With the season opener four days away, quarterback Vad Lee will make his first career start without an experienced receiver. Johnson this week suspended Darren Waller, the only returning receiver with a career catch for the Yellow Jackets, and reserve Travin Henry for violating a team rule.
Georgia Tech doesn’t throw the ball often in its spread option offense, but receivers serve a considerable role as downfield blockers and Johnson likes to call enough downfield passing attempts to keep opponents guessing.
The Yellow Jackets, coming off a 7-7 season, have rushed for more yards than any FBS school since Johnson arrived as coach in 2008. They were fourth nationally in rushing last season and 115th in passing.
“I feel OK about where we are at receiver,” Johnson said Tuesday. “We’ve got to play the games, but when we get everybody out there I feel that we can be as good as we’ve been at that position or better.”
Micheal Summers, a redshirt freshman making his college debut, and Corey Dennis, a former special teams player who debuted two years ago as a reserve defensive back, are likely to start at receiver Saturday against Elon.
Summers, Dennis and junior DeAndre Smelter are the only other scholarship receivers who will play Saturday, but this is Smelter’s first college football season after he spent the last three years on Georgia Tech’s baseball team.
Johnson declined to say what rule Waller and Henry broke to earn the suspension, but he expects both to return to practice next week when the Jackets prepare for their Atlantic Coast Conference opener at Duke.
Waller, a junior, had eight receptions last year, averaging 20.2 yards per catch. Johnson is counting on him, Henry and Smelter to make significant contributions this season.
“We’re hopeful that Darren Waller can fit that mode (as a potential No. 1 target),” Johnson said. “I think DeAndre Smelter has a ton of ability. The more he plays football the better he’s going to be.”
Johnson added that Smelter has “a nagging injury” that’s sidelined him this week, but the coach believes he’ll be ready by Saturday.
Georgia Tech’s quarterback tandem of Lee, a sophomore, and redshirt freshman Justin Turner is similar to what Johnson used last year with Tevin Washington as the starter and Lee as the backup.
Johnson plans for both quarterbacks to play.
“They’ve had a ton of reps,” Johnson said. “Justin’s ready to play, and so is Vad. Justin is actually banged up a little bit, but I think he’s going to be OK for the game.”
Lee ranked second on the team last year with 1,140 yards of total offense, but because the Yellow Jackets are coming off a mediocre season, Johnson expects that the QB will have to play well immediately to please Georgia Tech fans.
“It wouldn’t be above and beyond the fans for him to miss two or three passes and to get booed once in a while,” Johnson said. “Well how do you handle that? You’ve got to be ready for it and got to be dialed in — that’s a learning progression. Now the good thing about Vad Lee is that he has all of those characteristics naturally. He’s got some charisma and he carries himself very well. He carries himself as a leader and very confident guy.”