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Expectations on the rise for Johnson, Tech

ATLANTA - Paul Johnson says Georgia Tech players have expectations for 2009 that are no higher than last season.

Johnson says the difference this season is players will hear about higher expectations from others.

'I think the expectations are more for everybody outside the program, the fan base and people like that,' Johnson said Saturday at Georgia Tech's preseason media day.

'As a football team and as a coach, you always have high expectations. Nobody goes into fall camp hoping they can win five games or whatever. Everybody goes into camp hoping they can win all their games and a conference championship.'

But fans don't always have such high hopes as those created by the Yellow Jackets' 9-4 2008 season.

'I think it's different for the fan base and everybody talking about (the players) and all that,' Johnson said, adding his players 'have to learn how to handle that a little bit.'

Georgia Tech returns 17 starters from the team that beat Georgia to end seven straight losses for the Yellow Jackets in the state rivalry.

Top returners include running back Jonathan Dwyer, the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, quarterback Josh Nesbitt, receiver Demaryius Thomas and safety Morgan Burnett.

The players seem more than ready to embrace the hopes for continued improvement, even if some players aren't convinced they won over all the doubters last year.

'Anytime you come from a sub-par (7-6) season like we had two years ago and then go 9-4 last year, I think people are going to set a target on you,' said offensive guard Cord Howard. 'It's 'Let's see if that was real or did they just sneak up on people?'

'This year we don't want to sneak up on people. You know what we're going to do. Come up and play us. That's pretty much how we feel.'

Georgia Tech was ranked No. 15 in the USA Today coaches' preseason poll released this week. The Associated Press preseason Top 25 will be released on Aug. 22.

The Yellow Jackets also have been a popular top 20 pick in preseason magazines.

'We don't want anybody to get the big head about it,' Howard said. 'We're appreciative that people are actually noticing, but pretty much the best is yet to come.'

There were many doubts one year ago about Johnson's spread option offense. Georgia Tech led the ACC in total offense and scored more than 40 points in three games, including the 45-42 win over Georgia.

Dwyer, who led the ACC in rushing, agrees with Howard's conclusion that the offense will be better in 2009.

'They just saw a sample of what was going on last year,' Dwyer said.

'We didn't even put in the whole offense. We were just doing some of the stuff (Johnson) felt confident that we knew. As he feels more confident we should be able to add more to it. ... I think we're still going to surprise some people this season with our offense.'

Johnson says observers expecting dramatic changes in the offense will be disappointed. He said more practice in the attack should make this offense better, but he said any changes will be subtle.

'I think everybody is waiting for this new series of plays or whatever,' Johnson said. 'They're gonna be waiting. The things that you don't have in all the time are the wrinkles off the plays. The guy with the naked eye who's not really adept at understanding might not even see it, but it's just being able to tweak the way you block something, changing angles, changing whatever.'

Howard says a less subtle change is the surge in confidence that grew with the 2008 win total.

'Positive attitude is pretty much just flowing around now,' said Howard, a senior.

'I definitely see it as something good because I think we're going to go out and do something special this year.'