Special to the Journal
With a little less than a month of fall practice in the books and a little more than 72 hours until his team kicks off its 2012 season, Paul Johnson believes he has the answers regarding his football team…at least as best as he can have them right now.
On Friday afternoon, ‘We’ll see’ was pretty much the theme as Johnson met the press prior to his team’s departing for Blacksburg. That theme is probably not a radical departure from what Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer was telling his group of reporters.
It’s just the way it is prior to any team’s first game of a new season.
“It’s exciting to finally be this close to getting a chance to play football again,” he said. “Any time you go through the off-season and the drudgery of camp for the players and for everybody involved, you’re actually looking forward to the games and having a chance to come out and see what progress you’ve made.
“Clearly the challenge will be huge Monday,” he added. “It will be a tremendous challenge, but it’s also a good opportunity. National TV game and a game against a quality opponent to see where we stand.”
Monday night will determine a lot of things, as close to a dozen different times during the shorter-than-usual 15-minute press conference Johnson used the phrase, “We’ll see,” or something resembling it.
Most referred to the future after Monday.
A key one came in response to a question about the Virginia Tech defense his offense faces. The unit, which ranked in the top 10 in the nation last season in total defense (304.64 ypg, 10th), scoring defense (17.64 ppg, 7th), red zone defense (opponents had a .70 success rate, fifth), and was on the periphery of the top 10 in rushing yards per game (104.07 rypg, 14th) and sacks (41 or 2.93 per game, 12th), returns nine starters.
Johnson said he doesn’t expect much difference in Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s schemes from what he’s see in the past.
“Bud does a great job and they always have good defensive players,” he said. “We’re going to be within our system, they’re going to be within theirs and we’ll play. There’ll be some tweaks, I’m sure, and some different things that you have to adjust to during the game, but I don’t suspect we’ll see a lot of wholesale changes from what they’ve done the last four times we’ve played.
“From everything I can read coming out of there, they think it may be the best defense they’ve ever had,” Johnson added. “If they are, that’ll be really good, because they’ve had some really good ones. We’ll have a better take on it after Monday night.”
Johnson confirmed a couple of positions, specifically B-back, where redshirt sophomore Charles Perkins won the starting job. Perkins earned the start with his effort in practice over the last week, but by a razor-thin margin over true sophomore Zach Laskey.
“I know that Charles and Zach are neck and neck,” Johnson said. “They’re both going to play. There’s probably a really good chance that David [Sims] is going to play, too. He’s starting to get better. I don’t know that he’s 100 percent, but he does have the experience and we’ll just kind of see.
“That position is fluid,” he added. “You’ve got four, even five guys that have had good camps. I could throw (redshirt sophomore) Matt Connors in there, too. He had a really good camp. (Redshirt freshman) Broderick Snoddy brings some things. They all bring something different to the table. This week in practice, Charles has probably been the best of all of it. We’re planning on going into the game, we’ll see how it goes. We may even rotate series with he and Zach to start with and see how it goes. But he’ll be the starter.”
The A-back position is as fluid, as backup quarterback Synjyn Days, who has practiced at A-back throughout the fall and as far back as the spring likely will see some time.
“We may use him in some different spots,” said Johnson. “You’ll see him play Monday night. Where? I don’t have a set plan to say, ‘Okay, second series he’s going to be the left A-back’ or whatever. It’ll just be kind of situation but I would be really surprised if he doesn’t play.”
The return units are set, with Jemea Thomas handling punt-return duty, while Orwin Smith and Tony Zenon will be back on kickoffs.
Johnson also announced who was out. That’s junior linebacker Daniel Drummond and junior cornerback Louis Young, both of whom are suspended, as well as senior wide receiver Chris Jackson, who is ineligible for academic reasons deriving from a question over hours from his transfer. Johnson, who first found out about the issue on Wednesday, said his receiver will appeal and the result of that appeal will determine how many games he’ll miss.
Johnson does know the first play he plans to run from scrimmage, but he wasn’t really forth coming.
“Do I know what it is? Probably,” he said, with a wry smile.
When followed up by the question would we be impressed by it, he stated, “Probably not.”
What should be impressive, according to Johnson, is the atmosphere.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” he said. “That’s a great place to play, their fans do a tremendous job, and I’m sure they’ll have a large crowd and it will be loud. That’s why guys come to school at a place like Georgia Tech, so you can play in those kind of games. It’s fun.”
How much fun? We’ll see.