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GSU begins spring practice
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Slotbacks head upfield as quarterback Russell DeMasi, center, hands off to fullback Zeke Rozier as Georgia Southern debuts its return to the triple option offense at practice Monday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

            After four years and two coaches, Georgia Southern got back to its roots.

            Spring football practice got underway at the shores of Beautiful Eagle Creek Monday afternoon, and for a group of Eagles making the switch from a passing offense to the triple-option offense that was abandoned at the conclusion of the 2005 season, there is a lot to learn.

            Fumbles and miscues were common — all part of the process.

            “Of course there’s gonna be fumbles and miscommunications, but that happens with every offense,” saqid GSU quarterback Russell DeMasi, a sophomore who ran a strikingly similar offense at Savannah Christian. “Just because it’s a new offense doesn’t mean people aren’t good. It’s a hard offense to learn. Everybody did a great job today. They were flying around today. It didn’t matter what they did – if they did something wrong, they were going 100-percent, and that’s what we really need right now.”

            DeMasi, along with a laundry list of other players — Leander Barney, A.J. McCray, redshirt freshman Brent Osbourne, Lee Banks, Jordan Haggerty and some new faces like Jawan Luckey and Ben Turner — aren’t the only guys learning a new role.

            Practicing with the slotbacks were familiar names including the likes of Darreion Robinson, Chris Teal, Johnathan Bryant, J.J. Wilcox and Nico Hickey, and the fullback group saw Brandon Nolley, Zeke Rozier, Tobi Akinniranye and a handful of others taking snaps.

            “They’re pushing us to the max,” said Robinson, an H-back in last year’s system. “They all have big expectations for us. I think they’ll fit right in at Georgia Southern.”

            One face missing from the practice field was the team’s leading rusher in 2009, Adam Urbano. He stepped away from the team Monday morning before the first practice session.

            Monken said he was surprised, but would do what he could to help Urbano find another team – as long as it wasn’t a team on GSU’s future schedule.

            There may be a lot to learn for the returning GSU offense, but that doesn’t mean anybody gets a free pass to put the ball on the ground.

            “I’m not lenient on anything — mistakes, effort — I’m not lenient at all,” said first-year coach Jeff Monken. “I don’t want our coaches to be lenient and I hope our players don’t feel like they can loaf or go half speed because it’s shorts. I want them to be mentally in tune to what’s going on. I want them to listen and learn each coaching point. That’s a part of effort — mental effort.”

            Some first-practice jitters are nothing new for Monken, who helped Paul Johnson install the system at Navy and Georgia Tech.

            “We’re not experiencing anything differently then we did two years ago at Georgia Tech. Same problems, guys learning completely new systems,” said Monken. “We got through 15 practices in the spring, and we weren’t sure we could win a football game. We’ve got some work to do, but we’ll keep pushing.”

            As is common during spring workouts, especially with a first-year coaching staff, every position is up for grabs.

            “There’s no No.1 at any position right now,” Monken said. “Not one position has a No. 1. There’s 25 spots up for grabs, and I hope they’ll compete for those 25 spots.”

 

A change in scenery

            Monken spent time with each position at Monday’s practice. In his first year as a head coach, it was a bit different from joining the slotbacks at the beginning of practice.

            “When they blew the whistle out here and ran to different positions, I was standing here with no position to run to,” he said. “It was humbling to walk the same steps as guys like Erk Russell and Paul Johnson who I hold in such high regard. I think the world of them as coaches, and it’s a tremendous feeling. I’m really proud, but you’ve got to work.”

 

The other new system

            The offense isn’t the only new look for the 2010 Eagles.

            The defense will make the switch from a three-man front to a 4-3 with four down linemen.

            “It’s really not that different,” said nose tackle and reigning FCS Freshman of the Year Brent Russell. “Defense is defense. Running a 4-3, there’s more defensive linemen, more one-on-one situations. We’re used to having a lot of double teams, and I think we’ll thrive.”

 

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