Whenever a new coaching staff shows up, some players are going to naturally decide that the new system is not for them. In fact, it's already happened at Georgia Southern as quarterbacks Lee Chapple and Kyle Collins and running back Adam Urbano left team before the start of spring practice.
And it almost happened to wide-receiver-turned-slotback J.J. Wilcox.
"I was upset," said Wilcox, a sophomore who has never played running back before in his life. "I had to call my dad on the phone and I was like, ‘Dad, I don't know how to play running back. I don't know how to read seams and gaps.' He was like, ‘Just hang in there.' Personally, I went and talked to (first-year) coach (Jeff) Monken. He sat down to talk with me and told me it would be the best adjustment. He said, ‘Don't you like to run and catch?' I said, ‘Yes sir.'
"I was kind of upset at first, but now I actually like it. I love it."
It may be fun, but it isn't easy. Before the slotbacks, also called A-backs, who are currently a patchwork of former receivers and running backs, start worrying about touchdown runs and first-down catches, they need to learn what to do when the play is called in..
"Assignment sound," said slotbacks coach C. Ray Gregory. "We want to be assignment sound and we want to make the most out of every opportunity we have with the ball whether it be running or catching."
The installation process has been moving along through the first two weeks of spring practice, but with new additions every day, it's hard to keep up.
"Constantly, every day, it's something new. It's hard and it's drilling, but if you're willing to put in the time to do it, I feel like it's going to work," Wilcox said about Monken's offense. "I trust him. I'll do it with all of my heart. It's hard blocking linebackers and defensive ends, but it's getting better. Every day, it's getting better."
Despite missed assignments and fumbled pitches throughout the spring's first scrimmage Saturday at Paulson Stadium, the offense wasn't without signs of progress - including long touchdown runs by sophomore slotbacks Nico Hickey and Johnathan Bryant.
"It was wide open," said Bryant about his scoring run. "They laid out all the blocks, the wide receiver had the cornerback kicked out, the A-back on the other side had it kicked out. The run was all laid out. All I had to do was jog in there."
If running is the easy part, blocking definitely presents its challenges. The blocking assignments on the corners and even through the middle are more labor intensive than what GSU receivers are used to.
"As a wide receiver, all you've got to do to block is go stand in front of they guy," Bryant said. "In this (offense), you've got to make sure you're counting, and every missed assignment is going to affect somebody on the offense."
To hear the coaches tell it, Hickey is leading the pack as far as fundamentals and ability at the slotback position. They like what they've seen out of Wilcox and Bryant, and they're waiting for Darreion Robinson - a sophomore running back who entered spring as the team's leading rusher from 2009 - to start coming around in his new role.
Of course, all of them still have a lot to learn.
"I don't know if there's two guys that I could pick out of the group that I can say are the best two right now," Monken said. "If none of them stand out - and they've all had enough missed assignments to make us worry about playing any of them - well, we've got to have two in the game."
The Eagles have a day off today before returning to practice Thursday at 3:45 p.m.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.