Sept. 1, 2009
A transcription of head coach Paul Johnson's first weekly press conference of the 2009 season.
"It's hard to believe game week is finally here. This has been the longest camp that I can remember. We have had five weeks from the day we started until we play the first game. I think we have gotten a lot of good work in. We hit a little bit of the doldrums in the middle as guys did not have much to look forward too. The intensity and pace has really picked up. We will have another work day today and try to polish on Wednesday and Thursday, take Friday off and come back and play on Saturday. The main focus right now is to get everyone to the gate healthy. We have some guys bumped and nicked a little bit but I think overall, considering the amount of time we had in camp, we are coming out fairly healthy."
"The one position we are a little short at is wide receiver. With Tyler Melton going down and Zack Fisher is status uncertain for the game. We have Demaryius Thomas and Kevin Cone to start and Stephen Hill will play some but after that I am not sure how deep we will get at receiver. Some of the guys we were counting on for depth may not play Saturday. Other than that, I think we are healthy and we have everyone that we can possibly have ready to go. Roddy Jones is available if we want to play him. He started practicing full contact yesterday, but that may be a game-time decision on what we are going to do with Roddy. Physically, he can go if we need to have him."
On the progression of the defensive line
On playing three games in 12 days
"The big thing is we did not lose a lot of people on defense, we just lost a lot of people at one position. We basically have eight starters back on defense that played at the end of last season. We did lose three of the four defensive linemen so that becomes a big question mark. I am as anxious as anyone to see how our guys are going to play. I think that Jason Peters has had a good camp. Derrick Morgan is a good football player with a great motor. He may have been our most productive player last season. Ben Anderson and Robert Hall are guys that play hard. T.J. Barnes, who hasn't played and Logan Walls, a big guy, has not played much. Anthony Egbuniwe, then the freshman Izaan Cross are all going to play and after a game or two we will have a better idea how we are going to fare there. I do think they have the ability there to be O.K."
"The hardest game will be the second one [against Clemson] because you have the five-day turnaround. The third game you do have seven days, just with a different schedule. I would be more upset with the second game if we only have five days to prepare and the other team had seven but they are in the same boat that we are. The team that has a little bit of an advantage is Miami because they play on Monday and will pick up some extra days on us, who has to play on a Thursday night. Overall, it generally works itself out. We have been planning for it so we just have to be ready. Getting ready for Clemson is going to be a chore but right now our focus is on Jacksonville State. It is the first game we play and the first game we have to win."
On practicing for Clemson while working on Jacksonville State
"We did not do it. Have not done it all and will not. I think it sends the wrong message. I want to beat Jacksonville State. We are going to make sure we get ready for Jacksonville State. It could happen. Every year one of the FCS teams comes in and beats someone. They will have some good players and we are not going to overlook them."
On adjusting camp due to length of time
"We had to adjust camp some because it was so long. Normally, you have four weeks. In a regular camp, you will play two weeks against yourself, then you will have a week of scouts and then the final week you will focus on the game. We had to adjust a little bit. We actually had three weeks of playing against ourselves. When you do this, you have to guard against guys getting hurt. It doesn't do any good playing pity pat, it isn't any good just punching the clock. We played, got a lot of live reps in and had a lot of guys play. The biggest adjustment is going to come after Saturday. We will be back practicing on Sunday. People wondered about the start time for this Saturday's game but 1:00 p.m. is a great start time for us because that is five to seven hours for these guys to rest before having to come back out on Sunday. When you play again on Thursday night, our Sunday practice becomes the normal Monday practice. Monday and Tuesday become our Tuesday and Wednesday practices. We have to move everything back. There will be a lot of football played before our first two games but after that we can go back to a normal schedule."
On the amount of the offensive playbook installed this season
"We ran a lot of the offense last season. There are a couple of things we did not have last year. We couldn't run all the wrinkles and the adjustments, but to the common eye it will look the same. Hopefully it will just look faster."
On the high expectations for the team going into the season
"I went into a lot of seasons with high expectations. I was at one school where we were preseason No. 1. I do not worry about all of that. We are just trying to get better. We are trying to win all our games. Nobody has mentioned anything but the team goals. I may have mentioned to the team after practice one day that with expectations come responsibility but you want to have expectations. Every team has expectations right now. The media and fans may not, but if you polled every team in our league they would think they are going to win the league because they have not lost a game. I guarantee everyone on Jacksonville State's team thinks they are going to come in here and win the game. Our player's hopefully believe they are going to win the game. That is why you play. Once you get seven, eight games into the season, maybe you look at it a little differently. I do not think the expectations are any different than what I had a year ago."
