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Anders works to improve Eagle 'D'
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Georgia Southern defensive coordinator Ashley Anders, left, runs his linebackers through position drills during spring practice - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

Coach Anders audio 7.17.07

Georgia Southern defensive coordinator Ashley Anders talks about his Eagle defense.
    In exactly 20 days, Georgia Southern’s football team will return to the gridiron and first-year defensive coordinator Ashley Anders fully expects his unit to continue the upward swing that characterized the end of spring practice.
    “The guys are hungry,” he said. “For the most part, they did the things we asked them to do. The main thing we wanted to get across (during the spring) was just to run to the ball — pure effort. Effort is the main thing. It doesn’t matter what we line up in or what defense is called, if you’ve got great effort, you’ve got a chance to have a good play.”
    Not wanting to overload the players mentally, GSU coaches stuck to the basics during spring workouts. Keeping things simple also allowed the staff to determine who could play where and decide on the best position for each player. The Eagles, who report for fall camp Aug. 4 and begin practice Aug. 6, are adjusting to their third coaching staff in as many seasons.
    “We want them to know their assignments and basically turn them loose and let them play football,” Anders said. “I think the guys have bought into that philosophy, and as the spring went on you could tell that they started becoming a little more aggressive each and every day they came out because they had a lot of confidence in what their individual assignment was.”
    Spring workouts and the Blue/White game helped answer a few lingering questions coaches had regarding specific players. Sophomore defensive back Chris Rogers, a converted quarterback, showed he’d adjusted to his new role by delivering perhaps the hardest hit of the spring game.
    “That’s what we were waiting on — a game-type situation for some guys to actually turn it on,” Anders said.
    Anders was also impressed by first-year Eagle E.J. Webb, a weak-side linebacker who came to Statesboro this spring from Fork Union Military Academy.
    “He’s the type of guy that we are looking for, his athleticism and desire to be in on every play,” Anders said. “By the time spring was over with and once he understood what we wanted, we got it all the time from him. He led by example in that capacity. We are looking to have great things out of him for the next four years.”
    Anders has high regards for junior Chris Covington, last year’s leading rusher who has moved to the rover position on defense. The rover is essentially a strong safety and will be on the field every down. Anders said Covington’s a perfect fit for the role.
    “He’s the type of guy that you love to coach because whatever you ask him to do, he’s going to do it at 1,000 miles an hour,” Anders said. “He’s never going to question why, he’s always going to play hard and he’s physical.”
    Though Rogers, Webb and Covington all made good impressions, Georgia Southern coaches will continue to emphasize there is no depth chart. Starters will be announced each week on Thursday, and coaches feel the competition for starting jobs will benefit the players individually and the team as a whole.
    “You’ve got to come out and prove yourself on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis,” Anders said. “Just because we have a guy in the No. 1 spot on Monday or Tuesday doesn’t mean he’s going to be there on Wednesday or Saturday. If you are having to fight for your position every week, you are going to see in the long run that your players are going to be that much better off.”
    The Eagles feel like they have room to grow in the middle, Anders said, and the best football from the defensive line as a unit is yet to come. Returning starter Brandon Daniels, a junior tackle, will anchor the Eagles up front along with fellow junior tackle Jerry Barker and junior end Larry Beard. Coaches are also eager to see senior nose tackle T.J. Watkins and junior end Damon Suggs, who missed spring practice with injuries.
    “The reports that we’ve gotten (on Watkins and Suggs) have all been good, but we are anxious to get into fall practice and watch those guys perform,” Anders said.
    As for characteristics of the players up front, GSU coaches encourage the Eagles to be playmakers because things don’t always go according to plan in game situations.
    “We want to teach our guys that if something goes wrong, to just go be a football player,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll have some guys that’ll take on that attitude and be able to make some plays up front for us.”
    The Eagles have already started scouting their opponents for the first half of the season and will continue the process this week. They’re preparing for wide-open offenses, which Anders said the staff is accustomed to seeing from their time at Valdosta State. Making game-time adjustments and adapting to whatever is in front of them will be crucial.
    “We are very multiple,” Anders said. “I’m not stubborn, and I’m not going to beat a square peg into a round hole. We are going to do what the players we have will allow us to do. There are some things that we are very comfortable with, but if it’s not what’s best for us on that given week, we are not going to force-feed the defense.
    “We are going to try to put the guys in the best situation possible for them to make plays on a daily basis. That’s what coaching is all about, being able to adapt and overcome.”
    The Eagles will have major voids to fill defensively this year, specifically leading tackler and outside linebacker John Mohring, lineman Charrod Taylor and middle linebacker Jason Earwood. Anders is hopeful the Eagles can close the gaps.
     “It’s kind of like a revolving door,” Anders said. “There will always be guys that are going out the door and guys that are coming back in. You’ve got to find somebody with that mentality to step up and try to do better.
    “I think these guys will find a way to get it done this year,” Anders said.
    Georgia Southern opens its season Sept. 8 against West Georgia in Paulson Stadium.

Two Eagles named All-American
    Two Georgia Southern University football players were named Preseason All-America by the College Sporting News. Junior Brandon Jackson (Ft. Lauderdale, FL/Plantation) was named Second Team while senior Jayson Foster (Canton/Cherokee County) landed Third Team honors.
    Jackson, who earlier this summer was chosen as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation according to preseason player rankings by The Sports Network, was a Second Team All-Southern Conference selection last year. He led the SoCon and finished in a tie for 10th nationally with five interceptions. He also broke up four passes while recording 35 tackles. Jackson started in all 11 games during his first year as an Eagle.
    The multi-threat Foster earned his Preseason All-America status as a return specialist. A First Team All-SoCon pick last year at wide receiver (Coaches) and return specialist (Sports Media Association), Foster already shares the Georgia Southern season records for punt returns and kickoff returns for a touchdown, and career record for punt returns. He is the only Eagle ever to record at least 80 yards on a punt return, kickoff return, rush and pass reception.
    Foster totaled a team-leading 1,287 all-purpose yards last season and led the SoCon averaging 27 yards per kickoff return.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.