Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson watches as the Yellow Jackets open their NCAA college football practice Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
ATLANTA -- After nearly a month of preseason practice, it's understandable that there is plenty of excitement around Georgia Tech's football team now that the week of their 2011 season opener has finally arrived.
But that excitement goes beyond the Yellow Jackets' players, and even the coaching staff and fan base.
"I woke up this morning, and my wife actually said, 'It's game week,'" Tech head coach Paul Johnson quipped during his first weekly press conference of the season. "She was excited about it. I think that we're (all) excited to get the season started. We're looking forward to seeing how much progress we've made in the spring and in camp. It ought to be fun."
At least, the Jackets and their fans are hoping they have plenty of fun when they tee it up Thursday night at 7:30 against Western Carolina -- Johnson's alma mater -- at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
And they certainly hope the 2011 season is a lot more fun than last year's 6-7 campaign.
But there are several questions that Tech also hopes will come closer to being answered in Thursday's opener.
Among those questions is the quarterback situation, where redshirt junior Tevin Washington returns for his first full season as the starter after taking over for injured senior Joshua Nesbitt a year ago, while redshirt freshman Synjyn Days and perhaps even true freshman Vad Lee could also see the field.
Just as big a question mark is the starting B-back role, where the Jackets are still looking for the heir apparent to Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen, who gave Tech at least 1,300 yards out of the feature backfield spot in the spread option offense in each of the last three seasons.
For now, the focus falls on redshirt sophomore David Sims, who won the job in spring and preseason despite starting out as No. 4 in the depth chart after moving over from quarterback.
But his determination seems to have rubbed off on his fellow competitors for playing time, including fellow redshirt sophomore Charles Perkins, who was called out last week by Johnson, who was quoted in several published reports as saying, "His idea of working hard and mine aren't the same."
However, the Collins Hill grad seems to have gotten back in the good graces of his coach, and should see plenty of snaps alongside redshirt senior Preston Lyons behind Sims on Thursday.
"We had a nice talk, and I think we're on the same page," Johnson said of Perkins, the Daily Post's 2009 Offensive Player of the Year. "I think he's worked hard the last few days. Sometimes, there's such an expectation level, and I'm not talking about Charles in particular. But in this day and age, guys think they're entitled. You've got to earn something. You just don't get it because you did something in high school or you did something somewhere else. You've got to come in and win the job.
"David (Sims) had two ways to go when he was fourth (on the depth chart). He could've pouted and left, or he could make up his mind he was going to outwork guys and come in and try to win the job. To his credit, he (chose) the latter. So, I think that's a great example for other guys on the team who aren't where they want to be."
Tech's depth will also get an early test Thursday, with several players who will either be out or limited by preseason injuries.
The A-back position will get a particular test, with four-year starter Roddy Jones and fellow senior Marcus Wright "dinged up," according to Johnson, and listed as either "questionable" or "doubtful."
While Embry Peeples is expected to move into Jones' starting spot opposite Orwin Smith, little-tested players like Robert Godhigh and Tony Zenon may be called upon to make an impact Thursday.
The same could be said along the offensive line, where redshirt sophomores Tyler Kidney, Jay Finch and Will Jackson and redshirt freshman Caitlin Alford all may be called into action with more experienced linemen like Phil Smith and J.C. Lanier out.
And while the defense is a lot more intact in terms of injuries, several youngsters like sophomores Daniel Drummond, Jeremiah Attachou, Isaiah Johnson and Louis Young will get either their first opportunity to show what they can do or show how much they've matured after being thrown into the fire as freshmen last year.
Either way, Johnson is anxious to see how those young Jackets respond.
"Right now, from a depth standpoint, we've got to have those guys. They've got to play," Johnson said. "We were looking at the hotel list, and I think I counted 20 freshmen or redshirt freshmen (among) the 64 on the hotel list. So, there's going to be a lot of young guys. So, it ought to be interesting in a lot of ways."