- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Paul Johnson began his eighth spring at Georgia Tech on March 23. The reigning ACC coach of the year returns his top quarterback and eight defensive starters from a team that won the Coastal Division crown last year en route to an 11-3 record, an Orange Bowl win and a No. 8 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.
ESPN.com caught up with Johnson on Tuesday to talk about that and more as the Yellow Jackets immerse themselves in spring drills.
A week into it now, how have you liked the way your team has shifted the mindset from being the hunter to being the hunted?
Paul Johnson: Well, I haven't seen a whole lot of difference. Our guys kind of go about their work the way they always have. We haven't talked about anything being different or any changes. We just kind of go out there in practice and try to get better every day. We have a lot of young skilled guys, we've got several guys on the offensive line out for the spring.
You touched on the offensive line. I know you have a lot of returning starters and a couple of guys hurt. How has that maybe helped in the sense of developing depth this spring for the fall on that line?
PJ: Well, it's probably good for the offensive line. It gives them a lot of reps and a lot of opportunity. Probably not too good for the skill guys that got to play behind them. But I think in the long haul we've got a little more depth than we've had up there in the past. We should get all our guys back, with the exception of probably Chris Griffin for the fall. So it will help us add depth in the long run. But in days when they're getting killed and learning, it probably doesn't help the other guys that much.
What have you seen so far from the receiving corps? What do you expect out of them given all the turnover? Is Micheal Summers a guy you're looking to step to the forefront?
PJ: Micheal Summers has played. We've got Ricky Jeune, who we think can go in. And Antonio Messick. So out of the guys that are in camp right now, probably those three. We'll find some more in that group and we've got a couple recruits in the fall (that) are probably going to play.
What's the next step for Justin Thomas?
PJ: Just be more consistent. He played really well for us a year ago, and there's no question that he's the leader of the team. He was a year ago. Quiet leader. So I think our kids have a lot of confidence in him, and they respect the way he goes about his business and works. Pretty humble kid. He comes out there every day and works on trying to get better and works on trying to help his teammates get better.
With a lot of turnover in the backfield, do some of the younger guys now who are getting longer looks look at last year and see guys who embodied that next-man-in mentality and harness their chances more?
PJ: We were excited about C.J. Leggett a year ago, so we redshirted (him) when we thought he could play. So certainly he's going to get his opportunity. The backup will probably end up being a true freshman. Quaide Weimerskirch is here now in camp so he's getting the advantage of spring over some of the other freshman. Broderick Snoddy is probably our A-back who played the most returning, (and) been out this spring. And Dennis Andrews is the other one who's played. And then we've got a couple redshirt freshmen in Qua Searcy and Clinton Lynch we feel pretty good about who can play.
Is this as comfortable as you've felt about a defense, with so many starters coming back? Based on everything I've read, they seemed to have their way in the scrimmage this past weekend.
PJ: Yeah, I'm not sure they had their way as much as maybe the media -- we had a closed practice, so. I don't think anybody will mistake them for the Steel Curtain. We've got more returning players there, and certainly we need to play better. You look at any metric defensively other than maybe turnovers, we weren't very good. So we've got a lot of room to improve on: third downs, average yards per play, just about any category. So hopefully we're going to be better on defense. We certainly need to be. Especially early. Let some of these young guys get their feet under them.
What's Jabari Hunt-Days brought to the table?
PJ: He practiced all year last year. He was on the scout team. He's a big guy, he's a good athlete, he's got good quickness. He's strong, he's 295 and gives us another big body inside. But until we get him out there and he plays in a game, hard to tell what he's going to do. He knows our offense pretty good. He's played against it now for a long time. He was on the scout team all year last year and now the end of the spring. So he probably knows the plays better than the young offensive linemen trying to block him.
I have to ask you: The Rolling Stones announced today they're coming to Bobby Dodd this summer. Think you're going to check that out?
PJ: (Laughs) I don't know. I don't know if I'm going to be in town then or not. But that's great that they're going to be here.
The Yellow Jackets coach talked about the improvement of QB Justin Thomas and which players are emerging in Atlanta.