ATLANTA — Georgia Tech began spring football practice with some bad news: senior linebacker Julian Burnett is unlikely to play this season, a huge blow to the defense.
The school has been vague about Burnett's condition, which apparently stems from a tackle he made in a Sun Bowl loss to Utah. He staggered off the field in that game, and the only thing coach Paul Johnson has said since then is Burnett did not sustain a concussion.
Johnson said no more specific Monday, other than to say "he's probably not going to play." Burnett led the Yellow Jackets in tackles the last two seasons and was a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection in 2011.
"I'm sure it's really tough on him. He loves football," Johnson said. "He's a heck of a competitor and a great football player, but there are bigger things in life than football. You have to be safe."
Georgia Tech practiced for two hours in shorts and helmets, the first of 15 spring workouts.
"I thought the enthusiasm was pretty good," Johnson said. "They bounced around pretty well. It's always fun to get back on the field. It seems like a long time since we've been out there."
Spring marked the return of sophomore safety Fred Holton and sophomore A-back B.J. Bostic. Both sat out the 2011 season with injuries, but they were at full speed for the first workout.
Going through his first practice with the Yellow Jackets was new special teams coordinator David Walkosky, who was hired after the kicking game struggled through a dismal season in just about all areas. It is the first time Johnson has brought in an assistant whose primary duty is overseeing the special teams. In the past, other assistants have split up the job.
"I have a passion for special teams," Walkosky said. "I told the players to match my energy. If they do that, it's on me then. If things aren't right, the blame and onus is on me."
Johnson has given his new coach the green light to use starters on the special teams, emphasizing an increased emphasis on a phase of the game that gave the Yellow Jackets so much trouble last season.
"Use the best players, whoever they are," Walkosky said. "We've got a great head coach who says, 'Hey, you find the best players and utilize them to fit what you want on all the teams.'"