ATLANTA -- As important as getting off to a quick start is in college football, it is particularly the case for Georgia Tech in 2012.
That doesn't just mean the Labor Day opener against defending ACC Coastal Division champion Virginia Tech just 32 days away in Blacksburg, Va.
The Yellow Jackets also division foes Virginia and Miami in the first four weeks of the season, meaning they will have a very good idea of which way the season is headed before September is over.
"Clearly the month of September is going to be huge," Tech head coach Paul Johnson said during media day activites prior to Saturday's "Fun on the Flats" fan event. "Not only do we have the big conference road game to start the season, but we've also got Virginia and Miami both in the month of September. So, we may be the only team in America with three division games in the month of September. So, it will be a big challenge, but I think it's one that our guys are looking forward to."
As defensive tackle T.J. Barnes pointed out, it's a challenge several of the older Jackets have been through before.
"I think it's same thing as 2009, really, when we had, I think it was three ... games in 12 days," the 6-foot-7, 345-pound redshirt senior said, referring to a 3-1 start that vaulted Tech toward that season's ACC championship. "We're just taking this season one game at a time. All we're looking forward to right now is Virginia Tech."
Actually, Johnson is quite pleased with the fact the team's focus has been on the present during the first few days of practice this past week.
More importantly, he has been pleased with the work and focus the players have had during the summer leading up to the preseason.
"I've really been encouraged by the attitude and work ethic of our guys in the offseason," Johnson said. "I think they've had a great summer. The last couple of days have been productive. We had practices (Friday) and (Saturday) morning. We're looking forward to getting into shells (today) and kind of building on that and getting cranked up."
While the attitude appears to be right, there are still questions the Jackets will have to answer as the opener rapidly approaches.
While much attention has been paid to whether or not redshirt freshman Vad Lee or redshirt sophomore Synjyn Days will challenge incumbent Tevin Washington for the starting quarterback job, the competition with Tech's other skill position seems to be just as important.
For example, while the Jackets got 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns out of the B-back position last season, they lacked a dynamic presence of a Jonathan Dwyer or Anthony Allen from the previous three seasons in Johnson's option attack.
But redshirt junior David Sims returns after learning the position following a move from quarterback last season.
And Collins Hill grad Charles Perkins also returns with a year of game experience under his belt, which should increase both players' comfort level.
"The competition with Charles and all those guys (including sophomore Zach Laskey) is pretty good," said Sims, who ran for 698 yards and seven touchdowns on 135 carries last season. "We all do certain things different. ... Overall, it's a healthy competition. We push each other and make sure we're doing our best to help the team."
The competition at receiver is even more wide open.
While a single, go-to receiver like Demaryius Thomas and Stephen Hill -- now both in the NFL -- have emerged during the Johnson era, this year's receiver corps may be more of a team effort, with even incoming freshmen like Norcross' Anthony Autry having a chance to catch the coaching staff's eyes.
"As I've said before Darren Waller is 6-6, 220 and can run. Jeff Greene's about 6-4. They're big kids," Johnson said. "Jeremy Moore ... has been hurt, really, since he's been here. He's healthy for the first time. If he can stay healthy, he brings something to the table. Chris Jackson's got an opportunity. ... I'm sure he's hungry to get out there.
"All three freshmen have looked good in camp in shorts. Autry, the kid from Norcross, has done some good things. Micheal Summers, Tra (Henry). So, we'll have some guys to play there."
The offensive line includes preseason award watchlist members in Omoregie Uzzi and Jay Finch, while Grayson grad Shawn Green could push incumbent starters like Barnes, Izaan Cross and Emmanuel Dieke to provide what Johnson says is "the most (depth) we've had there."
"We're all brothers, especially on the D-line," Barnes said. "We all click. We all work hard. During the summer workouts, we pushed each other. So, we all have a good vibe have a good feel for each other."