On the biggest surprise in camp
"I hesitate to single anyone out. There were a couple of the freshmen that caught my eye in camp. Julian Burnett caught my eye in camp as being a guy that will play some. As far as returning guys, I think a lot of them have gotten better. Preston Lyons is a guy that has gotten better every week and should help us. There are a lot of guys in that category. I do not think there is any one guy that was overly surprising."
"I do not know, that is why you play the games. We have a lot of guys back in the secondary. We have a lot of depth at A-Back and we have some depth at B-Back. Josh Nesbit may surprise some people. He is a lot more comfortable doing what he is doing. I think he will be a lot better than he was a year ago. That is just my belief but until you see it happen you just do not know."
On special teams
"[Scott Blair] has kicked the ball better the last few weeks. You just have to see it in a game. I do not know if he will have any more pressure than he had last season. When you trot out there by yourself to kick, I can imagine that is pretty pressure packed when you have anywhere from 50 - 80,000 people watching you kick the ball. There is a lot of pressure on him already. I think he is very capable to have a very good year. He has kicked the ball well for the last part of camp. We will see how he does. We think our return game is going to be better. You probably will not know the answer to these questions for two to three games. I think it is going to be a process of a few games to see where we are out. We can go out and return two kicks and then the rest of the year not do anything. Your average may be better but unit may not be better. I am looking for the consistency."
On opening up with the same team two years in a row
"I have not thought much about it. Being in a conference, you are going to play the same teams year in and year out. Even though they are not in our league, I have not thought much about it. They will have semblance of what we do, we will have some semblance of what they do but we would have run into that no matter who we play."
On the depth at the quarterback position
"I want to win the game so I will do whatever it takes to win. If we have a chance to play them, yeah they will play. Just like everyone else on the bench, I will love to get everyone in the game. I am under no illusion that it will happen. We just have to see how the game unfolds. Everybody has made such a deal about the quarterback situation. We are probably better off than we were a year ago. Last season, we were going in with Josh [Nesbitt], who was still feeling his way around, and you had Jaybo [Shaw], a true freshman who was coming straight out of high school. This year, we have an experienced quarterback (Nesbitt). We have Tevin [Washington], who is a redshirt with two camps and a spring practice under his belt. We also have Quentin [Sims] who has been here the same amount of time and even though he has not been playing quarterback, he did in high school and looks good out there. If need be, we have freshmen quarterbacks that were recruited to this system. Jaybo [Shaw] should be back after three to four games. I think we are better off than we were a year ago. Now if two guys go down, will it hurt you, sure it will. If two guys go down anywhere it will hurt. There is not a team in the country that would not be hurt by losing its top two quarterbacks. We have more depth there than we did a year ago."
On the lack of seniors on the roster
"We did not have many seniors on the roster last year. We have 18 starters back so that means only four seniors were starting last season. We will probably have three seniors out of our 22 starters. I do not think you need to be a senior to be a leader. We had some great guys last year. Darryl Richard was a great leader but we have some guys who have filled that position. Morgan Burnett is a great leader on the field, I think Jonathan Dwyer leads because of the way he plays. Josh [Nesbitt] has become a leader, Demaryius Thomas, Brad Jefferson, Derrick Morgan. There are a lot of guys that are not seniors who are leaders on the team. I think we are O.K. there."
On looking past the next game
"There is a history when you look ahead and it is not pretty. I am hoping they are looking at the last game we played against LSU. That is what I am thinking about. We need to get that one behind us. I want to get the next one so we can move on. We have had to live with that game since we played it. Hopefully, we learned a lesson. We will find out Saturday night if we did or not. Like I tell the team, you only get one chance at making a first impression. Right or wrong, after our game Saturday night, we are going to be labeled in whatever category they want to put us in."
On going to the Alabama vs. Virginia Tech game Saturday night
"It is illegal, can't do it. The NCAA will no let you go see any team you will play in person. To answer your question, I would not have gone anyway."
On coaches coming to Tech or the Tech staff going to another program to learn
"I think through the years there have been a lot of teams that have done it. We have tried to be open to all the high schools in Georgia. We have a ton of them visit in the spring. If someone wants to swap ideas we are here. We try to help them all we can. They can not do anything but help us when they are doing it.
