ATLANTA — Former quarterback David Sims is making a surprise bid to be Georgia Tech's next featured running back.
Coach Paul Johnson says "I don't think there's any question" Sims is making a strong bid to start when the Yellow Jackets open their season on Sept. 1 against Western Carolina.
Sims' move up the B-back depth chart is one of the most important developments of Georgia Tech's preseason.
The B-back position, held by Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen the last three years, usually takes the lead in Georgia Tech's productive spread-option running game. Georgia Tech is the only FBS school with an active streak of four straight 1,300-yard rushers.
Sims, a sophomore, is competing with Preston Lyons, Charles Perkins and Richard Watson.
Only a few months ago, Sims appeared headed toward a competition to replace Joshua Nesbitt at quarterback. Sims (5-11, 223) played in five games at quarterback last season and rushed for 48 yards and a touchdown without attempting a pass.
Then, on the second day of Georgia Tech's practice for the Independence Bowl, Johnson asked Sims if he'd like to move to running back.
"He told me to think about it during bowl week," Sims said. "I thought about it, thought it made sense, if that was my best chance to get in the game early."
It would be difficult for any talented runner to turn down an invitation to move to B-back.
Georgia Tech led the nation in rushing last season as Allen rushed for 1,316 yards, the eighth-best total in school history.
Allen was the school's fourth-straight 1,300-yard rusher, following Tashard Choice under former coach Chan Gailey in 2007 and Dwyer in 2008-09.
Lyons, a senior who is regarded as a strong blocker, rushed for 139 yards in 2009 as Dwyer's top backup and had 60 yards rushing in eight games last season.
"We're all rotating down there," Lyons said. "It's been a physical camp, very competitive, and that's a good thing."
Watson (6-1, 230), a junior who is a tough insider runner, had 10 carries for 32 yards last season.
Perkins, a redshirt freshman from Collins Hill High School with good size (6-0, 219) and speed, may be the B-back to watch. Johnson said before spring practice Perkins "has a chance to be special," but the coach has waited for Perkins to earn the starting job.
Finally, Perkins earned a compliment from Johnson on Tuesday.
"Today for the first time Charles Perkins caught my eye," Johnson said. "He was humming out there. He had a good day of practice."
But even the praise for Perkins turned into another compliment for Sims.
"David Sims has really been practicing and today Charles decided to come along for the ride," Johnson said.
When asked if he agreed he had picked up his play in the Tuesday practice, Perkins shook his head.
"I've been consistent the whole camp, getting things down and playing hard every day and staying healthy," Perkins said before acknowledging "I'm a high-confidence guy."
Added Perkins: "I thought I could play last year, but I got a redshirt."
Johnson said "you could throw a towel over" the B-back candidates before adding "Actually, David has probably had a little better camp at this point."
Sims said he struggled in spring practice and thought he might return to quarterback. Now he says he's feeling comfortable lining up behind the quarterback.
"Now I'm reacting, I'm running," Sims said. "I'm doing everything I used to do back in high school, just a whole lot faster."
Sims has impressed Johnson and his teammates with his ability to stay on his feet after a hit.
"I have a low center of gravity," he said. "I do have some type of leg strength. It helps me to break those tackles that maybe a smaller back can't.
"I don't feel like no one man should ever take me down.... It helps me break tackles I probably shouldn't be breaking."