Friday May 27th, 2016 10:25AM

Tech hoping to rebound from mediocrity

By The Associated Press
ATLANTA -- After Georgia Tech's first "fall" practice on Thursday, head coach Paul Johnson said two things with certainty: He saw a lot of familiar faces, and the Yellow Jackets appear to be in good shape. Beyond that, questions abound.

Tech returns 18 seniors. That's the most Johnson's had since inheriting 18 in his first year (2008). With 15 starters back - eight on defense and seven on offense - from a team that beat USC 21-7 in the Sun Bowl, the goal is to finish better than 7-7.

"It's always good to have a large senior class," Johnson said. "It means you've got some guys who've played a lot of football, which is a good thing. It's always good to get back out there. Guys came back in really good condition . . . our best in a while."

Now comes the hard part: improving not just on last year, but the past three.

Tech rallied somewhat in 2012 from a 2-4 start and a three-game losing streak that prompted the mid-season firing of defensive coordinator Al Groh. But after going 9-4 and 11-3 in Johnson's first seasons and then a combined 21-19 over the past three, the Yellow Jackets have cause to be more defensive.

This goes beyond the hiring of former Tech linebacker and defensive coordinator Ted Roof (1999-2001), who returned from Penn State to his alma mater.

The Yellow Jackets were in the ACC championship game last season, losing 21-15 to Florida State. Coastal Division rivals North Carolina and Miami were ineligible because of NCAA sanctions and withdrew because of pending NCAA penalties, respectively, so Tech got the nod.

"As a team, we have more to prove than last year," said senior fullback David Sims. "We ended up winning our bowl game for the first time in a long time (after a seven-year drought), but the main thing is we want to build off that. We want to prove that going to the ACC championship game wasn't a fluke."

The Yellow Jackets will do that with a new quarterback.

Tevin Washington graduated, and redshirt sophomore Vad Lee, who rushed for 544 yards and nine touchdowns and passed for 596 yards and four scores, is the top candidate to replace him. Redshirt freshman quarterback Justin Thomas was dazzling as a runner at times in spring practice.

The defense lost only starting linemen Izaan Cross and T.J. Barnes and cornerback Rod Sweeting. There is depth aplenty in the secondary, and the linebacking corps appears solid although the Yellow Jackets are transitioning from Groh's 3-4 to a 4-3.

That move has converted Tech's top defender, Jeremiah Attaochu, from outside linebacker to defensive end.

One of the many senior Yellow Jackets, safety Isaiah Johnson, was limited in practice Thursday after undergoing offseason knee surgery. He anticipates participating before the season begins, and his presence means plenty. His 211 combined tackles and assists are second-most among ACC players.

He knows Tech's fortunes figure to be linked closely with defensive improvement.

Johnson's offenses, after all, have finished in the top five in the nation in rushing and scoring in all five of his previous seasons.

"With this type of offense, they're going to move the ball," said the senior safety. "I agree; the defense will have to step it up."

Johnson was not the only senior starter on the sideline Thursday. Center Jay Finch, who had offseason shoulder surgery, was limited, and running back Robbie Godhigh has a broken hand, although he's expected back shortly.

Tech opens at home against Elon on Aug. 21, and then plays four consecutive ACC games: at Duke, against North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and at Miami.

Giving the quick moved into conference action, injuries already bear watching.

The two leading candidates to back up Finch - or replace him - are out of the picture. Redshirt freshman Freddie Burden suffered a season-ending injury in the spring, and junior Catlin Alford told Paul Johnson the day before the first practice that he had decided to leave school.

"We're missing a couple guys right off the bat on the offensive line so that's not good," the coach said. "Morgan Bailey is out; he's probably going to be out six weeks."
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Bartus, Icemen shuts out Gwinnett
Garrett Bartus pitched a 42 save shutout, as the Evansville IceMen topped the Gwinnett Gladiators on a New year
10:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Gator Bowl Preview Capsule
A rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, which Georgia won 45-31 in Orlando.
8:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Millsap's 34 leads Hawks past Celtics
Paul Millsap had season highs with 34 points and 15 rebounds as the Hawks rallied from an 18-point deficit for a 92-91 win over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday afternoon.
7:44PM ( 2 years ago )
No. 19 Georgia blows past Illinois
Shacobia Barbee had 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists to lead No. 19 Georgia over Illinois 82-60 on Saturday.
10:42PM ( 2 years ago )
Dogs will face Nebraska without standout DE Moss
Nebraska defensive end Avery Moss returned to his home in Arizona to attend to a personal issue and won't play in the Gator Bowl against No. 23 Georgia next week.
10:16PM ( 2 years ago )
Georgia Southern coach Monken headed for Army
Desperate to snap its long losing streak against its archrival, Army has hired former Navy assistant Jeff Monken as its 37th football coach.
1:04PM ( 2 years ago )
College Sports
Basketball: Area coaches see a 'positive' change to GHSA finals move
The response amongst northeast Georgia's coaches was overwhelmingly positive following the Georgia High School Association's announcement on Thursday that it will no longer hold its annual basketball championship games in the Macon Coliseum.
7:49PM ( 9 hours from now )
VIDEO: Historic postseason brought countless top plays
This year provided perhaps the most successful overall postseason campaign in the history of the sport in this area. And we have compiled some of the best highlights involved in that campaign here...
5:05PM ( 6 hours from now )
Penske the standard of excellence at Indy after 50 years
It was 1951 when Jay Penske scored a pair of tickets to the Indianapolis 500. He was an executive for a metal fabrication company in Cleveland that was sponsoring a few laps in the race, so he brought his 14-year-old son to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
By Jenna Fryer-AP Auto Racing Writer
10:00AM ( 25 minutes ago )
GHSA moves basketball championships away from Macon
The Georgia High School Association announced on Thursday that it will no longer hold its annual basketball championship games in the Macon Coliseum and is moving the contests to the University of Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum and Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion.
9:00AM ( 1 hour ago )
Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson on verge of first wins
NASCAR fans got a glimpse of the future recently as rising stars Kyle Larson, 23, and Chase Elliott, 20, battled for victory in the waning stages of consecutive races.
By NASCAR Wire Service
8:00AM ( 2 hours ago )