Georgia Southern Football ramped up spring practice two weeks ago before players paused for spring break. The banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek were alive again with the cracking of pads and helmets on Tuesday morning as the Eagles were back in full force.
And while the offseason has done plenty to mend the scars of a 2016 season that fell short of expectations, it’s also clear that the newest edition of the team is using last years negatives - along with the positives - to drive them into the new season.
“I think it was great today and we’re better than we were the first two days.,” GS receiver Myles Campbell said. “This year, we’re more focused on right now, and not so much about what we can do in the fall. We’re building a house. Right now, it’s all about the foundation.”
As spring practice continues, many eyes are focused on the Eagle offense.
Last season, Georgia Southern attempted to reprise its role as one of the nation’s most impressive rushing attacks. But despite an impressive returning cast of offensive linemen and skill players, the Eagles spent much of last season spinning their wheels, at times looking punchless despite fielding proven talent.
The offseason saw the departure of co-offensive coordinators David Dean and Rance Gillespie, as well as offensive line coach Alan Mogridge. In their place are new offensive coordinator Bryan Cook, receivers coach Juston Wood and offensive line coach Bob Bodine.
The new offensive plan doesn’t abandon head coach Tyson Summers’ wish that the Eagles become a more consistent passing offense, but is clearly geared toward returning Georgia Southern to the upper ranks of the most effective rushing offenses in the country.
Finding a new starting quarterback option following the departure of seniors Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw is a huge challenge, but the options at quarterback and running back appear to hold enough athleticism and talent to make the Eagles dangerous if the group is able to execute.
The Eagle receiving corps is also loaded with talent, but may be facing some different assignments with the new commitment to reestablishing the running game.
“The bottom line is that we want to do well in all aspects of the job,” Wood said of his position group. “Right now, we’re instilling the mindset of being aggressive and attacking in all phases of the offense.
“We have guys who can beat coverage and get passes. We want the same mentality when blocking on running plays as when they’re attacking man-to-man coverage. Just putting a hat on a hat is defensive way of blocking. We need to block with aggression.”
Regardless of the position in question, there are plenty of spots up for grabs when the Eagles open up the 2017 season Sept. 2 at Auburn.
In addition to the vacancy at quarterback, also gone are running back Matt Breida, receiver B.J. Johnson, center Andy Kwon and a slew of members that made up last year’s two-deep on the defensive front seven.
Many coaches like to preach the cliche of every spot always being available for whoever earns it. And while that may hold true, there are many open spots on the Eagles’ 2017 starting roster that are recently vacated by multiple-year starters, meaning that there are plenty of sophomores and juniors who are hoping to take the next step after paying their dues as backups in previous years.
“This is a great opportunity for guys to step up and be the new playmakers,” Campbell said. “They can be the next great Eagles to come through here. Last year, we were really young in the defensive secondary. Those guys worked hard and proved themselves and now they’re a strength. That’s what all of the guys who are stepping up have to do this year.”
The Eagles will take Wednesday off before returning to Eagle Creek for a Thursday morning practice. The annual Blue-White spring game is scheduled for April 1 at Paulson Stadium.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.