ATLANTA — Jonathan Dwyer had such a big year in Paul Johnson’s first season at Georgia Tech the big running back was named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s player of the year.
He also helped Johnson land ACC coach of the year honors.
So what can Dwyer and Johnson do for an encore?
Just wait, Dwyer said. As the Yellow Jackets prepare to open spring practice on Monday, Dwyer says the offense will feature more depth and balance and Georgia Tech will be even better than when it finished 9-4 and No. 22 last season.
"The sky is the limit with this offense," Dwyer said. "You never know, there are a whole lot of things, a whole lot of plays that we haven’t even put into the system yet. We’re updating in the spring and in the summer and we’ll be a more balanced set in the coming season."
One year ago, there were big questions about Dwyer and the offense as the Yellow Jackets prepared for their first spring practice with Johnson and his triple-option offense.
Consider the questions answered. The 6-foot, 230-pound Dwyer led the conference with 1,395 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Dwyer’s strong running helped make quarterback Josh Nesbitt’s first year as a starter a success and helped keep the offense moving when Nesbitt was injured or struggling with turnovers.
Dwyer was a constant at the B-back position. The A-back spots were a bigger question mark most of the year, but then Roddy Jones emerged with his career-best 214 yards rushing and two touchdowns as the Yellow Jackets closed their regular season with a 45-42 win at Georgia.
Jones and other A-backs — Lucas Cox, Embry Peeples and Marcus Wright — all return. Also back is receiver Demaryius Thomas, who had more than half of the team’s receptions.
Dwyer said he expects more balance in the offense in 2009.
"It will save a lot of people hits and have everybody healthy more," Dwyer said. "We will have more people in the backfield and it will surprise a lot of people. Teams will have to be ready for everybody, not just one person."
Meanwhile, Johnson promises to install more of his offense as the team’s depth improves. He began talking about the run-and-shoot pass potential of the offense last year and continues to say there may be surprises for defenses who expect the Yellow Jackets to be one-dimensional as a run-only attack.
This will always be a run-first offense, but Johnson says he wants defenses to respect the threat of the pass.
Georgia Tech surpassed expectations last season, but Johnson says he’s not satisfied.
"We can get a whole lot better," Johnson said. "We can get better at almost every area offensively in terms of execution. We can get better at our reads, our steps and fundamentals. We will get more of it in and understand our schemes better.
"We have to be able to throw the ball better, and that goes back to protection and route-running. We will have a spring to work on that stuff. I would love to get some of the run-and-shoot stuff in that we didn’t have a chance to get in."
Added Johnson: "I feel like we have only scratched the surface on offense. I didn’t think we were very good on offense from my standards and I think we can do better."
Dwyer had nine games with at least 100 yards rushing last year. He said he’s not worried about the possibility of sharing the ball more in 2009.
"I’m not worried about that at all," Dwyer said. "First and foremost this is a run-first offense in everybody else’s eyes, but in our eyes we can do a whole lot of things. Other teams are going to have to be on their toes and be aware of what is going to happen because you never know if it will be a pass or run."
Johnson said such players as Cox, who looks like a fullback, may switch from A-back to B-back every week.
Said Dwyer: "With the talent we have we can get the ball in a lot of people’s hands so they can make a lot of plays. We have a lot of people coming back, so he’s trying to take advantage of the talent we have and realize what this offense can do with how much speed, how much athleticism we have.
"We can take over a lot of games and score a lot of points."
Johnson will have more players who have experience in his offense, but his team will be young with only six scholarship seniors.
An emphasis for the spring will be finding replacements for defensive tackles Darryl Richard and Vance Walker and defensive end Michael Johnson, who is projected as a possible first-round pick in next month’s NFL draft.
Monday’s practice will be the first of 14 sessions before Georgia Tech’s T-Day spring game on April 18.