The window in coach Paul Johnson's office overlooks Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Because of the ongoing construction on the practice field, the Yellow Jackets have spent the offseason doing their individual workouts in the stadium -- in full view of their head coach.
This offseason, Johnson liked the view more than usual.
“I think that the whole attitude is better," he said. "A lot of the little things, from breakfast checks to class checks, extra lifting, extra workouts that they are putting in on their own. I can see out my window and there are always people out there working.”
The players didn't have much choice if they have any hopes of improving upon last year's 6-7 season. Georgia Tech's season was derailed the second former quarterback Joshua Nesbitt broke his forearm against Virginia Tech, but the Jackets' troubles ran deeper than that last year. The offense couldn't hold onto the ball, the special-teams units were filled with blunders, and the defense under first-year coordinator Al Groh?
It was just like everything else, Johnson said, "just kind of so-so. We weren't really good at anything."
With only 11 starters returning, competition will be the theme this spring. Georgia Tech returns just 37.9 percent of its points from a year ago (128 of 338). The Jackets are in search of their next 1,000-yard rusher at B-back, and still in need of a go-to receiver. The good news is that the top two receivers return, the A-back position is deep, and all three starters return on the defensive line. There are also a few position changes to watch, including Daniel Drummond's move from B-back to linebacker, sophomore J.C. Lanier moving from defensive line to offensive line, and quarterback David Sims switching to B-Back.
One of the more intriguing position battles will be at B-back, where Preston Lyons, Richard Watson and Sims are all competing for the majority of the reps. Redshirt freshman Charles Perkins practiced last year with both the B-backs and A-backs. Johnson said he's not worried about the position, but knows everyone will be watching the quarterback battle, where it's Tevin Washington's job to lose.
“He is the starter coming in, and I think that he has earned that," Johnson said. "It is very similar to a lot of the positions, the depth chart is always fluid. He has been taking snaps. This is why I try not to get too hyped up on the freshmen. We are excited about a group of them, but until they do it on the field consistently, I don’t know that you hype them all that much. Synjyn [Days] has a lot of ability, but he has to beat Tevin out. It’s Tevins’ job.”
Johnson said the players worked a lot on team building and chemistry in the offseason -- "probably more so than we have in the past" --and as a result, the work ethic has been better. Johnson said it's still too early to tell how much better this year's team will be.
"We'll have a better idea coming out of spring," Johnson said. "I like our athleticism. I think we're going to be all right. I think it's going to be good to be kind of -- nobody has very high expectations for us, and I think that's a good thing. It's kind of the way we were the first year I was here."
In 2008, Johnson's first season, the Yellow Jackets finished 9-4 and tied for the Coastal Division lead, despite critics who said his spread option offense wouldn't work at the BCS level. He has since won an ACC title and has proved it can.
The next challenge is to do it again.