Perhaps the biggest dilemma a college football coach faces during fall camp is deciding which freshmen to play immediately and which to redshirt and develop for a year.
“You see a kid and you’re not sure if he can help you,” said Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken after Thursday’s fall practice session. “You’re thinking, ‘He’s probably not a whole lot different than the other guys right now. Let’s hold him back. Let’s wait. Let’s redshirt him.’ Then maybe by game five or six, he looks like he’s ready to play, and he’s starting to come into his own. Well, do you burn his redshirt year and play him for the last half of the regular season and hopefully into the playoffs? Or do you ride it out and let him redshirt?”
Then, there’s the other side of the coin.
“Or,” Monken continued, “you have a guy you think is really going to be something special. You play him in the first couple of games, and he hits that freshman plateau. A lot of them do. They get tired physically and worn down because they’re not in the kind of shape the older guys are. They get beat up. They play limited snaps, and you burn their redshirt year.”
The Eagles return all 11 starters on offense and nine on defense for the 2011 season, but Monken and the rest of the coaching staff are working to figure out which of the 2011 recruits will be ready to play when the season kicks off at Samford on Sept. 3.
“We do our best to try to identify the guys that we think are going to be able to get into games, we use them early and we play them,” said Monken.
One position that could use some depth is B-back, where sophomore Robert Brown returns as the only experienced player. He is joined by senior Zeke Rozier, who missed 2010 with a knee injury, and Brent Thomas, who saw little action a year ago but led the team in rushing at the spring scrimmage in Brown’s absence.
Freshman Xavier Sharp came to camp as a B-back, moved to wide receiver and back to B-back. Taking snaps with the third team throughout fall camp has been freshman Dominique Swope. He played halfback and fullback at Buford High School, where they ran some option out of the Wing-T.
“When we ran it, I did pretty good,” Swope said, “so when I heard Georgia Southern was running it, I was pretty excited.”
His experience with the basics of the offense has eased the transition to the GSU offense.
“He runs well and he runs low, behind his pads,” said senior quarterback Jaybo Shaw about Swope. “He’s got a lot of talent. I’m glad he’s here with us.”
Kentrellis Showers, a redshirt freshman wide receiver who led the spring scrimmage in receiving yards has been a welcome addition to a group that went four deep in 2010, and true freshman Zach Walker out of Johnson County has turned some heads during fall camp.
“For him to go out there and do what he does, I think it’s awesome,” said Laron Scott, one of three returning cornerbacks.
That’s high praise coming from Scott, considering what freshman cornerback Riyahd Jones had to say about him.
“Laron, he almost plays perfect in my opinion,” said Jones. “He does everything right and he’s a really solid player.”
Jones, a wide receiver for most of his career at Carver-Columbus, played both ways his senior year and found his niche on defense. He joins true freshmen defensive backs Antonio Glover, Emmanuel Orange, Josh King and Nick Wright, who all have a chance to add depth to GSU’s corners and safeties.
The Eagles will practice today at 2:45 p.m. They will work on the practice field every day until Monday, Aug, 22, when classes begin and walk-on tryouts are held.
GSU Practice Update
Senior fullback Brent Thomas, who moved to the position in 2010, joined the rest of the team for fall camp Thursday. He did not wear pads due to the mandatory, five-day NCAA acclimation period.
Quotable: 'We’d love to redshirt every one of them. I look at guys like [redshirt freshman safety] Deion Stanley who’s having a great camp. He was hurt [in 2010], and that’s unfortunate, but he’s more developed, he’s stronger and hopefully a little faster. All the guys that redshirt, they’re just a year older and physically more ready. But we’re going to play the guys we think we need to help us win.'
— Jeff Monken, second-year GSU head coach
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.