Hi, My Name Is…" File

There’s a lot of buzz (Get it—buzz…yellow jackets. Ha. Ugh.) among followers of the Ramblin’ Wreck  surrounding freshman B-back Travis Custis (6-0, 207). Custis, who is a product of the same high school as former Jacket standout Tashard Choice (Hampton, GA’s Lovejoy), was Georgia Tech’s first commit in 2013. However, Clearinghouse issues kept him from reporting to Atlanta for enrollment until January 2014.

Says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Ken Sugiura in this nifty article:

"The best athlete on Georgia Tech’s football team might be freshman B-back Travis Custis. Posed the question recently, defensive linemen Adam Gotsis and Shawn Green both voted for Custis, who enrolled in January after NCAA clearinghouse issues prevented him from enrolling last fall.

"That kid is an animal," Gotsis said.

…Green and Gotsis saw Custis only briefly in pads last August, but he has obviously made an impression since January.

"He’s pretty beastly," said Green, also noting that Custis has "pretty fast feet."

The translation of speed, explosiveness, and power to the football field is not always a simple transfer. Custis will have plenty to learn in spring practice about the B-back position. But, obviously, having the tools helps. With three-year starter David Sims having graduated, Zach Laskey will start out with the first string and face competition from Broderick Snoddy, who will split between A-back and B-back, Matt Connors and Custis."

Custis was listed as a 3* prospect by 247Sports and rated the #42 running back in the country for 2013.

Two Biggest Question Marks for 201

Who Will Replace Vad Lee?

Jackets r-So. quarterback Vad Lee rang in his 2014 by pulling a stunner when he announced on January 2 his intention to transfer. The reason he gave was rather interesting:


For a prospect with scholarship offers from home-state Duke, North Carolina, NC State, and Wake Forest, as well as Maryland, South Carolina and South Florida, one would reasonably assume Lee had done his homework enough to know that Georgia Tech runs the triple option. Apparently not.

Lee ultimately made the decision to head to JMU, where he will have two remaining years of eligibility. A lot of new faces in Harrisonburg this fall…

Lee’s departure leaves the Jackets with five quarterbacks on their roster. Redshirt junior Tim Byerly (6-0, 215) is a transfer from Middle Tennessee State who sat out the 2012 season due to NCAA transfer rules and was presumably beaten out for the starting role in 2013 by Lee, r-So. Justin Thomas (5-11, 185) opened Georgia Tech’s Spring Ball as QB1, r-Fr. Ty Griffin (6-0, 195) served as scout team quarterback in 2013, r-Fr. Brady Swilling (6-2, 211) is listed on Georgia Tech’s official spring roster as number "4A," so that doesn’t appear to be very promising for his hopes of earning the starting job, and true freshman Matthew Jordan (6-2, 204) was listed as a 3* prospect by 247Sports and rated the #24 dual-threat quarterback in the country for 2014.

Thomas certainly appears to be the frontrunner in the battle. As Charles Odum reported for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in this nifty article:

"Thomas is one of four quarterbacks competing to replace 2013 starter Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison. Thomas was Lee’s top backup and Johnson said that makes him the player to beat in the competition.

"He’s played the most," said Johnson of Thomas. "I would expect him to be a hard guy to beat out."

Lee started every game as a sophomore as the Yellow Jackets finished 7-6 last season. Thomas played behind Lee in 10 games and made his biggest impact as a runner in Georgia Tech’s spread-option offense.

Thomas completed only 9 of 17 passes for 131 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions as a freshman last season. Tim Byerly sat out the 2012 season after transferring from Middle Tennessee State and appeared in four games last season, rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Two freshmen, Ty Griffin and 2014 early enrollee Matthew Jordan, are behind Thomas and Byerly on the depth chart.

When asked about the learning curve for the freshmen, Johnson’s answer said a lot about the edge in experience for Thomas and Byerly.

"A guy like
Ty Griffin, it’s like drinking from a fire hose," Johnson said, referring to the difficulty to keep up with the constant flow of new plays.

Thomas could be a dangerous running threat as a starter in the option attack. He looks smaller than his listed size (5-11, 185) but he has good speed and could be difficult to bring down when he turns the corner. Thomas ran for 234 yards in 2013, averaging 7.1 yards per carry."

