Season on the Brink: Georgia Southern Eagles Preseason Preview Part I

Fall practice started this week on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek. Head Coach Tyson Summers decided to take advantage of a new rule that banned two-a-days but allows schools to start camp six weeks ahead of the season. 2017 unquestionably will be a season on the brink for the Georgia Southern Eagles.

Only twice since the rebirth of Eagle football in 1982 have they finished with a worse record than in 2016: 1996 and 2006. Notice a pattern? Years ending in the number “6” have been unlucky for Georgia Southern football since at least 1986 when the Eagles won their 2nd championship. A peculiar numerological phenomenon coming from a program dubbed “Six Flags over Georgia” in reference to their record six national titles at the FCS/I-AA level.

Eagle fans hope that 2017 will be a bounce-back year for Georgia Southern. Following the surprise departure of Head Coach Willie Fritz to Tulane at the end of the 2015 season, a series of unfortunate events lead to a 5-7 season last year. Despite inheriting a battle-tested, senior-laden squad, head coach Tyson Summers was unable to finish with a winning record in his first season at the helm. To put it simply, he was lucky to make it out alive.

According to reports, Summers had to make major changes to the coaching staff to survive. Gone are the dysfunctional offensive coordinator duo of Rance Gillespie and David Dean (both are currently suing the school for violation of contract) and in comes Bryan Cook from Georgia Tech. Bob Bodine comes in from Army to be the new OL coach and Juston Wood comes from Cal-Poly to be the WR coach.

All three coaches have previous offensive coordinator experience and come from the Paul Johnson/Triple Option coaching tree that has been so good to the Eagles in the past. For whatever reason, that most of Eagle nation is still trying to figure out, Summers hired two Chris Hatcher/Spread disciples in Dean and Gillespie to take over an offense that had led the FBS in rushing in 2015 and 2016. In short, the triple option is back in full force. If you know anything about Georgia Southern football, the triple option is held in high regard, to say the least. The mistake has been rectified but will it be enough?

Gone are Kevin Ellison, Favian Upshaw, Matt Breida, BJ Johnson, and Montay Crockett from the offense. Key contributors over the past four years. But the cupboard isn’t entirely bare. Let’s go through the depth chart.

* – Redshirt

QB
Shai Werts – FR*, LaBaron Anthony – JR, Kado Brown – TR/JUCO/JR, Jaalon Frazier – FR

Summers names Shai Werts and LaBaron Anthony the frontrunners at the start of Fall Camp. Which makes sense because they got the most action in Spring Practice. Werts is the consensus favorite to be starter going into the opener vs. Auburn. Werts had a good spring and showed flashes of explosiveness. Summers has said that Werts has put in the work over the summer as well, first one in the facility, last one to leave, type of deal. Success this season hinges on him staying healthy and at least being above-average as a redshirt freshman. The reason is, there isn’t a lot of reliable depth behind him. His primary backup, Junior LaBaron Anthony has had a grand total of 30 snaps in an Eagle uniform. The other two options are JUCO transfer Kado Brown and promising but raw Freshman Jaalon Frazier. Seth Shuman quit the football team before Fall Practice to focus primarily on baseball. The top three QBs from last year: Kevin Ellison, Favian Upshaw, and Shuman are all gone. Any injuries to this position at all could force the Eagles to move RB Monteo Garrett, TE Ellis Richardson, RB LA Ramsby, or even WR Hampton McConnell back to QB (all former QBs). Eagle fans hope it does not come to that point.

His primary backup, Junior LaBaron Anthony has had a grand total of 30 snaps in an Eagle uniform. The other two options are JUCO transfer Kado Brown and promising but raw Freshman Jaalon Frazier. Seth Shuman quit the football team before Fall Practice to focus primarily on baseball. The top three QBs from last year: Kevin Ellison, Favian Upshaw, and Shuman are all gone. Any injuries to this position at all could force the Eagles to move RB Monteo Garrett, TE Ellis Richardson, RB LA Ramsby, or even WR Hampton McConnell back to QB (all former QBs). Eagle fans hope it does not come to that point.