"In the past we have done it. When we were at Navy, we went up to visit the New England Patriots. I have known Bill Belichick for a while and we are pretty good friends. We also went up to West Virginia. You swap ideas. We have had several college staffs come in here. We just decided not to go anywhere this spring. Mostly, we had offensive staffs come in but sometimes you have others as well. It just varies. Coaching is a small profession and everyone knows each other. Sometimes, I am just going to take my staff to see how a team practices. It is not always how a coach schemes or it might be how a team sets up the week, grade film or how they run study hall. It is a lot of things.
"You are not going to let anyone you are going to play come in. I had an unwritten rule while I was at Navy that I would not let anyone that was going to play Georgia Southern come in. I would not let anyone playing Navy come in. I would think Navy would do the same thing. There is somewhere you draw the line. I am not sure how it would help."
On the biggest surprise coming from Navy to Tech
"Probably the biggest surprise was we might catch a break schedule wise and academically coming from an academy. It might have been easier at times at Navy. There are not a lot of classes offered here in the morning; most of the classes are in the afternoon. Trying to schedule around the labs is the biggest surprise to me. When I was at other state schools it was pretty easy to have everyone finish classes by one o'clock. Here it is tough. We miss guys in meetings everyday due to academics."
On Johnson's play calling patterns
"I just try to look out on the field, see what the defense is doing and call the plays accordingly. It depends on the type of system you have. It just never made any sense to me to write down all the plays I would run on first and 10 from what I see on film and then we get into the game the defenses is lined up differently. Now I have my nine plays and I have to use them. To me, I just find the play that is working and then I might run it over and over until they stop it. You just try to stay one step ahead of the other guy. I always try to put myself in their shoes. If I am on defense and this hurt me what would I do to stop it. Sometimes you guess right and sometimes you guess wrong. The beauty of doing something over and over again you hope to get better at it. Hopefully, no one is going to run something we have not seen. I would like to think we know how to attack something, whatever it is. We might not get it done and you might be a couple of steps ahead of us but I do not think it is because we do not know what we want to do."
On Jacksonville State
"Jacksonville State returns 16 or 17 starters. They are ranked in the preseason in their division. They list three transfers from FBS schools that I know of because one of those guys (Greg Smith) transferred from here. They have two defensive tackles; one played in the national title game with Florida and the other played some with Southern Miss. They will have some good players. It will be a question of us going out and playing the way Georgia Tech can play as opposed to finding the match-ups with Jacksonville State. That is how we do it no matter who we play. We are going about this like we would play anyone on our schedule."
On going into the game preparing to pull starters
"I look at how the game is going. If I was way ahead or behind I may pull someone. I am going in with the philosophy to try and win the game. I do not have a crystal ball; I do not know how it is going to turn out. If I was going into the game against Gardner-Webb, I would have been in trouble. You do not ever know until you play the game. The philosophy is not any different if I was playing Ohio State, I would pull them. Until you play and see what happens you do not know what will happen."
On familiarity of coaching staff
"I think our staff has been together for a long time. On offense, Brian [Bohannon] and Jeff [Monken] have been with me 13 years, longer than that really. Mike [Sewak] and I have coached together 14 years. Buzz [Preston] and I have been together for eight years. Todd [Spencer] and I have been together for seven. We have been together for a while. We know how each other is going to react. On the defensive side, Giff [Smith] had worked for me at Georgia Southern. I have known Dave [Wommack] forever. I have not known Charles [Kelly] and Brian [Jean-Mary] that well but I do not talk about technique at corner or whatever during the game. The staff has more familiarity with the players. I think we are better aware of what the players can do in situations. That might be a difference. Starting about Thursday I will be in knots on the inside but I do not show it on the outside because I want to give the players an air of confidence. On the inside I will be churning and if not you should get out of the business. I think we will be better but I do not know. We will see. That is why we play the games. We could be better and not show it in the game, that is why I am not going to make any snap judgments based on one or two series. I want to see the thing it play out a little bit."
On defense hurt by facing option offense
"The only time our defense saw our offense yesterday was in the one minute drill and they were not too worried about the option. We were throwing the ball and no huddle just like they will see on Saturday. If you look at the statistics, it will be pretty easy to prove it is not true, we ran the option last season, I do not think the defensive stats fell off at all. It might be where it was the season before when they were a year ago when they were running the pro set and had the perception that they were killing everyone defensively. When I was Georgia Southern, our defensive was in the top five a number of years. Once you get into the season, you are not playing against the offense; you are playing against scout teams. Football is football. If we do not play assignment football, any offense is going to get you."