We are three weeks away from the start of training camp. Anticipation is building. The stretch between the end of spring practice and the beginning of fall camp is always the toughest for fans. Not only is it a long stretch, but there’s rarely any good news that comes out during this time. Murphy’s Law comes into effect with bored college kids on summer vacation. College football news during the summer usually consists of police blotter, Nick Saban related Snapchats, and players transferring. Georgia Southern is no different.
Starting wide receiver Malik Henry and third cornerback Christian Matthew asked for their release from the team. No reason was specified. I imagine that the NCAA loosening its transfer rules had something to do with it.
These departures are not death blows by any means. But Henry was Georgia Southern’s leading receiver last season with 20 catches, 268 yards, and 1 TD. He ended spring practice as the starter on the depth chart. But alas, life in a run-heavy option offense for a receiver is not a glamorous one. Lots of blocking, very few passes thrown your way. Offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse did not seem impressed with that unit this spring. Some turnover was inevitable.
Christian Matthew came out of the spring as the third CB behind Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor. But Matthew never lived up to the hype that his 6-3 frame entailed. He tallied only 19 tackles in three seasons in Eagle blue.
The good news is that Georgia Southern hauled in their best recruiting class ever in February, tops in the Sun Belt according to 247Sports. Even before Henry and Matthew departed, there was going to be opportunities for true freshmen (and a couple JuCo transfers) to earn playing time next season. This team went 2-10 last season after all. An infusion of talent is much needed.
So which newcomers are most likely to contribute for the Eagles in 2018?
(I’m going to pair some of these guys up to make this a bit easier.)
- OG Jawaski Webb (6’2 280) & OG Aaron Dowdell (6’3 300)
Back in May the Georgia Southern coaching staff released a post-spring depth chart. One of the biggest surprises on there was that 2017 starting left guard Ryan Northrup listed as 3rd string. In fact a pair of new starters were named at the guard positions in Lawrence Edwards at RG and Jakob Cooper at LG. Listed ahead of Northrup on the depth chart was JuCo transfer from Holmes CC Jawaski Webb, an early enrollee. Bob DeBesse was generally impressed by what he saw from the OL in the spring. But he did mention Aaron Dowdell’s name specifically as a guy that could come in and make an immediate impact. Programs recruit from the junior college ranks for immediate depth, that’s what both these guys will provide.
- OLB Quin Williams (6’3 250) & ILB Jontavious Ferguson (6’1 210)
With the switch to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Scot Sloan, and the departure of middle linebacker Chris DeLaRosa, the Eagles need more bodies at linebacker. Good news is the Eagles have a couple of three-star recruits on the way with Quin Williams and Jon Ferguson. Quin Williams is one of the highest ranked recruits to ever commit to Georgia Southern. Williams had offers from P5 powerhouses like Michigan, Florida, and Oklahoma among others. He could push Randy Wade Jr. and Alvin Ward Jr. at the Dog OLB position this August. Jon Ferguson was the headliner of the early signing period in December. Todd Bradley and Tomarcio Reese are pretty established as starters at ILB, but the depth behind those two is a little light. Ferguson will get a chance to prove himself.
- CB Brandon Cross (5’11 185) & CB Justin Birdsong (5’11 170)
Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor are arguably the best pair of cornerbacks in the Sun Belt. But Christian Matthew has left and Jessie Liptrot has been moved to safety, leaving the depth behind Brinson and Vildor a little thin. Cross and Birdsong were the #2 and #3 ranked recruits according to 247Sports. Both are highly touted. It wouldn’t surprise me to see either or both end up being the 3rd and 4th CBs. In a league that likes to spread it out like the Sun Belt, a deep and talented secondary is a must. They will push Bryce Cross and Jaden Garrett for playing time at nickel and dime.
- WR Christian “Scoobie” Ford (5’11 170) & WR Davarius Bargnare (5’11 165)
I mentioned above that Bob DeBesse was underwhelmed by the play of the wide receivers during the spring. With Malik Henry gone, the offensive staff could be looking at some true freshmen to step in and contribute right away. Georgia Southern signed five (possibly six if you count Tre Adams) wide-outs in February. While Bob DeBesse’s scheme likes to keep it on the ground, he is known for using three and four wide receiver sets. Outside of Wesley Kennedy in the slot, this position is wide-open. Ford and Bargnare are the two top-rated pass catchers in this class. Both were speedy playmakers in high school and could line up outside, in the slot, or even return kicks. It really depends on what DeBesse is looking for. If he’s looking for guys with more size, Marcus Rogers or Jallah Zeze could be guys to keep an eye on.
- DT CJ Wright (6’0 290)
You need size on the DL to run the 3-4 defense effectively. Southern currently has only three defensive linemen above 275 on the roster (Ian Bush, Ty Phillips, Zack Copeland). CJ Wright is a local kid with plenty of size. Wright could be called on to contribute immediately if there are any injuries at this position.
QB Justin Tomlin (5’11 170)
An injury or a serious regression in Shai Werts’s play would be necessary before Justin Tomlin gets the call. Even if that were the case, guys like seniors LaBaron Anthony and Kado Brown or redshirt freshman Jaalon Frazier would probably get the call before the true freshman. But Tomlin is a smooth dual threat QB with a good arm. The QB play behind Werts was inconsistent this spring. DeBesse went as far as to say it is still an open competition. The NCAA has tweaked the redshirt rule and now allows players to dress for up to four games without burning a redshirt. With a tomato can matchup against South Carolina State to start the season, it’s possible for Justin Tomlin to see mop up duty late in that game.