There is only one more scrimmage and a handful of practices left before the 2012 football season begins, and the look of the Georgia Southern Eagles is finally starting to take shape.
With many positions solid on the depth chart, Friday’s scrimmage, which takes place at 4:15 p.m. at Paulson Stadium, will focus mainly on specific, in-game situations.
"You just can’t control that in a scrimmage or in a game," said GSU coach Jeff Monken. "If you just go out there in a game, situations may not come up. We’re going to look at onside kicks and receiving an onside kick, what happens after a safety, a bobbled snap on a field goal, punting out of the back of our end zone, punting when we want to kill it inside the 10, all those kinds of things."
As the depth chart starts becoming firm, there are fewer and fewer questions left to answer.
The biggest question since Jaybo Shaw took his last snap at quarterback against North Dakota State in the 2011 Football Championship Subdivision semifinals has been, "Who will be the starting quarterback?"
Sophomore Ezayi Youyoute and junior Jerick McKinnon are both expected to play from the start, and the only other quarterback left in the mix is Matt Dobson, a freshman from Monticello, Fla.
The other two quarterbacks, freshman Vegas Harley and senior Russell DeMasi, moved to the scout team after Saturday’s scrimmage, and freshman Kevin Ellison, who entered the program as a quarterback, is now playing slotback.
Ellision is practicing with the T-backs, which are slotbacks who can also line up as a slot receiver. Senior Jonathan Bryant tops the depth chart there, backed up by wide receiver-turned-slotback Tray Butler.
The A-backs, the other slotback position which also lines up in the backfield with the quarterback, are led by senior Darreion Robinson and junior Robert Brown.
The fullbacks are led by Dominique Swope, who enters the season having rushed for a team-high 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.
Swope is backed up by a committee of players, which is a good thing, considering many at the position, including Swope, have been banged up throughout fall camp.
Wednesday at practice, Illinois transfer Ean Days and freshman James Dean took the snaps, and William Banks, Seon Jones, Nardo Govan and Irving Huggins are all in the mix.
There are firm starters on the offensive line — Dorian Byrd (left tackle), Garrett Frye (right tackle), Trevor McBurnette (right guard) and Manrey Saint-Amour (center) – but Blake DeBartola will also be in the mix, somewhere.
"He’s one of the best five," Monken said, "and we’re probably going to move him around where we need him, depending on who’s healthy."
Chris Gray (LT), Zach Lonas (LG), Austin Hagan (C), Logan Daves (RG) and Raymond Klugey (RT) are also expected to see plenty of the field.
Topping off the depth chart are senior wide receivers Mitchell Williford and Patrick Barker, who are backed up by sophomores Zach Walker and Kentrellis Showers.
They each look to contribute at the position.
The centerpiece of Georgia Southern’s defensive line, and arguably the entire team, is senior defensive tackle Brent Russell. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Battle and junior Trevor Shaw are battling it out as Russell’s backup.
The rest of the line is solid with starters Josh Gebhardt and Dion Dubose (defensive end), and Blake Riley (nose tackle). Plenty of other linemen are vying for playing time, too — Javon Mention, Justice Ejike, Rashad Williams and Terico Agnew.
Bandit Darius Eubanks will spend a lot of time on the field regardless of the package.
"Sometimes he’ll play outside linebacker and sometimes he’ll play safety," Monken said.
Kyle Oehlbeck has emerged as the middle linebacker, and Antwione Williams, who is battling a thumb injury, has earned a spot at the top on the weak side.
Starters at safety look to be senior J.J. Wilcox, who was a running back until the end of spring camp, and Deion Stanley.
Illinois transfer Valdon Cooper, a sophomore, and Lavelle Westbrooks, who has started at both safety and corner for the Eagles, will play cornerback, and both look to get spelled by sophomore Josh King.
The Eagles are replacing four-year starters at every phase of the kicking game.
Kicker and long snapper are also the only GSU positions with true freshmen on the two-deep.
The long snapper looks to be Jake Banta, and Alex Hanks, a freshman, is competing for place-kicker duties with Ole Miss transfer Ryan Nowicki.
Luke Cherry looks to be handling both punts and kickoffs.
The kickoff return game will feature McKinnon and Bryant, with J.J. Wilcox in the mix, and Robinson is listed as the punt returner.
The Eagles practice again today at 3:45 p.m. at Beautiful Eagle Creek.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.