Anders InterviewGSU defensive coordinator Ashley Anders discusses Georgia Southern's defensive line.
Coming out of spring practice, Chris Hatcher was more than a little concerned about his defensive front.
The first-year Georgia Southern coach didn’t think anyone stood out from the group, a unit searching to fill voids left by departed seniors Charrod Taylor and Shaheen Solomon. The Eagles have brought in several newcomers to help fill the gaps, and though it’s hard for Hatcher to get a good feel for the guys before they start hitting, he said they’ve improved since the spring.
“In drill work we seem like we know what we are doing a little bit better and are a little quicker off the ball, which is something we stress all the time,” Hatcher said following Tuesday’s practice.
Returning starter Larry Beard, a junior end, is also encouraged by what he’s seen so far and is excited about the newest Eagles.
“I think we have a good chance of being a dominating defense once again,” Beard said. “Things are going well, and we’ve had two great practices in a row. You can’t ask for anything better than that. I’m glad everybody stuck with the plan and was able to keep everything together.”
Key additions to the line include transfer ends junior Brandon Lee Williams (College of San Francisco) and sophomores Kerry Bonds (South Carolina) and Jerome Pelham (Nassau CC). The Eagles have also added redshirt-freshman Antonio Solomon, who wrestled for Central Florida last year. Defensive coordinator Ashley Anders hopes some of the new players can contribute immediately.
“We’ve got a lot of new faces out there, and what we are pushing for is for those new guys to come in and pick up where the returning guys left off in the spring practice,” he said. “I think we got a lot better as the spring went on, and with those guys seeing the intensity and the work ethic that the returning guys have, if they’ll fall in there and start to gel with them, we think we’ve got a chance to open some eyes on the defensive line.”
Junior Brandon Daniel, a returning starter at tackle, said he’s confident the group will be ready by Georgia Southern’s Sept. 8 season opener against West Georgia.
“I feel like we can dominate every game if we just come and play,” he said. “We are just trying to get off the ball, play hard every play and every day get a little better. We’re trying not to waste one day out here.”
Because the Eagles are holding split-squad practices, Daniel hasn’t seen all of his teammates in workout in person but has watched film of the earlier workout.
“From what I see, it looks like they are going to be able to help us out a lot,” he said. “With what we’ve got coming back from last year and the new guys we’ve got, I think we are going to be really strong. Everyone has gotten better.”
Sophomore defensive end Charwell Brown, a transfer from Coffeeville Community College, and Bonds, the South Carolina transfer, both caught Anders’ eye Tuesday. Bonds saw limited time in two games for the Gamecocks last season before Steve Spurrier kicked him off the team in early October. The dismissal followed Bonds’ arrest on a felony assault charge for allegedly attacking a female student. Georgia Southern officials said Bonds was cleared of all charges and the incident never went to trial.
“The coaches at South Carolina were upfront with us, and we talked to all the people involved, all the law-enforcement people, all the counselors,” Hatcher said. “Everything checked out, and we just felt like the guy deserved another chance. We did our homework on it.”
As the line looks to continue improving, the group is currently working on building its base defense, technique and block recognition.
“After we feel like we have a good grasp of that, we’ll start progressing into some more schematic defenses,” said Anders, who’s also been impressed with junior end Matt Wise. “I’m excited because we’ve got some new guys in here. Anytime you bring in some new guys, they’ve got something to prove because they are new. Then the guys that have been here don’t know what the other guys are capable of, so it builds competition, which makes you a better team.”
Eagles add another FBS transfer
Georgia Southern added another Football Bowl Subdivision (I-A) transfer Tuesday, junior linebacker Dakota Walker from the University of South Carolina. The 6-foot-3, 237-pound New Jersey native was named to the SEC All-Freshmen team as a defensive end in 2005. Walker, who switched to outside linebacker last season when he played in 11 of 13 games, was third on USC’s depth chart at the strong-side position entering this fall.
Along with junior Ole Miss transfer Quentin Taylor, Walker should help fill significant voids at linebacker after the departure of John Mohring and Jason Earwood. He’s is the 90th and final player at GSU’s fall camp.
Overall Hatcher said he has no complaints following the team’s second practice Tuesday. The team is split in half with younger players working in the morning and veterans going in the early afternoon.
“The early group is a lot more teaching and getting them acclimated to the way we do things, and the afternoon group looked sharp again today,” he said. “I was real pleased with their effort. We look like we are in pretty good shape, even considering how hot it is and how few players we have at each session.”
The Eagles will wear shoulder pads for the first time today – the final day of split-squad practices - and go to full pads Friday.
Under Hatcher, the Eagles begin every workout by saluting Beautiful Eagle Creek, a drainage ditch running alongside the practice fields named and glorified by the late Erk Russell, the father of Georgia Southern football.
“I think that’s what college football is all about, the traditions and the pageantry that go along with it,” Hatcher said. “If Coach Russell said those are magical waters, by gosh we need all the help we can get so we are giving ode to Beautiful Eagle Creek every day before practice.”
A new 3,600-square-feet pavilion is under construction at Georgia Southern’s practice fields thanks to a gift from Bill and Nancy Herring. About two-thirds of the practice facility will be open-air space and used to help battle the elements. The school is also renovating the training room/equipment building located underneath the pavilion.
The current construction is the second phase of a three-step process of upgrading Beautiful Eagle Creek. Last year the school enclosed the fields with fences and installed collegiate goal posts, and GSU is looking for a gift to fund the third part, artificial turf and lighting.
“We truly appreciate Bill and Nancy’s generosity to make this possible,” said athletic director Sam Baker.
Meet the Eagles
Little Eagles Camp and Meet the Eagles Day is slated for Saturday, Aug. 18 at Paulson Stadium. The camp will be from 9-11 a.m. with registration from 9-9:30 a.m. Special events are planned for children, and fans will be able to meet the team beginning at 11 a.m. inside the Bishop Fieldhouse.
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.