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Eagles begin fall practice

McKinnon set to lead as GSU has lofty expectations

Eagles begin fall practice

Eagles begin fall practice

Georgia Southern's Jerick McKinnon (1...

    When the Georgia Southern Eagles begin preparing for the 2013 season today on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek with a pair of practices at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., two things will be certain — expectations will be high for the offense, and Jerick McKinnon will be running the show.
    The 2012 season began with a bit of a quarterback controversy between McKinnon and Ezayi Youyoute, but McKinnon’s performance during the second half of the season and his record-setting numbers in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs helped solidify his role as the team’s signal caller.
    Youyoute, meanwhile, has been moved to slotback, where the Eagles can use some depth. Johnathan Bryant and Darrieon Robinson each rushed for 506 yards at the position in 2012, and Bryant is the only returning starter. There are plenty of players at the position — including Torrance Hunt, a late transfer from East Carolina — but very little experience. After Bryant, the only other slotback with starting experience is Tray Butler, who returns with one start under his belt.
    “We’ve lost a lot there,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “We’ll put Ezayi in there and see if he can play the position. … There’s so much going on, it’s a tough position to learn.”
    McKinnon returns for his senior season after rushing for a team-high 1,817 yards and 20 touchdowns. He added 597 passing yards and seven touchdowns through the air.
    He set a GSU and FCS record for single-game rushing yards by a quarterback, torching Central Arkansas for 316 yards in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
    Dominique Swope, a junior, rounds out the backfield. As a B-back, Swope rushed for 1,246 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. He will go without contact for the first few weeks of fall camp, along with wide receiver Zach Walker. Both are recovering from offseason surgery.
    “We had a lot of bumps and bruises during the spring,” Monken said. “Everybody, other than those two, should be ready to go.”
    Swope has plenty of backup at fullback. William Banks ran for 442 yards and four touchdowns a year ago, and Ean Days saw limited playing time last season. Days will be monitored for nagging injuries.
Nardo Govan, a 6-foot-2, 243-pound athlete from Savannah Christian, will be in the mix a the position as well.
    Both slotback and fullback have incoming freshman beginning to learn the spread-option offense, too.
    Most of the Eagles’ question marks lie on the defensive side of the ball. Three GSU players from the 2012 team — safeties J.J. Wilcox and Darius Eubanks, and defensive lineman Brent Russell — are on NFL rosters and a fourth, linebacker John Stevenson, got a look from the New York Giants.
    Add the loss of defensive end Dion DuBose, and the Eagles are missing five of the top seven leading tacklers from 2012. Linebacker Kyle Oehlbeck (51) and defensive lineman Blake Riley (45) are the team’s top two statistical tacklers returning to the defense.
    The regular season -—Georgia Southern’s last as a member of the Southern Conference before joining the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference — begins on Saturday, Aug. 31 against Savannah State in Paulson Stadium at 6 p.m.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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