ATLANTA — Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson insisted Josh Nesbitt will recover quickly from a shoulder bruise the quarterback sustained in practice Wednesday morning.
Though Nesbitt wore an ice pack on his right shoulder for the final half of the early two-hour session, Johnson was hardly surprised when the school’s medical staff cleared the sophomore to practice in the afternoon.
"You get hit in football," the Yellow Jackets’ first-year coach said. "We’ve always practiced that way for 28 years, and I can honestly tell you I have never lost a quarterback in practice. We haven’t lost that many in games, either, not to that. We’ve had guys tear their knee up or something like that. I think if you went back and looked at it, you’d find dropback (QBs) get hit a hell of lot harder than these guys."
During his first eight months at Georgia Tech, Johnson has spent much time answering questions about a triple-option offense he designed to lead Navy and Georgia Southern to a combined 107-39 record over the last 11 years.
Johnson sometimes loses patience with reporters after answering his first or second question about the triple-option. On Wednesday, the topic of Tech’s practice regimen irritated the 49-year-old Johnson, whose teams have always taken an unconventional football custom of allowing quarterbacks to be tackled during brief scrimmage sessions in the spring and summer.
"You guys crack me up," he said. "We’ve practiced 17 days and we haven’t had a quarterback miss a day of practice. A guy gets a bruise on his shoulder, and we’re going to change the way we practice? How does Georgia practice? They’ve lost a bunch of guys, haven’t they?"
Georgia’s starting left tackle, Trinton Sturdivant, faces season-ending, reconstructive surgery after multiple ligaments were injured in a scrimmage on Monday. Right tackle Kiante Tripp (thumb), receiver A.J. Green (flexor) and cornerback Prince Miller (shoulder) have less serious ailments.
After calming down, Johnson explained the reasoning for having his team "go live" in scrimmage.
Running backs and receivers are tackled on short runs. Why not quarterbacks?
As Johnson sees it, no option attack can succeed without all 11 players moving fast after the snap. Linemen must take quick angles to block defenders, and the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers need to exploit open space before it closes.
In a triple-option, a quarterback carries the ball outside his tackles and either pitches to a trailing back or keeps it. Without the reality of taking a hit in practice, quarterbacks might be too easily shocked by a hard tackle in a game.
"The kids are playing faster because they understand (the scheme) better," Johnson said. "We still aren’t where we need to be, but we’re making progress every day. When you play fast, you’ve got a chance. When you have to stop and think about everything, it’s hard to play."
Johnson used Tech’s full scrimmage last Saturday as evidence that QBs take less physical abuse in option attack than they do in a pro-style, drop-back offense.
"We were watching (film) cut-ups of the triple option the other night," Johnson said. "I had Josh in there. I don’t know how many plays it was, but the quarterback was on the ground twice. And that’s running the option. You learn to run the ball. You deal with it. It’s not as big a deal as everybody makes it."
Once the Jackets begin the season in two weeks against Jacksonville State, Nesbitt and primary backups Jaybo Shaw and Calvin Booker, will be off limits in practice.
For the most part.