Brian Bohannon, Johnson’s longtime assistant who coached the quarterbacks, on Sunday was named the first coach at Kennesaw State, which is launching a new program.
Johnson has assumed Bohannon’s duties for spring practice, which opened Monday.
“We’ll make it work,” said Johnson, who added he will “pick and choose” how he spends his practice time while having a heavier focus on the quarterbacks.
Sophomore Vad Lee is the favorite to win the starting job at quarterback. Lee played behind senior Tevin Washington last season and showed his dual-threat skills with 18 plays of more than 20 yards — 10 passing and eight rushing.
Redshirt freshman Justin Thomas and sophomore Tim Byerly, a transfer from Middle Tennessee State, will compete with Lee.
Lee said he is excited to have more time this spring with Johnson, the architect of Georgia Tech’s spread-option offense.
“It has to make me a better player,” Lee said. “Just understanding how and why he calls a certain play will help me.
“Obviously, I’m sad about coach Bohannon’s departure but I’m also excited for him and excited to have coach Johnson working with the quarterbacks.”
Lee may be the front-runner, but Johnson doesn’t want the sophomore to assume he’ll win the job without a competition.
“Vad works hard,” Johnson said. “He and Justin are going to have a good battle.”
Johnson said Byerly has “got to get caught up.” Byerly, who practiced with the team last year, is eligible in 2013.
Georgia Tech also must replace Orwin Smith, who was the third-leading rusher.
There is good returning depth at the three running back positions. Zach Laskey, who led the balanced running game last season, returns with David Sims, former Harrison standout Robbie Godhigh, former Hillgrove star Synjyn Days, Tony Zenon, B.J. Bostic and others.
Johnson already has two new assistants. Ted Roof is the new defensive coordinator and Mike Pelton is the defensive line coach.
Roof, the former Georgia Tech player and assistant, was Penn State’s defensive coordinator in 2012 and headed Auburn’s defense on its 2010 national championship team. Pelton coached at Auburn last year.
“Defensively, we have somewhat of a new package we’re trying to put in,” Johnson said. “Offensively, we’re expanding.”
The Yellow Jackets had five players rush for more than 500 yards last season while setting a school record with 4,357 yards rushing.
Washington ran for 684 yards, second on the team, with 20 touchdowns. He passed for 1,222 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
Lee appeared in 12 games, completing 27 of 56 passes for 596 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He ran for 544 yards and nine touchdowns.
Lee said the experience he gained in 2012 should help as he begins his second spring practice.
“The biggest advantage I see is being able to be a confident player,” Lee said. “I got a lot of reps last year, and in tough situations, too. It wasn’t just in the fourth quarter or blowout time. I feel I’ve been in a lot of situations.”
Lee said another change is he no longer has to defer to Washington.
“Now I’m not always looking over, worried about stepping on other people’s toes,” Lee said.
Wide receiver Jeff Greene, who tied for the team lead with 18 catches as a sophomore, left the team with plans to transfer. Smith also had 18 catches while running for 682 yards.
Offensive guard Omoregie Uzzi is the only other starter lost on offense. Only three starters must be replaced on defense: cornerback Rod Sweeting, defensive end Izaan Cross and defensive tackle T.J. Barnes.
Georgia Tech finished 7-7 in 2012 with a loss to Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and a win over Southern Cal in the Sun Bowl.