Georgia Southern begins practice today under second-year head coach Chris Hatcher. There are plenty of questions surounding the 2008 Eagles. Here are five important inquiries to watch for before GSU opens the season at Georgia on Aug. 30.
No. 5 — Defense
The GSU defense surrendered 30 points per game last year, but defensive coordinator Ashley Anders’ group returns a slew of top performers from a year ago.
Both safeties — Chris Covington and Chris Rogers — are back, along with corners Ronnie Wiggins, Carson Hill and Darrel Pasco. The reinstatement of defensive back Brandon Echols earlier this week adds even more depth to the seconddary.
Up front, Larry Beard anchors the line while two seniors and two juniors will battle to start alongside Beard. Harland Bower, Quentin Taylor and Terrione Benefield are all proven linebackers who return to the field.
This group looks on paper to be a formidable foe. Can they live up to the hype?
No. 4 — Hatch Attack II
Hatcher’s offense has been dubbed “The Hatch Attack” since his days at Valdosta State. Fans, however, have been curious as to whether last year’s spread-and-go attack will transform into the spread-and-throw attack they expected to see in ‘07.
Certainly — as he himself often reinterates — Hatcher’s offense will cater to the abilities of his weapons. Will that mean a new, whiz-around-the-field passing attack, or one more prone to hit the ground running?
No. 3 — Running back
The preseason depth chart lists South Florida transfer Ricky Ponton and UAB transfer Darell Norman from Linclon County as the top two choices to run the ball.
Problem. Ponton left the squad to recover from a knee injury and Norman was redshirted during his only season in Birmingham. Thus, much of the attention will turn to Zeke Rozier.
Rozier dazzled crowds and became a fan favorite before tearing up his knee just two games into his freshman season.
Can Rozier carry enough of the load and return to being the back his was pre-injury, or will the Eagles be forced to look to the eight other running backs on the squad, six of which are freshmen?
No. 2 — Offensive line
It’s a popular mantra among coaches: the offensive line is the hardest position to coach in college football.
For Georgia Southern, never has there been a time where coaching the o-line will be more critical: The Eagles have just four upperclassmen out of the 17 Hawgs on the preseason roster.
Can these fresh faces get their feet planted on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek in time for the season opener? Furthermore, can they develop and stay healthy enough throughout the season to keep the quarterback safe and give the running backs room to break free?
No. 1 — Quarterback
It’s what everyone will be watching for day-in and day-out.
There’s certainly no way to replace 2007 Walter Payton Award winner Jayson Foster. Somebody will, however, be behind center come Aug. 30, and the race for starting quarterback is wide open.
After sophomore Billy Lowe suffered a career-threatening back injury, freshman Lee Chapple was given the nod after a stellar spring — but sophomore Kyle Collins was nipping at his heels the whole way. To make matters more interesting, Peach County native Antonio Henton transfered in from FBS runner-up Ohio State and is expected to have more than his fair say in who gets the starting job.
Incoming freshman Leander Barney could be the x-factor in the race — Hatcher compared his abilities to the aforemetioned Foster during recruiting season.
Who will emerge from this group of athletic signal callers to try and lead GSU back to the playoffs for the first time since 2005?
Chad Bishop can be reached at (912) 489-9408.