ATLANTA — Paul Johnson could almost count his seniors on one hand when Georgia Tech opened practice on Monday.
Johnson, Georgia Tech’s second-year coach, says he is encouraged by his team’s improved depth and experience, but he knows he still has a young team. All he has to do is look for seniors.
Georgia Tech had only six scholarship seniors for the first preseason practice.
“We don’t have very many,” Johnson said Monday. “It’s a small class. ... I think our seniors are trying to take a strong leadership role and there’s not a lot of them who will play.”
Only three seniors — outside linebacker Sedric Griffin, offensive guard Cord Howard and center Dan Voss — are listed as starters. Voss is bracketed with junior Sean Bedford at first-team center.
Griffin, the team’s only fourth-year senior, said “I’m the only true senior.”
Howard, Voss, cornerback Martin Frierson, defensive tackle Jason Hill and offensive tackle Brad Sellers are fifth-year seniors.
“It’s amazing to look to my left and look to my right and see nobody except a few guys,” Voss said. “My class is unbelievable. I think we gave 18 scholarships out. I think we’ve had a handful of transfers, a couple of players have career-ending injuries, a couple drop out of school. I’m glad we survived it and made it.”
Voss said there’s no room to hide for the 2009 seniors.
He said each must take a leadership role.
“With the senior class being so small, you have to have some players be more vocal about things,” Voss said. “Last year we might have a senior not work hard and it might not get noticed. This year if a senior is not working hard or is taking a shortcut in a workout, it’s going to look bad and the younger players are going to see that.”
The shortage of seniors left Johnson looking at younger players to lead the 2009 team.
“I don’t think there’s any one guy you would single out,” Johnson said recently when asked to identify the team’s leaders. “We need to have several guys step up to be leaders.”
Johnson named five juniors as possible leaders: defensive end Derrick Morgan, quarterback Josh Nesbitt, running back Jonathan Dwyer and safeties Morgan Burnett and Dominique Reese.
Dwyer, the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, says the seniors will have ample support.
“I don’t think leadership has to come from upperclassmen,” Dwyer said. “It can come from anybody, just by going out there and playing hard and leading by example. You don’t even have to be vocal.”
Johnson said the small senior class won’t be a factor as the Yellow Jackets try to improve on their 9-4 2008 record.
“I don’t know that anybody has really paid any attention to the class out here,” Johnson said. “I think it goes off more who has played and we’ve got a lot of guys who have played in games, so that helps.”
NOTES: Johnson said redshirt freshman defensive back Kamaron Riley is transferring to Georgia Military College. Riley was listed as a third-team safety on the team’s preseason depth chart. ... Freshman Jemea Thomas has moved from A-back to defensive back. “We think he’s got a better chance to play early there,” Johnson said.