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Breaking down the Eagle D
Coaches look back on 2007 to improve defense
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    Recruiting isn’t the only thing that keeps Georgia Southern’s football staff busy during the offseason.
    After the final whistle blows, Eagle coaches are back at work, always searching for ways to better themselves the next time around. Defensively, that means finding a way to shore up a young and talented unit that gave up 31.6 points and 404.6 yards a game during last season’s 7-4 campaign.
    “I don’t think a coaching staff is very good unless they come back, reevaluate themselves and try to put the kids in the absolute best possible scheme or position to be successful for the team,” GSU defensive coordinator Ashley Anders said recently. “When you do that, you’ve got to look at what you’re facing week in and week out.”
    With the exception of option-based Wofford, the Southern Conference is evolving into a league filled with spread offenses. Such is the trend in college football, where wide-open attacks are gaining popularity.
    Anders said there won’t be a drastic change to the Eagles’ overall defensive scheme this fall, but they’ll focus a lot of attention on defending the pass.
    “We’re always multiple,” he said. “There may be more emphasis placed in the throwing department, but we’re going to be very multiple in what we do and try to show offenses some different things week to week to keep them confused. You always look for improvement in every aspect of the game — whether it’s the secondary (or) the rushing.”
    Georgia Southern returns its top eight tacklers and all but two defensive starters — cornerback Brandon Jackson (NFL draft) and nose tackle Jerry Barker (graduation). The Eagles lose just five players from their two-deep roster.
    Leading the pack of returning players is senior safety Chris Covington — last year’s leading tackler — along with senior end Larry Beard and promising sophomore linebacker E.J. Webb. Beard led the team in sacks (four) and fumble recoveries (three) while Webb started nine games as a true freshman and finished the year as the team’s third-leading tackler.
    “We’ll be fairly young in some spots. Of course, that’s a good thing,” Anders said. “The good thing about having youth is you know you’ll have them for four years. When young guys come in and contribute right away, that just makes for a promising future.”
    Georgia Southern begins spring practice in less than four weeks on March 10, and as a defense, the Eagles will use workouts to emphasize playing within the system and playing together, Anders said.
    “I think the guys grew as the season went on this year just by spending more time together as a team,” Anders said. “With us coming in new last year and now being a year into it, we want to tighten that knot up a little bit and become the ultimate team.”
    As always, Anders will also stress the importance of basic fundamentals.
    “You can never tackle too much,” he said. “We’ll also work on running to the football and (developing) an aggressive mindset.”

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