So where do the differences begin with Tracy Ham and Justin Thomas?
We have already established the differences in the eras as an easy place to start.
There is no doubt that the speed of the game has taken a quantum leap from the time that Tracy Ham was shredding Division I-AA competition at Georgia Southern to today’s modern game speed of the ACC.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
So when we start to talk about the individual differences between the two, it starts with the amount of athleticism.
We know that speedwise Justin Thomas is world class. He has the edge over Tracy Ham in that department just based on the fact that he is evading faster defenses.
This is something that definitely needed to be discussed with Central Savannah River Area Press writer Karl Haywood.
He echoed the same feelings about the speed contrast from Ham’s era to the modern game when he began to give his perspective on the two quarterbacks’ differences:
“I do believe Thomas is a better passer and possibly a little more elusive than Ham because of his speed and quickness against much faster, versatile, and quality defenders. Ham was quick and elusive and he had the line and receivers to help him, but I see Thomas at a different speed and quickness level against much faster and mobile defenders – he’s just plain good and getting better. Like Thomas, Ham had great vision of the field and could find the openings, but I don’t know that he could match up with Thomas’ speed, quickness, and elusiveness.”
– Karl Haywood
But the physicality edge was given to Tracy Ham. As much as we appreciate Justin Thomas’ speed and elusiveness, he is not the most physical runner, nor should he be because we don’t want him having to take any kind of physical punishment whatsoever.
“Ham was exceptional at making the option work by forcing the defense to take him or the pitch man and he would and could take the hits – which is why he excelled in The Canadian Football League as a professional. Thomas is not built to take the constant punishment of being hit all the time by big defenders on the option, but I don’t know that Ham could take it consistently at this (modern day) level against this competition either given their size, speed, mobility, and strength.”
– Karl Haywood
The common bond between Tracy Ham and Justin Thomas is, of course, head coach Paul Johnson. Johnson is obviously a good judge of talent and has a great understanding of how to utilize his players’ strengths within his offense.
The only question I had as it pertained to how Coach Johnson utilized both of these quarterbacks was , “Is Paul Johnson’s play calling more conservative with one over the other?”.
Sep 20, 2014; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas (5) celebrates scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
The reason for that question is to gauge whether Coach Johnson trusted one more than the other.
Now granted, Thomas still has a couple more seasons to play under Paul Johnson since he is only a junior, and Tracy Ham has a full body of work under him.
But in the end a coaches’ comfort level with a player is expressed by what plays he calls and how much freedom as well as responsibility the coach puts in the player.
In the end this is how Mr. Haywood explained it to me:
“From what I can remember of the Ham years, I really don’t think so. I am no expert on Coach Paul Johnson – other than he is an offensive genius, almost as good as a defensive guy, and a great leader who cares about his players and knows he wants to get all the potential out of them that’s in there for 60 minutes of as many games as they play each year and he wants them, and expects them, to get their degrees from Georgia Tech. I can only say what I know of him; what I have heard him say before; and, what I have seen him do and observed him put it into action all the time – Coach Johnson’s philosophy is: “We are going to run the football. We are going to run the football. And, we are going to run the football some more, coming right at you and you know it. We will pass, punt, and kick field goals only – and, I mean only – when we force ourselves to do so by our mistakes or our lack of execution.” His play calling is a continual chess game against the defenses and he poses the plays based on what the defenses and defensive coordinators give him. He knows his players, their skills, their abilities, and what he expects from them, and he calls the plays accordingly – expecting and demanding they give him and their teammates all they’ve got for that whole 60 minutes – even down to the last :18 seconds.”
– Karl Haywood
So, basically, there is no difference in the aggression of how Paul Johnson called plays for one over the other.
If Johnson has you at quarterback he expects execution. In fact, if you are on the field for Paul Johnson he expects execution.
Johnson is confident that no matter who he has in, if everyone is executing, his offense is virtually unstoppable.
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So what did I learn from delving into this topic?
I learned that regardless of who is the quarterback and regardless of the era, if they are executing in Paul Johnson’s offense, success will follow.
With that success it is fair to make a comparison as long as you keep in mind the differences in time periods and competition.
This topic will more than likely come up again if Thomas plays up to the promise he has shown thus far. But since his chapter is still being written, this conversation is incomplete.
Once Thomas’ body of work is done, we will know an almost definite answer to the question, “Are the Justin Thomas comparisons to Tracy Ham fair?”.