#TGW: Ready For Friday Night Lights

Paul Johnson's 10th set of spring practices at Georgia Tech concludes with Friday night's Spring Game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
April 20, 2017

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Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

Staring at a long, four-and-a-half month gap before real football will be played, Georgia Tech is about to try the next-closest thing. Head coach Paul Johnson's wish list for Friday's 7 p.m. Spring Game at Bobby Dodd Stadium is short.

"My goal for the spring game is nobody get hurt and go out there and have fun," he said Wednesday after the final practice of the spring. "It's the one time you play a game where you really don't care who wins."

For some players, time has been too short.

Senior right tackle Andrew Marshall can hardly believe he's reached this part of his career. The next time he'll play real football will be his last season opener, against Tennessee on Sept. 4 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

"It's a mix of emotions," he said Wednesday. "It was weird today; last spring practice ever down there on [Rose Bowl] Field and this will be the last spring game. It's mixed emotions. It's exciting but it's weird that it's coming to an end. It went a lot faster than you think it does."

Fans and media will be able to watch the Yellow Jackets work on Friday for the first and only time in Bobby Dodd Stadium. They'll see a mix of the familiar and new faces, as the White team will be comprised mainly of the first-team offense and second-team defense, while the Gold team will be predominantly the first-team defense and second-team offense.

The most notable change will be at quarterback, where three-year starter Justin Thomas' job is up for grabs. Junior Matthew Jordan, the most experienced returning signal-caller, won't play. He suffered a non-contact foot injury earlier this spring and will sit out of Friday's game.

Johnson said junior TaQuon Marshall and redshirt freshman Jay Jones will be the quarterbacks for the White squad while junior Chase Martenson and redshirt freshman Lucas Johnson will be with the Gold.

Johnson would be comfortable with any of his top four signal-callers being under center on Sept. 4 versus Tennessee. On Friday, he'll get to see at least two of them in live game action.

"We're not sure if Jay is going to play," Johnson said. "He turned his ankle Monday. We'll see . . . Lucas worked with the ones [Wednesday]. [Quarterback] is the least of my worries. I think we've got some good players there. I'd be good with any one of them playing in a game. I sure would."

Sophomore Dedrick Mills, who led the team in rushing yards (771) and touchdowns (12) last season despite missing four games, will open at B-back with the White team, but won't play much.

"I'm going to put Dedrick and KirVonte [Benson] on the White team and Quaide [Weimerskirch] on the other team simply because Dedrick doesn't need to play more than a series or so," Johnson explained.

The Jackets have the most returning experience in the secondary, where every starter is back, and at A-back.

Although big-play machine Clinton Lynch has missed the entire spring due to injury, fourth-year junior Qua Searcy and senior J.J. Green will play under Friday night's lights.

Plus, "[sophomore] Nathan Cottrell certainly got better this spring. Omari Jarrett's much better, another year in the system," Johnson said. "When they're all healthy, there's five and it could be deeper than that. There's some play-makers in that group."

Across the offensive line from left to right, sophomore Jahaziel Lee, sophomore Parker Braun, sophomore Kenny Cooper, junior Will Bryan and Marshall figure to hold down the No. 1 line, which will suit up for the White team. Senior guard Shamire Devine is not expected to participate Friday night.

Starting wide receivers Ricky Jeune, a senior, and junior Brad Stewart are back and on the White squad, while sophomore Jalen Camp and senior Antonio Messick have flashed at times this spring. Redshirt freshmen Jair Hawkins-Anderson and Stephen Dolphus have had some moments, too, though Dolphus has battled injuries.

"[Camp's] doing really well, making a lot of progress," said wide receivers coach Buzz Preston. "He matured toward the end of last season. I think he's going to do some good things this year and Antonio's doing some good things now.

"It's tough [with] just two guys trying to take the whole workload. Hopefully, we're going to have a comfortable four or five guys this year."

B In the secondary, starting safeties A.J. Gray and Corey Griffin, a junior and a senior, are back, and so are cornerbacks Lance Austin and Step Durham and nickel back Lawrence Austin, giving the Yellow Jackets' No. 1 defense five returning starters to try to slow down the No. 1 offense. All five will suit up for the

Junior Brant Mitchell figures to start at linebacker and junior Victor Alexander is a candidate to replace the graduating P.J. Davis. They'll both be on the Gold squad, along with senior Terrell Lewis.

"I'm the only senior linebacker, so I take a lot of pride in that," Lewis said. "I just try to savor every day like it's the last one. P.J. was one of the best leaders we've had on this team.

"I'm just going to try to do my own thing. P.J. was definitely a vocal leader. I kind of see myself trying to become between that and I'll just fill my role; whatever it is the team needs me to be."

Senior KeShun will likely become a four-year starter at defensive end this fall and will be an anchor for the Gold team on Friday. Fans will get a chance to see senior Antonio Simmons and oncoming junior Anree Saint-Amour continue their battle to earn the end position that Rod Rook-Chungong held down last season.

In the middle, where tackles Patrick Gamble and Francis Kallon have departed, junior Kyle Cerge-Henderson (Gold), sophomore Brandon Adams (White) and junior Desmond Branch (White) are working to back fill.

Redshirt freshman Tyler Vernon has made impressions, too.

"`Big B,' Brandon, he's doing a great job this spring," Lewis said. "Another person is Tyler Vernon. He has a motor."

Like Andrew Marshall, Lewis kind of wishes he could slow the speed of everything down. Friday's game will not only be the end of spring practice for the Yellow Jackets, it's the last spring football for Lewis, period.

"I definitely wanted it to go by a little slower because it's going way too fast," he said. "I mean, you come in and you're a freshman and you don't really know anything. Now, I'm not going to say I know everything, but I'm a lot more comfortable in the system.

"I want a lot more from my guys in terms of effort and less loafs because this really has turned into my team seeing that I'm one of the few seniors."