The Georgia Southern defensive line has been getting more attention than arguably any other position during the offseason.
When you factor in All-American Brent Russell, an All-Southern Conference player along with Roderick Tinsley, and a six-man rotation that accounted for 53.5 tackles for loss in 2010, it’s easy to see why.
How much better can they get?
“I don’t think there is a ceiling for this defense, or for this team,” said Russell, a junior who recorded a team-high 18.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season. “If we just keep working hard, the possibilities are endless. Some of the guys, now that they’ve seen what hard work can get us, their expectations are definitely higher.”
The depth has certainly improved. Though defensive end Dion DuBose continues to recover from a 2010 injury, sophomore Javon Mention has pushed ends Josh Gebhardt and John Douglas for playing time.
In the middle, sophomore Blake Riley, who recorded 12 tackles in 14 appearances last year, has earned the starting tackle job next to Russell.
“Riley’s doing a good job pushing Roderick Tinsley,” said GSU coach Jeff Monken. “He’s passed him now, and Roderick is a second-team, all-conference guy.”
“The number one goal for this camp was to grow in depth,” added Gebhardt. “Having a rotation helps us mentally. You’re going out there knowing you’re ready for the next snap.”
End Terico Agnew returns to the mix, as well as new faces in Western Kentucky transfer Korentheus Bailey and redshirt freshman Omari Jones.
Assistant defensive line coach Victor Cabral, who played for GSU from 2000 until 2004, understands the lofty expectations that come with playing at GSU.
“The expectations will never change, Cabral said. “Those expectations were set long before I was here, long before any of us were here coaching or playing. Coach Erk Russell and those guys that were playing back then, they were the ones that set the standards. We have to fulfill those standards, and raise the bar, too.
“I’ve always believed as a player and as a coach especially that we have to win the trenches. There were times when we didn’t win the trenches last year, and usually that leads to a loss.”
The Eagles, who finished 10-5 in 2010 and made it to the semifinals of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, begin the 2011 season in conference Saturday, Sept. 3 at Samford in Birmingham, Ala.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.