For the fifth and final part of my preseason position group preview, we’re going to take a look at the Secondary and Special Teams. These position groups are in some ways, the highest-profile on the Eagles roster in 2019. Kindle Vildor, Monquavion Brinson, and Tyler Bass are among the best in the country at what they do. All three were chosen as first-team all-conference by the Sun Belt. All three have attracted the attention of NFL scouts and with a bit of luck, will be playing in the NFL one day. Vildor and Brinson, in particular, could end up being drafted in the first half of the draft. The key to much of Georgia Southern’s success in 2018 and continued success in 2019 will be due to these three guys.
For parts 1-4 of my series, go here:
Part 1: Backfield
Part 2: Receivers
Part 3: OL
Part 4: Front 7
CB: Monquavion Brinson 5-11 190 Sr., Justin Birdsong 5-11 180 So., David Spaulding 6-2 175 Fr.
CB: Kindle Vildor 5-11 190 Sr., Jessie Liptrot 6-0 195 R-Sr., Brandon Cross 5-11 190 R-Fr.
FS: Kenderick Duncan Jr. 6-3 225 R-So., Tra Cofield 5-11 185 R-Jr., Treun Pace 6-0 190 Fr.
SS: Darrell Baker Jr. 6-1 195 R-Jr., Donald Rutledge Jr. 6-1 210 Gr., Amari Thompson 6-2 200 R-Jr.
CB: Deonta Bembry 5-9 175 R-Fr., Jaden Garrett 5-11 185 R-So., Jaden Moreland 5-11 185 R-Fr., Derrick Canteen 5-11 185 Fr., Isiah Bembry 5-11 190 Fr., Lucas Moore 5-9 180 R-Fr.
Safety: Java’n Singletary 6-0 190 Fr., Tremaine Osborne 6-0 180 Fr., Austin Parker 5-10 180 R-Jr., Reid Dedman 5-11 195 Fr., Anthony Wilson 5-10 185 Fr.
Joshua Moon, Sean Freeman.
What can be said about Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor that hasn’t already been said? They are simply the best cornerback tandem in the Sun Belt, in the G5, and right up there with the best in the entire country. Over the past ten months, Pro Football Focus has taken noticed and showered the duo with praise. PFF has tweeted about the pair at least a dozen times. Vildor and Brinson were both named to the PFF All-Sun Belt 1st Team.
PFF ranked Kindle Vildor the 40th best college football player in the country. Vildor is the closest that Georgia Southern has ever been to having a first-round draft pick on the roster. He had 11 pass breakups last year and allowed only a 52.5 passer rating when the ball was thrown to his side. For this reason Vildor was named to the Senior Bowl, Jim Thorpe, and Chuck Bednarik watchlists, on top of all-conference honors.
But don’t sleep on his partner Monquavion Brinson either. In fact, last year at this time, it was Brinson that was getting all the love from the press. He too made the Senior Bowl and Jim Thorpe watchlists. His 10 pass breakups trails only Vildor in returning defensive backs. He ranks 5th on Southern Pigskin’s Sun Belt Top 100, Vildor ranks 1st. Brinson has a good shot at playing on Sundays as well.
It is challenging for opposing QBs to throw on Georgia Southern with any measure of success. Having a combo that good in the secondary made Scot Sloan’s bend-but-don’t-break philosophy work last year. It also means that you can be more risky with defensive playcalling and call up more blitzes. Now that the players are more comfortable in year two under Sloan, the sky is the limit. When you also consider that Nickelback, senior Jessie Liptrot, has also started 15 career games, you begin to realize how deep the cornerback position is on this team.
The picture starts to get even scarier for opponents if you believe the hype surrounding the freshman corners on the roster. Justin Birdsong, Brandon Cross, and David Spaulding were all rated 85 or higher by the 247 Sports composite coming out of high school. Look for their roles to increase this year so that the Eagles can build a bridge to 2020 and beyond.
The safety position is the most significant question mark on the Eagles’ defense. Starters Joshua Moon and Sean Freeman are gone. Both have moved on to bigger and better things, Moon is in camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Sean Freeman is with the Atlanta Falcons. Moon, in particular, was Georgia Southern’s leading tackler in 2018. Not an easy act to follow. But to the coaching staff’s credit, they did prepare for this eventuality.
Sophomore Kenderick Duncan started four games down the stretch for the Eagles and performed superbly. Ten tackles against New Mexico State, five tackles, a forced fumble, and an interception against App State, six tackles and an interception vs. ULM, another fumble recovery vs. Troy. He’s a lock at free safety.
At strong safety, the competition is between junior Darrell Baker Jr. and graduate transfer from Savannah State Donald Rutledge Jr. So far in camp, Baker has edged out Rutledge but look for both to get a look throughout the early part of the season. It’s entirely possible that a talented freshman like Treun Pace or Java’n Singletary could emerge and take the reins at strong safety. Georgia Southern gave up a lot of yardage in the middle of the field last year. They need better play from the safety position in 2019 if they want to make another leap.
PK: Tyler Bass, Alex Raynor, Bryce Christensen
P: Magill Bauerle, Anthony Beck, Kevin Jones, Bryce Christensen
LS: Ryan Langan, Logan Cox, Payton Dunagan
KR: Wesley Kennedy, Najee Thompson
PR: Wesley Kennedy, Najee Thompson
Tyler Bass is a bad mother. It’s rare to say that about a kicker. Georgia Southern has produced some good kickers in the past, Bass is better than all of them. No offense to the late great Rob Bironas, Adrian Mora, or Younghoe Koo, but Bass is better. The ice water running through his veins are the reason Georgia Southern won the Camellia Bowl. He can nail 50 and 60-yarders with one step no problem. Along with Brinson and Vildor, he has been named to the Senior Bowl watchlist.
While kicking is a strength of the team, punting is a different issue entirely. Magill Bauerle is the incumbent starter; he averaged 38.6 yards per punt in 2018, good for 9th in the conference, 96th in the country. No question that Chad Lunsford and Andrew Dodge want to improve on that in 2019. It’s safe to pencil in Bauerle as the starter for now because his accuracy is decent and he’s experienced. Bauerle landed 18 punts inside the 20-yard line in ’18.
In scrimmages during fall camp, the coaching staff has given the other punters on the roster a look with varying degrees of success, particularly Anthony Beck II and Bryce Christensen. Neither The guy to keep an eye on is walk-on Kevin Jones out of Thomson, GA. Jones was rated the 3rd best punter in the nation by prokicker.com. He averaged an impressive 49.3 yards per punt as a senior.
As for the return game, Wesley Kennedy II will be first in line to field both kicks and punts. Behind him, speedster Najee Thompson could see a more prominent role as a returner, especially if the coaching staff wants to preserve the health of Kennedy. Beyond Kennedy and Thompson, Juanyea Tarver, a very successful kick returner during his time at Morehead State, and Monquavion Brinson are options.