When you run an option offense, you had better have plenty of running backs.
Georgia Southern has a bunch — 16 on the spring roster to be exact — and lost only two of 2011's biggest contributors during the offseason, Nico Hickey to graduation and J.J. Wilcox, who moved to defense.
That leaves a lot of people trying to fill out a two-deep roster that has room for only six running backs.
"Every one of them works hard and looks forward to getting better every day," said running backs coach Lamont Seward. "It's a team game, and they understand that."
The team's leading rusher from 2011, sophomore Dominique Swope, started only six games but rushed for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns out of the B-back position as a freshman. Swope's position is one of the few on the depth chart occupied by underclassmen, so he finds himself in a leadership position for redshirt freshman Seon Jones, junior William Banks and a handful of freshmen rounding out the position.
"I feel like I'm used to the offense, so I put in my two cents every time I can," Swope said. "I've still got a lot to learn, but we're working hard out here."
Junior Robert Brown started 2011 as the No. 1 B-back, but moved to A-back midway through the season. He was second on the team in rushing (937 yards) last season, but is currently recovering from offseason back surgery.
Right now, at the top of the depth chart for A-backs are seniors Jonathan Bryant, Darreion Robinson and Brian Wilcher, who combined for 510 rushing yards a season ago. Also in the mix are Tray Butler, a converted wide receiver, junior Devin Scott, and a handful of other role players and freshmen.
The more, the merrier.
"We need depth," Bryant said. "We get our work in, but with the depth, we can stay rested."
The team hasn't had a practice in full pads yet, but Bryant is looking forward to seeing how the young players respond, especially when they have to block.
"They haven't even had to cut block yet," he said. "That's going to be a definite change. They're probably just used to standing up and blocking. That cut blocking is something serious."
A big change for everyone on the offensive side of the ball was the graduation of quarterback Jaybo Shaw, who transferred to GSU from Georgia Tech in 2010 and came in with a firm grasp of the option offense.
Ezayi "Izzy" Youyoute and Jerick McKinnon are expected to split quarterback duties in 2012.
"Somebody has to field that position, and I'm confident in Izzy and Jerick," said Bryant. "They've got a lot of speed, but at the same time you lose somebody that knew the system in and out. Sometimes Jaybo could correct the coaches."
And as if there already weren't enough running backs, you can throw McKinnon and Youyoute into the mix too — whichever quarterback isn't under center on a given play.
"Of course," said GSU head coach Jeff Monken, "Jerick McKinnon and Izzy Youyoute can line up at one of the slot positions or even in the backfield out of the gun."
And if things don't work out for Wilcox on defense, don't forget about him, either.
"If he's not the starting safety," Monken said, "he's going right back there on offense."
The Eagles return to Beautiful Eagle Creek today at 2:45 p.m. for day three of fall camp. They'll practice in shells again Sunday at 3:20 p.m., and dress in full pads for the first time Monday at 2:45 p.m.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.