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Former Eagles emerge to check out 'Hatch Attack'

    The Georgia Southern Eagles have been through a lot over these past few years. New offenses, new defenses, new coaches and new transfers have completely changed the look of the once-dominant Eagles, and with all of the wholesale changes to the program, the 3-8 2006 season left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans. The arrival of first-year head coach Chris Hatcher to the Eagle football family seems to have re-energized the fan base and the program as a whole, and Saturday GSU fans and former players were given a glimpse of the “Hatch Attack” in action.
    Many former option-era players were on hand at Saturday’s annual Blue/White game — the culmination of the 2007 spring practice season —and they liked what they saw out of Hatcher and the current group of players.
    “I took a lot of pride — all of us took a lot of pride in playing ball for Georgia Southern,” said former defensive lineman Victor Cabral. “The defensive guys, the offensive guys — we all hung our hat on being Georgia Southern Eagles, so it was great. They were emotional out there (during the scrimmage). They were intense and they played hard… As long as they’re out there still having fun and getting ready for the season, it’s all great.”
    The defense still has a long way to go. Along with the adjustment of the third defensive scheme in three years, the Eagles have a large gap to fill at the linebacker position. The experience and leadership of last year’s group will be hard to replace.
    “A lot of young guys have got to step up,” said Jason Earwood, an Eagle linebacker who dealt with transition during his senior year in 2006. “They are a lot younger then we were, but as a linebacker — especially as a Mike (middle) linebacker — you are the quarterback of that defense. You set everybody up… It doesn’t matter if they’re young. They are going to have to step up and lead that defense because that’s what we’re going to have to have — that’s where it starts.”
    Another difficult transition for the Eagles has taken place in the trenches. The offensive linemen who were recruited to cut block for the triple option offense have been forced to re-learn their position in favor of pass protection, and the transition has not been easy. The 2006 season appears to have helped the line ease into their roles more smoothly.
    “I’m really impressed with the way the offensive line has been playing on both the blue and the white team,” said Charlie Hopkins, a former guard/offensive tackle for GSU who played in the final game of the GSU option football era. “It seems like they have learned to pass block since I was here.”
    The “big uglies” have certainly undergone a facelift since 2005, and while some have been forced to learn a new style of play, others have embraced different roles on the team.
    “They seem to cut a little bit, and they’re just playing better football now,” Hopkins said. “I’ve seen Russell Orr make some really good blocks up the edge… (Orr) and Marcelo Estrada have been doing real good job. Even a guy I played offensive line with — Sean Gray, playing fullback now — it seems like he has adapted really well to a change in positions.”
    The transition for the Eagles has been sudden and drastic, but some things never change. Perhaps the most consistent part of the GSU offense the last three seasons has been the extraordinary play of Jayson Foster. No matter what role he has played, Foster has always excelled.
    “Foster seems to be the kid who has the most pop in his step,” said Eagle great Tracy Ham, one of two Eagles to have his number retired over the years. “You can see he is by far better than anybody out there when he gets the ball.”
    Under the late Erk Russell, Ham and the Eagles needed speed to execute the option offense they had so much success with. Ham feels that that is one thing about GSU football that will never change, and this team will need plenty of it.
    “In my opinion, one of the things coach Hatcher will probably address,” Ham said, “is the speed. To do some of the things that he wants to do, you need more speed… You get the ball to the people quickly, and if you get it to them quick, they need to be able to make the move and get up the field and create some separation.”
    Something the football alumni agreed on was that one thing stands out this year that seemed to be missing in 2006. The team is having fun playing football.
    “Spring is a hard time for all the players to get used to all the new adjustments,” said Cabral, “but they look like they are having a good time and running around and making plays. It was fun.”
    “The guys seem to be a lot looser,” said Hopkins. “Travis Clark seemed to be making better throws then he did last year… It looks really good out there. It looks like they had a lot of fun.”
    “(Hatcher and his staff) are going in the right direction,” Earwood said. “The players love them, and that’s where it all begins. I don’t care how you start a team — if you don’t get respect from the players you’re not going to have anything. They’ve earned that. They are having fun out there. I love watching them have fun, because we went through a tough season last year — a lot of heartache — but I think coach Hatcher has got it on the right track.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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