ATLANTA — Imagine the letters home from Georgia Tech’s receivers.
"Guess what, mom? I can block."
If the moms are caught off-guard by the news, they’re not alone. Georgia Tech’s receivers may be surprising themselves — and their teammates — with new blocking skills learned as they take on new roles in first-year coach Paul Johnson’s spread option offense.
The most accomplished blocker on the receiving corps may be sophomore Demaryius Thomas, who ranked second on the team with 35 catches for 558 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Thomas has only one catch so far this season for Georgia Tech, which plays at Boston College on Saturday, but he had a key block in last week’s 41-14 opening win over Jacksonville State that made his new coach proud.
Thomas flattened Jacksonville State cornerback A.J. Davis with a downfield block to help Jonathan Dwyer find room for a 37-yard gain to the Gamecocks’ 2. Quarterback Josh Nesbitt scored two plays later for a 14-0 lead.
"I thought he did a really good job blocking," Johnson said. "I think he enjoyed what he was doing and got after it. He didn’t get a lot of balls thrown his way the other night. I think in a span of the season that will change. It will vary some."
The 6-foot-3, 229-pound Thomas, from Dublin, Ga., has the build to be an effective blocker, but that skill wasn’t as important before this season. Thomas, who had five catches for 68 yards against Boston College last season, was known for his size, speed and big-play skills as a receiver before this season.
Even a receiver as big as Thomas wasn’t asked to focus on blocking before this season.
"I think it’s a part of his game he’s had to bring out," Nesbitt said. "He hasn’t really blocked that much, but so far he’s doing a very good job at it."
Thomas made a sideline catch for 9 yards for Georgia Tech’s first completion of the season. He didn’t have another catch as he spent most of the rest of the game blocking.
Johnson was impressed with the way Thomas accepted the role.
"I was proud of him because he didn’t hang his lip and pout because he wasn’t catching the ball," Johnson said. "He went out there and tried to help his team win, and he did have some nice blocks.
"He did what he could do. He didn’t worry about things he couldn’t control. He couldn’t control if they were throwing him the ball. He couldn’t control if I was calling a pass to him on every play. What he could control was how he blocked and he approached that with the right attitude."
Some other receivers on Georgia Tech’s 2007 team weren’t thrilled with the idea of blocking in a run-first offense.
D.J. Donley, who was one of the big names in Chan Gailey’s last recruiting class, transferred to Purdue. Another receiver, James Johnson, opted to bypass his senior season rather than try to conform to the new offense. Greg Smith moved from receiver to A-back and had three carries for 14 yards and two catches for 36 yards in the opener.
Thomas stuck around and has bought into the new system.
"I just work hard and practice at it," Thomas said, adding he didn’t consider a new school or a new position.
"Coach told me to block hard with every chance I get, and I took it to heart, I guess."
Thomas said he believes he is a good fit in the new scheme, "especially on the blocking side."
"It’s kind of hard to block," he said. "You have to work hard at it."
Thomas shrugged when asked about keeping a positive attitude.
"I just go hard," he said. "Whatever comes my way, I try to take advantage of it."
Tyler Melton, a freshman, was Georgia Tech’s other starting receiver. He had one catch for 5 yards.
Nesbitt surprised some by throwing passes on three of the Yellow Jackets’ first five plays in the win, but he spent as much time running as throwing.
For the game, Nesbitt had 11 carries for 60 yards and completed 5 of 12 passes for 87 yards.
Johnson told reporters this week "There may be some games we throw it 30 times."
That prediction from Johnson may have been a verbal fake for Boston College’s coaches.
Either way, Thomas says he’ll keep working on his blocking.
"I try to block as hard as I can on every play," he said. "That’s what we do now."