Q and A with Jonathan Leifheit from GoJackets.com about the upcoming season.
Can you give us some information on starting quarterback Josh Nesbitt? Given he did not play much last year, only attempting 13 passes, the scouting report on him is pretty thin. Were the coaches impressed with him during spring ball?
Actually, Josh did play a good bit last year—enough that he was the third-leading rusher on the team. He racked up 355 yards on 53 carries. He didn't pass a lot—five for 13 for 93 yards—but he was on the field nearly every game. Largely, Josh was used in spot duty and generally was put in for one (maybe two) series in every game.
Josh is an excellent runner and proved to be very hard to bring down. What is unknown is how good a passer he will become. He is known, however, to have a very strong arm and played in an offense in high school that featured his arm frequently.
Josh emerged from spring practice as the clear No. 1, and thus far he has grasped the offense better than any of the other QBs. However, he did have some injury problems and didn't get in as many reps as the coaches would have liked.
Many people perceive Paul Johnson’s option attack as a ball-control offense that methodically moves down the field. Can this offense be effective when trailing in a game, and can fans expect this system to produce big plays?
Last year, Navy's offense was third in the country with regard to scoring drives of under a minute and eighth in the country in plays of 25 yards or more. That sounds to me like an offense that CAN and DOES pick up big hunks of yardage in a hurry.
Navy was the second-least penalized team in the nation last season, allowing the offense to become the nation's finest rushing attack. Georgia Tech was heavily penalized last year in terms of yardage. Do you think offensive discipline is something Paul Johnson can change, and how important is this statistic for the Georgia Tech offense this year?
I think you can expect that Coach Johnson will get the number of penalties down in the long term. However, I'm not sure how well that will be demonstrated in year one.
Largely, offensive penalties happen because a player isn't in position to carry out his assignment and has to do something outside of the rules to do his job. Typically, that results in a holding call on offense.
I expect that as this team learns their roles, those penalties will still occur. I do think we should see fewer of the five-yard penalties (delay of game, illegal procedure, and illegal motion).
Penalties and turnovers are an important statistic in any offense, and how well they keep them down will still play an important role in how well the offense performs.
Paul Johnson led the Navy program to five straight bowl appearances and did an amazing job since his first year in 2002, when he only achieved two wins. The Navy football program seemed to hit the ceiling in terms of its program potential.
Given Georgia Tech's ability to recruit and its status in the ACC, what is the ceiling for Paul Johnson and this Georgia Tech football program over the next five years? Can they be a consistent ACC contender and maybe even a perennial top 10 team?
Georgia Tech has proven that it's an institution where ACC championships and national championships can be won. I think that Coach Johnson's ceiling is no less than that.
I would expect growing pains in year one, and maybe in years two and three as well, while Coach Johnson gets more players in that fit his system. Still, given the numbers he will be able to recruit, he should be able to make the transition more rapidly than some may expect.
The Georgia Tech defense also seems to be undergoing an overhaul, with the loss of defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, as well as leading tacklers Phillip Wheeler and Gary Guyton. How is the defensive scheme going to differ from last year? Will the scheme maintain its aggressive nature that has made this defense successful in the past?
Coach Dave Wommack has indicated that the defense will not lose its aggressive nature, so you can still expect a lot of what has been seen in the past. The difference will be more of an attempt to confuse the offense in what coverages to expect versus confusing them by disguising where the blitz is coming from.
Coach Wommack will expect more from his secondary in terms of differing coverages—particularly with regard to man coverage (something rarely seen under Coach Tenuta), and he will blitz less often than Coach Tenuta.
Defensive end Michael Johnson seems to be getting a lot of preseason publicity, and his name is constantly surfacing on draft websites. With limited production and starts over the past two years, why are scouts so enamored by this player?
Michael Johnson has made a lot of very crucial plays at critical times. He also has been unstoppable in one on one blocking in passing situations and has drawn a lot of double teams in those same situations.
His production is a lot higher than the numbers suggest simply because of the attention he draws from the offense—basically freeing up his teammates to make more plays.
He's a very unselfish player and a very coachable player. Additionally, he has all the athleticism and tools that the pro scouts look for (and then some).
The only knock against him thus far has been how well he works against the run. If he improves that aspect, then he will certainly warrant the attention given to him thus far in the preseason.
The defensive line certainly looks like the team's strongest area. Defensive tackle Vance Walker returns after a monster year with 45 tackles and 8.5 sacks, along with Darryl Richard, who had 4.5 sacks and 30 tackles respectively. With Johnson and Morgan coming off the edge, ACC offensive lines should be concerned.
How big of a role will this unit play in the defensive success, and how do they rank against the other defensive lines in the country?
Considering the inexperience at linebacker, the defense is going to depend a LOT on how well the line performs. Fortunately, they are a unit that I would place among the best in the conference and the country. The success of this defense will live and die with how well the line performs.
The linebacking corps and secondary are highlighted with underclassmen. Who are some of the talented players the coaching staff is counting on, and where is the leadership going to come from?
Among the linebackers and secondary, there are three names that are going to stand out. First is safety Morgan Burnett. Morgan was starting by the end of last year as a freshmen—something very rare under Coach Tenuta due to the complexity of the defense he ran. That speaks well to his talent and how well he grasps the game.
Second, I think Brad Jefferson and A.T. Barnes are players in the linebacking corps that will prove to be another in a long line of great GT linebackers. Jefferson has been used a lot in special teams, so he has been on the field, while A.T. Barnes has started a few games as a result of injuries. Barnes was also in the game in passing situations and proved to be an incredible blitzer.
Both have all the athleticism that Wheeler and Guyton displayed but need experience. Certainly, though, the leadership will largely come from the senior linemen—Walker, Richard, and Johnson.
Lastly, what is your season prediction? Will new head coach Paul Johnson bypass the rebuilding process and get this team to a quality bowl game?
I think this first season will be a success if Georgia Tech gets to ANY bowl game. In 2009, I think GT fans can look forward to more success. But the drastic shift in philosophy on offense is going to take some time to work out, and the early season road trips to Boston College and Virginia Tech are going to be difficult.
Additionally, with 2 I-AA schools on the schedule, the team MUST win seven to even be considered at all for a bowl.
It's really tough to predict how good this team will be until we get to see how much progress the offense has made over the summer and in early fall practice in grasping the concept that Coach Johnson wants to implement.