RB
Wesley Fields – JR, LA Ramsby – SR, DeMarcus Godfrey – SR,  Monteo Garrett – JR,  Eric Montgomery – SO, Grant Walker – FR, Matt LaRouche – FR

If Eagle fans are looking for a ray of hope going into next season, they can take solace in a solid running back corps. Gone is Breida the Cheetah to play for the Niners, but vets Wes Fields and LA Ramsby are back. Fields is your ideal 6-0 200 all purpose back ready to take over Breida’s job as the primary ball carrier. Despite being the third option the past two seasons, Fields sometimes stole the show with his playmaking ability.

LA Ramsby is your prototypical physical, between-the-tackles runner who racks up TDs like gnat bites in Statesboro. Ramsby is a superb short yardage and goalline back and compliments Fields’ style well. Between these two it gives Werts (or whoever the QB is going to be) somewhat of a security blanket. Behind Fields and Ramsby, you have decent depth. DeMarcus Godfrey, Monteo Garrett, and Eric Montgomery will vie for snaps while promising freshmen Grant Walker and Matt LaRouche wait in the wings.

WR/SB/TE
WR/XY: Mike Summers – TR/SR, Malik Henry – JR, Darion Anderson – *FR, Mark Michaud – SO, Hampton McConnell – SO, Obe Fortune – SO, D’Ondre Glenn – SO

SB/Z: Myles Campbell – SR, George Johnson – JR, Dexter Carter – FR, Wesley Kennedy – FR, Malik Murray – FR

TE: Ross Alexander – SR, Ellis Richardson – TR/SR, Cam Brown – FR, DJ Butler – FR, Josh Lee – FR

Myles Campbell is the playmaker of this group. Despite his short stature (5-6 160) he might be the most versatile player on offense. You will see Campbell line up in several different spots. You might see him fulfill a Percy Harvin type role where you see him line up in the backfield, slot, wide, maybe even returning kicks to keep opposing defenses guessing. Aside from Myles, Georgia Tech transfer Mike Summers is looking to bounce back after an injury plagued 2016 season. Malik Henry should anchor the other receiver spot and be the deep threat this offense needs to stretch opposing defenses. Mark Michaud

Malik Henry should anchor the other receiver spot and be the deep threat this offense needs to stretch opposing defenses. Mark Michaud slimmed down and moved over from TE and McConnell moved over from QB last year, both intriguing prospects that will at the very least provide perimeter blocking for the run game. The young guys to really keep an eye on are Darion Anderson and Dexter Carter. Both were borderline 4-star recruits coming out of high school and have enormous potential. I could see either fill a Campbell type role where they are asked to play all over the field.

OL
T: Tommy Boynton, Lawrence Edwards
G: Ryan Northrup, Jakob Cooper
C: Curtis Rainey, Christian Williams
G: Jeremiah Culbreth, Jake Edwards
T: Drew Wilson, Tristan Hill

Another bright spot on offense is the wealth of experience that is back on the OL. Summers raved about the group at the Sun Belt Media Days. He said they “had the best summer of any position group.” Under new OL Coach Bob Bodine and Strength & Conditioning Coach Dwayne Chandler this group looks to play good ole’ fashioned Georgia Southern smash-mouth football. They want this group to go back to what they do best, which is block downhill for the triple option attack. Northrup, Culbreth, Rainey, and Wilson are returning starters and Tommy Boynton is a returning starter from two seasons ago (injured last year). Even the 2nd string group is relatively deep with UGA transfer Jake Edwards, 3-star Lawrence Edwards anchoring that group.

They want this group to go back to what they do best, which is block downhill for the triple option attack. Northrup, Culbreth, Rainey, and Wilson are returning starters and Tommy Boynton is a returning starter from two seasons ago (injured last year). Even the 2nd string group is relatively deep with UGA transfer Jake Edwards, 3-star Lawrence Edwards anchoring that group.

Stay tuned for Part II…

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