ATLANTA — Tevin Washington will go into spring practice as Georgia Tech's starting quarterback, coach Paul Johnson said Friday, but the senior-to-be must prove he's still the best choice to run the triple-option.
On the other side of the line, Johnson was vague about the health of leading tackler Julian Burnett, who staggered off the field after making a tackle in a Sun Bowl loss to Utah. Other than saying he didn't sustain a concussion, the coach wouldn't give details of the injury, raising doubts about whether Burnett will be able to return for his senior season.
"That's between Julian and his family and myself and his doctors," Johnson said. "We'll sit down at the appropriate time and figure out what's best for Julian. It's a violent sport, a high-contact sport."
Johnson spoke at a media briefing that included athletic director Dan Radakovich and men's basketball coach Brian Gregory.
Washington started the final four games in 2010 after Josh Nesbitt was injured and took over the starting job last season. He had some impressive games, leading the team in rushing with 986 yards and 14 touchdowns, in addition to throwing for 1,652 yards with 11 TDs and eight interceptions.
Synjyn Days, who will be a sophomore next season, got into six games and showed flashes of his potential.
"I don't know if it's an open competition," Johnson said. "We've got a kid coming back as a two-year starter. They've got to beat him out. Do I think it's impossible to beat him out? No. But I'm not going to say it's wide open. The kid has started for two years. I think he's earned that right."
Johnson said he hasn't considered any staff changes but won't make any final decisions until after signing day next month.
"I don't anybody in my mind right now that I want to fire," he said.
Johnson was asked specifically about defensive coordinator Al Groh, whose unit hasn't shown much improvement in his two years on the job. This past season, the Yellow Jackets ranked eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in points allowed (26.1 per game) and squandered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Sun Bowl. Utah rallied to win 30-27 in overtime, a disappointing end to an 8-5 season.
"It's like everything else: there's been some good and some bad," Johnson said. "Can we play better? Sure. But we can also play better on offense, special teams, everywhere. We'll sit down and talk about all that after recruiting is over."
The Yellow Jackets aren't recruiting a kicker, despite major problems on special teams. Justin Moore made 11 of 17 field goal attempts — none longer than 41 yards — and David Scully missed his only attempt. Even so, Johnson prefers to bring in walk-ons at the kicking position, only giving out a scholarship when someone shows he can handle the job.
"We've got four or five kickers. We've just got to find the one," Johnson said. "If you miss on a kid (in recruiting) who plays defensive back, maybe he can be a receiver, maybe he can be an A-back, maybe he can be whatever. But you take a kicker and he can't kick, you've got him. He can't do anything else. That's why most teams take walk-ons."
Radakovich said he expects the ACC to go to a nine-game football schedule when the league adds Syracuse and Pittsburgh. To maintain fairness, the teams getting a fifth home contest each season would all be in the same division.
Turning to a more embarrassing issue, the AD said he's reorganized his department in the wake of an NCAA investigation that resulted in the football program being stripped of its 2009 ACC championship. Radakovich said he's hired two officials who have experience dealing with the governing body, while also setting up a new system to report potential problems.
Georgia Tech has appealed the sanctions and expects to hear from the NCAA in the next month.
The Yellow Jackets also have dealt with scholarship losses in men's basketball because of academic shortcomings, but Radakovich said the team should make the grade when the NCAA releases the Academic Progress Report in May.
Under new rules, programs must maintain a score of four-year average APR of 930 out of 1,000 to avoid being declared ineligible for postseason play, a standard the hoops team failed to meet last year (915). The Yellow Jackets are projected to have the maximum score for the current academic year, Radakovich said, which would push the cumulative score above the cutoff point.