Way Too Early Prediction:

Thomas is an intriguing fit for Paul Johnson’s triple option scheme. He’s certainly a better fit than Vad Lee was, as Lee’s skill set was more of a passer than runner. If Thomas truly is smaller than advertised, that will be a huge advantage for Georgia Tech, as not only will opponents have to play "find the football" on every snap, they’ll also have to wade through the forest to find a tiny tree in Thomas. I see him being much more successful overall running Johnson’s scheme than Lee, which ultimately translates into more wins for the Jackets.

However, defending the triple option is an exercise in self-discipline and commitment to do only your job. I believe at this point that Bud Foster has Johnson’s number, regardless of who’s taking snaps and making the decisions behind center. I also believe that the players have seen the result of what playing within Foster’s scheme does to Georgia Tech and that they will again willfully commit to that in 2014

Paul Johnson: On Notice?

GT fans, despite being very optimistic for a breakout season in 2014, seem to have just about had it with Paul Johnson. Johnson, as everyone knows, is not the most pleasant of individuals; rather, he’s very, very salty. It’s easy to tolerate salty when salty is churning out wins. But, salty also alienates alums who open their wallets to donate money to help fund your program. And when salty begins to lose football games, salty then has no redeeming qualities. When that happens, salty is often shown the door.

This nifty piece by SBNation’s Rodger Sherman details just how bad it’s gotten—GT fans are even using their obituaries to call for Paul Johnson to be fired:

"Robley Tatum’s obituary tells a lot about him. He was 91, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, he was married for almost 60 years, and he had a loving family. It also mentions his sports passions, which are linked to Georgia Tech, where he went to school and worked for many years:

He loved his family, his neighbors, Georgia Tech, the Atlanta Braves, bowling (he was a great bowler), the Atlanta Journal/Constitution (where his dad had worked), Waffle House, Hickory House and the Picadilly Cafeteria, and Little Debbie. He didn't get his final wish for Tech, which to see Paul Johnson get fired, but hey, there's still time.

(We saw this first at For The Win.)

Saying "there’s still time" for the firing of a college football coach in a man’s obituary is perhaps the most beautiful wish for something beyond the grave we’ve ever read. Cheers, Robley, for both loving Waffle House and for taking your hatred for the triple option to the grave."

A spot of drama erupted the day after Vad Lee announced his intention to transfer when CBS Sports’s Bruce Feldman tweeted.

Word is #GaTech coach Paul Johnson is not happy with the school. Hopes they buy him out, according to a source.

— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 3, 2014

Immediately, Johnson put out word denying Feldman’s report; however, the word is out there and floating around, true or not.

In early October 2012, Johnson fired Defensive Coordinator (and Hokienation’s favorite former Virginia head coach) Al Groh. Seemingly as soon as the Jackets walked off the field of their bowl game defeat, Groh went on the offensive, as you can check out in this nifty article by SBNation’s Jason Kirk:

"The idea of Paul Johnson and Al Groh not getting along is a very easy one to accept. The former Virginia coach has a Super Bowl ring and came up under noted all-universe curmudgeon Bill Parcells, while Johnson might be the college coach least likely to budge on anything ever. Especially if "anything" includes fielding a defense so bad it costs his offense games.

Groh is now commenting on the arrangement, which ended after a 2-4 start by the Jackets that include three straight losses in which Johnson’s offense scored 28 or more:

"Just to say it briefly, this circumstance here was the most unprofessional, divisive and negative environment in which I've ever been," Groh said. "To say more would be unprofessional of myself

"It was just a bad cultural match."

Johnson threw Groh under the bus, blaming him for the failures of the 2012 season and ultimately cut him loose in favor of former Duke Coach Ted Roof who installed a new defense, and will again be adjusting his base defense from a 4-3 to a 4-2-5. No matter the adjustment, Jackets fans will likely have little patience with anything but challenging for a Coastal Division title. Johnson's current contract runs through 2016, so that will complicate things especially when you consider the cost of his buyout.

Way Too Early Prediction:

Johnson’s buyout is a whopping $7.5 million. I have a hard time seeing Georgia Tech paying him that much money just to go away. I also don’t see another school shelling out that much to bring him—and his "exciting" offense—in. But, alienating the fanbase by keeping Johnson around if he’s not successful also comes at a huge cost. Ultimately, if Johnson has another clunker of a season, I think he’s shown the door before the bleeding can get any worse.

The Final Word—Fun Fact Edition

The 2013 "Battle of the Techs" marked the unveiling of the Hokies’ infamous (read: heinous) blockhead helmets. Hopefully, those were auctioned off for a ton of money and their templates burned, never to be seen or heard from ever again. They were a "fun" conceptual idea, but never should have actually been produced, let alone worn in public.