Five different returning Georgia Southern Eagles started at least one game at linebacker a year ago and six were in the rotation, so there are plenty of choices for the second level of defense heading into the 2011 season.
“It’s kind of like dealer’s choice,” said linebackers coach Shawn Quinn. “We were able to bring 13 into camp, so we’ve got a good bit of competition going on. … You can tell they worked hard over the summer. Physically, they look stronger and faster. Kudos to the strength coaches.”
Middle linebacker Josh Rowe returns for his junior season as the team’s leading tackler, recording 104 in 14 games a year ago.
“The mike linebacker is the quarterback of the defense so he’s got to have some leadership qualities,” Quinn said. “Josh is a guy who leads with his work ethic. The guys kind of rally around him.”
Rowe is joined by Darius Eubanks and true sophomore Carlos Cave, who currently sits at the top of the depth chart at outside linebacker after the departure of E.J. Webb.
“Carlos Cave has just made unbelievable strides as far as his physical developments,” said GSU coach Jeff Monken. “He’s 20 pounds heavier than he was a year ago and that’s really going to make a difference for him.”
Kyle Oehlbeck and John Stevenson each got significant playing time in 2010, combining for 39 tackes, and Michael Spaulding played in eight games as a freshman, although a fall-camp injury on Sunday has him sidelined.
Rowe has been helping the freshmen get used to the cut blocking of the GSU triple-option offense.
“I know it’s hard to adjust to the triple option,” said Rowe. “Some guys have never been cut in their entire life. They have to adjust from [defending] the spread, or a more traditional offense. Antwione Williams, Quaun Daniels, Eric Worthen, they’re all doing a great job.”
An aggressive offense isn’t the only adjustment for the true freshman. They, like the rest of the Eagles, are getting used to defensive calls under first-year defensive coordinator Jack Curtis.
“It’s a transition,” said Quinn. “It’s like they’re going from speaking English to Portuguese on some of the terminology and they’ve got a Rosetta stone to try to learn. But they’re doing a good job.”
Also adding depth to the linebackers is redshirt-junior K.R. Snipes, who missed 2010 with an injury. In 2009, Snipes was fourth on the team with 56 tackles. He appeared in 10 games and started seven.
As 2010 proved, the Eagles can use all the depth they can get.
“You’re a snap away from being a starter,” said Quinn.
The Eagles had a day off from fall camp Tuesday. They will return to Beautiful Eagle Creek today for a two-a-day at 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.