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Five questions facing Eagle football
GSU begins fall practice Monday
011907 GSU HATCHER 4
Coach Chris Hatcher - photo by Herald File

Russell Orr audio

    Georgia Southern’s 2007 football season will begin in earnest Monday with the start of fall practice, and the Eagles are eager to regroup after a disappointing 2006.
    GSU suffered through its worst season in modern history last year, going 3-8 (2-5 Southern Conference) under first-year coach Brian VanGorder before he resigned in January. That left the door open for Chris Hatcher, who came on board after seven successful seasons at Valdosta State.
        Hatcher’s already brought a renewed sense of enthusiasm to the program, and GSU players are ready to move forward.
    “We want to learn from (last year),” said senior offensive lineman Russell Orr. “There are teams that beat us last year that we’re not used to losing to. We’ve got some payback.”
    With its Sept. 8 season opener rapidly approaching, here are five questions facing Georgia Southern as it heads into this season:

Who will play quarterback?
    Finding the right guy to lead the Hatch Attack, Georgia Southern’s new offense, is a top priority for the Eagles during fall camp. Last year’s starter, junior Travis Clark, had the best command of the offense coming out of spring workouts, but Hatcher’s made it clear he’s undecided on who’ll start.
    Redshirt freshman Kyle Collins should make a push for the role after a strong spring and a solid showing in the Blue-White game, and Hatcher expects him to “make some noise” in the next couple of weeks.
    Freshman Northern Illinois transfer Billy Lowe and true freshman Lee Chapple will also be in the mix, as will senior Jayson Foster, who guided GSU’s triple-option attack as a sophomore in 2005.
    Needless to say, there should be plenty of competition for this key position.

Can the Eagles plug major holes at linebacker?
    Georgia Southern’s voids at linebacker are glaring after the departure of senior standouts John Mohring and Jason Earwood. Mohring’s 93 tackles (61 solo) in 2006 ranked third in the Southern Conference and were nearly twice as many as any other Eagle, while Earwood’s 45 stops were third most on the team.
    With Mohring and Earwood gone, the Eagles will look to sophomore David Lewis in the middle. Senior Western Kentucky transfer Cory Clemons and sophomore Terrione Benefield are top candidates at the outside positions. Eagle coaches have also been impressed with freshman E.J. Webb, who should vie for time at outside.
Junior Quentin Taylor missed spring practice because of academics, but has worked his way back on the team and had a good summer, Hatcher said.

How will Foster be used?
    To the delight of Georgia Southern’s Southern Conference foes, the senior playmaker was surprisingly underused last season. Eagle fans are hoping that won’t be the case this year, and Hatcher has already tabbed Foster a “special player that (doesn’t) come along very often.”
    But exactly where and how much Hatcher will use Foster, one of the most explosive players in the league, remains to be seen. He could line up at running back, receiver or quarterback and play on special teams.
    “He’s a guy that’s got to touch the football,” Hatcher said.

Will Georgia Southern once again be competitive in the Southern Conference?

    With just two wins and five losses against SoCon teams last year, the Eagles are anxious to get back on top of a league they were accustomed to dominating.
But it won’t be easy.
    Conference heavyweights Appalachian State – the two-time defending national champions – and Furman return numerous players after successful 2006 seasons, as does Wofford, which has given Georgia Southern fits recently.
The Eagles have plenty of talent, and league coaches predict they’ll rebound from last year’s debacle quicker than most teams would.
How much will playing under their third coach in three years affect this team?
    We’ll see. Georgia Southern players have taken a quick liking to Hatcher and said they feed off his enthusiasm and excitement and are enjoying football again.
    Hatcher will be responsible for bringing stability to a program that’s been in an upheaval since Mike Sewak’s firing in November 2005. That’s a far cry from their Southern Conference rivals as Jerry Moore’s entering his 19th year at Appalachian State, Bobby Lamb’s been leading Furman for six seasons and Mike Ayers has been at Wofford for two decades.
    Along with their third head coach in three years, the Eagles will be learning entirely new offensive and defensive schemes. It may take some time for them to adjust.