ATLANTA — Charles Perkins is opening the season as Georgia Tech's surprise starting running back on Monday night at No. 16 Virginia Tech.
Coach Paul Johnson said Friday Perkins, a sophomore, had the best week of practice and will share time with Zach Laskey and possibly David Sims. Johnson says a new leader at the key position could emerge against the Hokies' strong defense.
"We tried to base it off the last week," Johnson said. "I know Charles and Zach are neck and neck. They're both going to play. There's probably a really good chance David is going to play, too."
Perkins will be the B-back, the position that produced the top rusher in Johnson's first three seasons — Jonathan Dwyer for two straight years and Anthony Allen in 2010.
The balance changed last season when quarterback Tevin Washington led the team with 986 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. Sims and Orwin Smith are the leading returning rushers among running backs.
Perkins (6-0, 215) ran for only 95 yards in 2011. His best game came against Duke, when he had 12 carries for 45 yards and a 29-yard reception.
Johnson said all the contenders for the starting job had some injury problems in preseason practice but Perkins has "shown some toughness and fought through some things."
"He's done better than the other guys," Johnson said. "That's why he's starting.
"I'm hopeful that Charles will go out there and rush for 200 yards, but we'll see."
It's an important position in a crucial Atlantic Coast Conference game. Since 2005, the Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech winner has earned the Coastal Division title and played in the ACC championship game.
The Hokies have two straight and four of the last five in the series.
The Yellow Jackets' defense will be missing two suspended players, linebacker Daniel Drummond and cornerback Louis Young, a returning starter.
Also, Johnson said he learned Wednesday that backup wide receiver Chris Jackson will not play due to an eligibility issue resulting from credit hours that were allowed by Georgia Tech when he transferred from Alabama.
"He may have to miss a couple games," said Johnson of Jackson, who did not have a catch last season and played mostly on special teams.