Update on Kenny Cooper and more Georgia Tech notes

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson met with media after practice Wednesday, fielding questions about the team prior to its game Saturday against South Florida in Tampa, Fla. Notes from the interview:

Getting closer to return

Georgia Tech center Kenny Cooper has moved closer to being able to play for the Yellow Jackets.

Johnson said that Cooper, who has been out since a foot injury in spring practice, practiced “a little bit” in practice this week. Johnson said that “he’ll get turned loose,” i.e., cleared for contact, next week.

“We’ll see what he can do,” Johnson said. “If he can play a series or two, he might travel (to Pittsburgh for next week’s ACC opener). If he can’t, he won’t.”

Cooper has played center for his first two seasons at Tech, but Johnson has suggested he could play guard.

“He’s played two years at center; he should know what the guard does, but that doesn’t mean he does,” Johnson said. “He could also be very valuable to go in and play center even if he played a couple series.”

Cooper’s replacement

Johnson was hopeful for center Jahaziel Lee, who has subbed for Cooper since his injury, to improve against USF. Johnson said that Lee struggled against Alcorn State, often playing with high pad level.

“I think he’ll play like everyone else; he’ll get better,” Johnson said. “It’s really his first game against outside competition. Now he plays against our guys all the time and he did some O.K. things. I just thought he was a little bit higher than he needs to be.”

Liked practice

Johnson was upbeat about the team’s effort in practice this week, particularly the Tuesday session.

“I think (Tuesday) was a lot of energy and everyone was paying attention and listening,” he said. “It was a good day and (Wednesday) wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as (Tuesday).”

Johnson typically isn’t quite as complimentary about the team’s practices as that. Johnson also said that he didn’t think any players got hurt in practice this week.

Kickoff man selected

Johnson said he had determined which of two kickers, Wesley Walls and Shawn Davis, will take the kickoffs against USF, but declined to identify the winner. Johnson said after the Alcorn State game that Brenton King will be taking the placekicks and that either Walls or Davis would take the kickoffs.

‘Rocket’ arm 

USF quarterback Blake Barnett has Johnson’s attention. Barnett was a five-star prospect coming out of high school and played at Alabama before ending up at Arizona State and then USF as a grad transfer. Barnett is 6-foot-5 and 217 pounds.

“He’s a big guy, strong arm,” Johnson said. “He’s capable. He’s got a lot of ability. He’s got a rocket. He can make all the throws and he can pull it down and run with it if he has to. It’s probably not his cup of tea, but he’s good enough to do it if he needs to.”

Simmons ready

Johnson said that cornerback Lamont Simmons, who missed three weeks with a hamstring injury, is “ready to go.”

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