ATLANTA (AP) — Justin Thomas opened Georgia Tech's spring practice on Monday with an important vote of confidence from coach Paul Johnson.
Thomas is one of four quarterbacks competing to replace 2013 starter Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison. Thomas was Lee's top backup and Johnson said that makes him the player to beat in the competition.
"He's played the most," said Johnson of Thomas. "I would expect him to be a hard guy to beat out."
Lee started every game as a sophomore as the Yellow Jackets finished 7-6 last season. Thomas played behind Lee in 10 games and made his biggest impact as a runner in Georgia Tech's spread-option offense.
Thomas completed only 9 of 17 passes for 131 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions as a freshman last season. Tim Byerly sat out the 2012 season after transferring from Middle Tennessee State and appeared in four games last season, rushing for 119 yards and two touchdowns.
Two freshmen, Ty Griffin and 2014 early enrollee Matthew Jordan, are behind Thomas and Byerly on the depth chart.
When asked about the learning curve for the freshmen, Johnson's answer said a lot about the edge in experience for Thomas and Byerly.
"A guy like Ty Griffin, it's like drinking from a fire hose," Johnson said, referring to the difficulty to keep up with the constant flow of new plays.
Thomas could be a dangerous running threat as a starter in the option attack. He looks smaller than his listed size (5-11, 185) but he has good speed and could be difficult to bring down when he turns the corner.
Thomas ran for 234 yards in 2013, averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
"I'm trying to show I can be a leader and I can go out there and take charge," Thomas said.
He said "there's no pressure" to opening spring as the top quarterback.
"I'm not trying to think of it that way, just going in every day working hard," Thomas said.