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Eagles counting on their D
GSU to hold first practice in full pads today
bw GSU walker 2 col 2
After rushing the passer as a down lineman frequently last season, Georgia Southern's Dakota Walker hopes to wreak some havoc as a linebacker this year.
    No one needs to remind the Eagle defense how much they’ll be needed this fall.
    While the offense works to fill numerous holes and replenish playmakers, the defense welcomes back almost everyone from last season, and Georgia Southern needs them to carry the load early.
    “Defense is the way you win games, and we always expect to play great defense,” second-year Eagle coach Chris Hatcher said. “We feel like they’ll be further along than our offense when we come to the first ballgame.”
    Anxious to improve from a year ago, the unit is currently adjusting to playing with three men up front, a new package in its multiple approach. Coaches didn’t waste any time installing the new look this spring so players would have plenty of time to adjust. The Eagles are already familiar with the philosophies and principles behind a four-man front, which won’t be abandoned, defensive coordinator Ashley Anders said.
    The new package will allow the Eagles to get more speed on the field when facing increasingly popular spread offenses in the Southern Conference, and they’ll put more guys up front when facing ground-oriented teams like Wofford.   
    “Basically we’re going to match and take what the offense gives us,” Anders said. “As long as we can fly around, have fun and the kids are enjoying being on the grass and playing — that’s one step closer to being that much better of a program.”
    The returners are hoping their familiarity with the staff, how they coach and their expectations will put them well ahead of where they were this time a year ago.
    “We just want to work on getting better everyday, improve on the little things —tackling, running to the ball — that make you a better team,” said Dakota Walker, who working out at linebacker after seeing time at defensive end last season. “Overall as a defense we need to get better. That’s what we are focusing on right now. We’re glad to be back out here.”
    Linebacker E.J. Webb agreed.
    “We all know each other well, so the defense will be much improved this year,” he said. “Passing, running, efficiency —everything will be stepped up a notch and we’ll be way better. We’re a defense that thrives on speed and has a lot of speed, and (the three-man front) utilizes it more.”
    The Eagles ranked sixth in the league in total defense a year ago, and they’re determined to be better the next time around.
    “We’ve got a good group of linemen and linebackers coming back, and I think we are going to be real tough up the middle,” said safety Chris Covington, last year’s leading tackler. “We’ve got some young guys outside, but they seem to be doing real well right now. I think as a whole, we are going to be pretty solid.”

QB update
    Billy Lowe, Lee Chapple and Kyle Collins continue to vie for GSU’s starting quarterback job.
    “They’ll all competing pretty good,” Hatcher said. “They all look pretty sharp in certain areas, then they’ve got a lot of work in other areas.”
    Hatcher was also pleased with the timing and sharpness of the first-team offense during Thursday morning’s workout.

On deck
    The Eagles go to full pads Friday morning and will scrimmage the last half practice, their final workout before spring break. They’ll also full-tackle for the first time.
    “We’ll have the chains out here and it’ll be more game-type atmosphere for the guys,” Hatcher said. “We’ll get to see which quarterbacks can lead the best, which guys can break tackles, how well we tackle, how we cover in live situations. We’ll step it up a notch as far as intensity goes.”
    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.