ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson thought true freshmen Trey Braun and Jeff Greene might win starting jobs when summer practice ended last week.
Though both players fell short of their goals, Johnson believes the Yellow Jackets have resolved an important issue before Thursday's season opener against Western Carolina — they have at least 12 freshmen ready to challenge for playing time. That makes Georgia Tech's roster deeper and stronger.
"If they're better in practice than the guys in front of them, then we play them," Johnson said Monday. "Right now, from a depth standpoint, we have to have those guys. They've got to play."
To make a clean break from last year's 6-7 record, Johnson needed his young players to bring energy and challenge veterans for snaps in summer camp.
Among true freshmen, Braun pushed Ormoregie Uzzi at right guard. Greene did the same to Tyler Melton at receiver. Errin Joe and Shaquille Mason fought for starting jobs on the offensive line, and Jamal Golden tried to beat out Rod Sweeting at left cornerback.
Among redshirt freshmen, Catlin Alford is trying to beat out sophomore Ray Beno for the starting job at left tackle, a position that Phil Smith could reclaim after he serves a two-game suspension. Johnson expects quarterback Synjyn Days, B-back Charles Perkins and A-back Tony Zenon to get some playing time behind the starters.
Not all the youngsters took Johnson's news well. Perkins earned a brief pep talk with the coach after David Sims won the B-back job.
"I'm not talking about Charles in particular, but this day and age, guys think they're entitled," Johnson said. "You have to earn something. You don't just get it because you did something in high school or you did something somewhere else. You have to come in and win the job."
Johnson hopes the rest of the team will be inspired by Sims, who was moved from quarterback to running back when spring practice started. Sims was No. 4 on the depth chart at B-back, but now has the job that helped Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen become 1,000-yard rushers in Johnson's first three years.
"David had two ways to go when he was fourth," Johnson said. "He could have pouted and left or he could make up his mind that he was going to outwork guys and come in and win the job. To his credit, he took the latter. I think that's a great example for other guys on the team who aren't where they want to be."
An undisclosed injury to senior A-back Roddy Jones means that senior Embry Peeples will start in his spot against Western Carolina. Playing behind Peeples will be redshirt freshman Tony Zenon.
Braun, who stands 6-foot-5, 295 pounds, was the only true freshman to enroll early at Georgia Tech this year. After graduating last winter from Leon High School in Tallahassee, Fla., he was expected to push for time on an offensive line that joins Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Nevada-Las Vegas, and Southern Cal as the only FBS schools beginning the season with no senior starters.
"He's going to play," Johnson said. "We'll probably play with a couple of offensive linemen, so at some point on Thursday night he'll get in the game, I'm sure. Probably Shaq Mason well get in the game as well. We'll see how it goes and then evaluate, but we're counting on him playing this year."
Another true freshman, Zach Laskey, won the job as punt returner over Zenon.
"It ought to be fun," Johnson said. "I'm sure a lot of guys are excited. We were looking at the hotel list this morning. I counted 20 freshmen and redshirt freshmen in the 64 on the hotel list. So there's going to be a lot of young guys. It should be interesting in a lot of ways."