For the fourth part of my preseason position group preview, we’re going to take a look at the Front 7. For parts 1-3 of my series, go here:
Part 1: Backfield
Part 2: Receivers
Part 3: OL
While the offense is always the focus of everyone’s attention at Georgia Southern, last year’s turnaround was as much about defense as anything else. They led the nation in turnover margin at +22, they were 25th in points allowed per game at 21.5, and 37th in rushing defense. The defense was even more impressive considering that Scot Sloan installed an entirely new 3-4 scheme last season. Look for more growth on this side of the ball in 2019.
DE: Traver Vliem 6-4 260 R-Jr., Justin Ellis 6-2 250 R-So., Parker Devine 6-3 265 R-Fr
NT: Ty Phillips 6-3 290 Sr., C.J. Wright 6-0 290 So.
DE: Raymond Johnson III 6-3 260 Jr., Elijah Campbell Jr. 6-3 255 R-Fr./Quin Williams 6-3 250 R-Fr.
Backups: Kierron Smith NT 6-0 335 Fr., Gavin Adcock NT 5-11 270 R-So., Dillon Springer DE 6-1 255 R-So., Quan Griffin DE 6-3 265 Jr., Kaylen Wright DE 6-4 240 R-Fr., Thomas Cook DE 6-5 230 R-Fr., AJ Watkins DE 6-2 270 Fr., Amaru Herring DE 6-1 260 Fr.
Losses: Logan Hunt, Ian Bush, Deshon Cooper, Quan Griffin??
The defensive line’s transition from a four-man front to a three-man front paid dividends. Georgia Southern jumped from 89th to 73rd in team sacks last year. The unit will miss Logan Hunt, Ian Bush, and Deshon Cooper who graduated. Quan Griffin’s legal issues look severe, and so he remains a huge question mark heading into the season, but there is plenty of talent here to fill their shoes.
Traver Vliem looks like the guy to replace Logan Hunt/Quan Griffin. The Midland, TX native has plenty of playing experience, appearing in 24 games thus far in his career. Vliem will have Syracuse transfer Justin Ellis as his main competition there. Ellis, out of Roswell, GA, was a 3-star (like Vliem) out of high school. Parker Devine is listed at NT but is versatile enough to play DE; he’s another 3-star prospect that will be in the mix. Keep an eye on this spot in camp.
On the other side, Raymond Johnson III is locked into his spot. Johnson was 2nd team all-Sun Belt and 1st team all-Sun Belt according to Pro Football Focus. RJIII is a stud, plain and simple. He had 43 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 8.0 TFLs last season. The attention he receives on his side will make Vliem/Ellis’s life much more comfortable. At 6-3 260, the junior Johnson is poised for a breakout season and could start attracting the attention of NFL scouts. Behind him, it’s a bit murkier. A pair of talented redshirt freshmen Elijah Campbell and Quin Williams will compete for snaps.
Nose tackle is led by Ty Phillips and C.J. Wright. Phillips is as reliable as it gets at NT. Starting 11 games last season and was an honorable mention All-Sun Belt. C.J. Wright is most famous for toting the rock against Clemson last year. Wright is an impressive athlete who will see an increased workload in 2019. No word on if he will continue to line up in the backfield this season. Parker Devine and 335 lb freshman Kierron Smith are also options here.
Dog: Randy Wade Jr. 6-2 270 R-Jr., Alvin Ward Jr. 6-4 235 R-Jr.
Anchor: Jay Bowdry 6-0 205 R-Sr., Lane Ecton 5-11 210 R-Sr.
Backups: Benz Josue Anchor/Dog 6-0 210 R-So., Quin Williams Dog 6-3 250 R-Fr., Deontae Grant Anchor 6-1 220 R-Fr., Zyon McGee Anchor 6-1 210 R-Fr.
Scot Sloan’s scheme has two different outside linebacking positions. The Dog plays closer to the line of scrimmage to help in run support or to rush the passer. The Anchor plays like a hybrid LB/S and helps out more in pass coverage. These positions underwent little change in the offseason. Randy Wade Jr. and Jay Bowdry are the 3rd and 5th leading tacklers that are returning from last year. Both incumbents will probably remain starters at their respective positions in 2019. Lane Ecton is a reliable backup for Bowdry; he had 35 tackles and one interception last season. Sophomore Benz Josue had an interception against UMass and a blocked punt return for a TD vs. ULM, he could factor in at either OLB spot.
At Dog, Randy Wade Jr. is a steady contributor, at 6-2 270 he could fill in on the DL if need be. Alvin Ward Jr is his primary backup but watch out for Quin Williams. The borderline 4-star had offers from (clears throat): Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Florida, Michigan State, Michigan, Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina. He’s a real talent. After redshirting last year, he’s ready to push Wade and Ward for playing time at Dog or DE. If he’s all he’s cracked up to be then, he could provide this defense with a real boost.
WLB: Rashad Byrd 6-0 230 R-Jr., Jon Ferguson 6-1 220 R-Fr.
MLB: Chris Harris Jr. 6-1 240 Jr., Reynard Ellis 6-1 230 R-So.
Backups: Todd Bradley 6-0 225 R-Jr., Tre Allen 6-1 235 R-So., Stedman Waiters 5-11 215 R-Sr., Ryan White 5-11 200 R-Sr., Connor Lawson 6-1 210 R-So., Logan Powell 6-2 225 R-Fr., Will McCarty 6-1 225 Fr., Caree Collier 6-0 190 Fr.
Losses: Tomarcio Reese
The Eagles are in good shape at inside linebacker even with the departure of Tomarcio Reese. Sure, losing your 3rd leading tackler is never easy, but Rashad Byrd and Chris Harris Jr. were pretty darn productive in their own right. Combined Byrd and Harris accounted for 101 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. Furman transfer Reynard Ellis joins them. As a freshman for the Paladins in 2017 Ellis had a monster year with 92 tackles, 5 TFLs, two sacks, and a pick. From what I’ve heard he has been a monster in spring and fall practice, look for Ellis to get a lot of playing time this season.
Beyond that top three, there is still some quality depth. Redshirt freshman Jon Ferguson played in four games last season and will see his role expand. Junior Todd Bradley has had tough luck with injuries during his time in Statesboro, with three knee surgeries. His movement isn’t what it used to be, but he provides vital veteran leadership on defense. Tre Allen played in all 13 games last year and will continue to split time between defense and special teams. Expect the trio of true freshman: Collier, Powell, and McCarty to redshirt.