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New blood on D-line
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Georgia Southern defensive tackle Brent Russell is going to be hard to replace. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Losing a defensive lineman like Brent Russell to graduation is tough.
    Losing one like Dion DuBose isn’t too easy, either.
    Losing both at the same time — that could be a problem.
    The Georgia Southern Eagles have to find a replacement for a pair of defensive linemen who have started just about every game since head coach Jeff Monken took over the program in 2010.
    If you’re going to fill those shoes — a combined 94 tackles including 11 sacks last season — you had better bring more to the table than talent.
    “Toughness,” Monken said, “that’s the most important thing we look for.”
    “That’s something we emphasize here,” added defensive coordinator Jack Curtis, “to be a very physical and tough football team. Those guys did a super job with that.”
    First in line to replace Russell at defensive tackle is Justice Ejike, a 6-foot, 291-pound junior without a whole lot of playing time under his belt. Ejike played in all 14 games in 2012 and started one. His job will get a lot harder if he replaces Russell.
    “(Russell is) a four-year All-American. I’m not sure how you replace that. The thing about Brent Russell is that he could go out there and play every snap of every game for you,” Monken said. “He’d get tired, just like everybody else, but somehow he’d find a way to stay out there. That’s the biggest thing Justice has to work on.
    “He needs to work on putting together more than a couple of snaps.”
    Josh Gebhardt, a senior who started at defensive end opposite DuBose most of last season, feels pretty confident about finding DuBose’s replacement. He knows, regardless of what happens, it’s his job to be a leader.
    “Those freshmen come in and their eyes are wide open, and they need to hear, ‘Alright,’ or ‘Pick it up,’ and I think that’s really important,” he said.
    After Gebhardt, the most experience on the D-line comes from starting tackle Blake Riley and end Javon Mention, who started three games last year and recorded 25 tackles, while matching DuBose with a team-high 6.5 sacks.
    Terico Agnew and Jonathan Battle have also taken significant snaps for the Eagles. 
    “We have a lot of experience under our belt, and we had a great spring,” Riley said. “The young guys played hard. They really just need to iron out the wrinkles.”
    The line isn’t the only place the defense is looking for replacements. Safeties J.J. Wilcox and Darius Eubanks are currently in the NFL, and linebacker John Stevenson was the team’s leading tackler in 2012.
    Gebhardt is seeing some of the 2010 signing class, his group, finally get their shot at making the starting 11.
    “It’s a funny thing, because most of the guys out there now, we all came in together,” Gebhardt said. “They’ve had plenty of time to develop and they’re going to be ready. There’s going to be a couple of surprises out there, a couple of guys you may never even have heard their name before.”
    The Eagles will have a split practice session today at Beautiful Eagle Creek, beginning at 9 a.m.
    GSU will practice in shells at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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