ATLANTA — Georgia Tech began spring practice with nine starters returning on offense.
In other years such consistency would mean stability, but coach Paul Johnson said it’s been tough trying to piece together a cohesive unit.
Maybe that’s no surprise considering the Yellow Jackets went 3-9 last year, struggled all season to protect quarterback Justin Thomas and ranked 108th in third-down percentage and 122nd in fumbles lost.
Injuries wrecked the offensive line and the A-back position in Johnson’s run-dominated, spread option attack, so most of the depth chart is far from settled.
Center Freddie Burden, a returning starter, is out until summer with a hand injury, so Andrew Marshall moved from left guard to take his spot. Will Bryan has switched from tackle to left guard. Scott Morgan has moved from defensive line to offensive line.
Former guard Jake Stickler is working at tackle. Guard Chris Griffin is recovering from a knee injury. Guard Shamire Devine is a health concern at 389 pounds and limited in what he can do.
“It’s like anything,” Johnson said. “You try to mix and match and piece it together.”
Qua Searcy, a candidate to start at running back, has returned from a broken ankle but is still not 100 percent. Johnson has moved running back TaQuon Marshall to quarterback to give the Jackets a top backup to starter Justin Thomas.
Searcy earned a big role last year at A-back, but his season ended at Notre Dame in the third week. Thomas made a bad pitch on the option, and Searcy was hit as he went to get the loose ball.
He’s still trying to convince himself that the ankle has fully recovered.
“There’s no pain,” Searcy said. “It’s just trusting it.”
The Jackets are counting on Searcy to complete with Clinton Lynch and converted defensive back Lynn Griffin to win the starting job.
Johnson moved TaQuon Marshall to quarterback last week after Thomas’ primary backup, Matthew Jordan was injured.
Marshall was recruited as a quarterback from Harris County (Ga.) High School, but spent last season at A-back. Now he has a chance to beat out Jordan when summer practice begins.
The spotty play of the offensive line makes the job challenging, but Marshall says his teammates are doing the best they can.
“We have some new guys on the offensive line,” Marshall said. “They’re learning just like I am at quarterback.
Sometimes the plays are busted up, and I try to do my best to make something happen, but I’m not going to blame them. Those are the guys who are blocking for me.”
Poor play on the line was a big reason Thomas’ efficiency and production dropped off last year. Johnson, though, says the rising senior was as culpable as anyone else, so he’s told Thomas to practice consistently at full speed even though he’s off limits to contact.
“I think he’d be the first to tell you he didn’t play as well last year,” Johnson said. “Hopefully he’s more healthy than he’s been. He’s just got to get back to play with some of the reckless abandon that he played with and use his abilities. He’s got a ton of ability.”