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Eagles looking to defense in effort to return to FCS playoffs
STATESBORO — The playoff field for the FCS has been expanded to 20 teams this fall.
That obviously creates a lot more opportunities for fringe schools like Georgia Southern.
That Georgia Southern is on the “fringe” is somewhat of a shocking statement in itself, but that’s where the Eagles find themselves. Georgia Southern, once the stand bearer for what was formerly Division I-AA, has gone 16-17 since making the playoffs in 2005.
Adding four teams to the field is no guarantee of a spot for the Eagles. The Southern Conference got only two bids last year, with a very good 8-3 Elon team left sitting on the sidelines.
Although Georgia Southern lost its top six receivers from last year, the Eagles will be good offensively this fall. That’s a given for a Chris Hatcher-coached team.
If Georgia Southern is to survive and advance this fall, it will be up to the defense to make it happen.
The Eagles’ defense was raked over the coals last fall, finishing eighth in total defense in the Southern Conference, yielding 412 yards per game. It was a much improved defense, however, at the end of the season, as evidenced by the season-ending 17-10 win over Furman.
The improvement was subtle, but it was definitely there, Hatcher and defensive coordinator Ashley Anders said. The defense returns seven starters plus several others who got considerable playing time return.
“Our goal from the end of the season going into the offseason was to pick up where we left off as far as intensity and knowing what to do,” Anders said. “We wanted to continue to make the gains we made last year.
“That was the point of emphasis going into spring football. I feel like we’re on the right track.”
Georgia Southern fans will get the opportunity to see that progress Saturday when the annual Blue-White game is held at 1 p.m. at Paulson Stadium.
Georgia Southern’s biggest losses on defense were all-conference performers Chris Covington and Dakota Walker. Covington started the season playing defensive back and wound up at linebacker at the end of the season. Walker was a stalwart at defensive end.
As much as for their athletic skills, they left a vacuum in the leadership department.
“College football is a revolving door,” Anders said. “Hopefully, the guys that were seniors here left a little something for the guys that will be replacing them.
“A lot of times with the players, its lead by example. It may not be the whoop, rah-rah type deal as far as leadership is concerned. Dakota Walker came to work every day. He was a great practice player, and it carried over into the game. Hopefully, some of the underclassmen saw that and they’ll pick up that leadership role in that way.”
Senior Carson Hill, from Baldwin, sophomore linebackers Dion Dubose, Tavaris Williams and J.B. Shippy are players who can step into a leadership role.
Sophomore defensive backs K.R. Snipes and Derek Heyden are another pair that Anders believes can step in and provide leadership on a defensive unit that will still be one of the youngest in the league.
“There’s different ways to lead,” Anders said. “I’m extremely excited about Dion. He’s got some of those qualities you just can’t coach. He understands the schemes as far as the reason we are doing the things we are. Those things click for him.”
Saturday will be a full day on the Georgia Southern campus, beginning at 10:30 a.m. with registration for the Little Eagle Skills Camp at Paulson.
The Little Eagle Skills Camp will be held at 11 a.m., followed by the Blue-White game. From 3-6 p.m., there will be a tailgate at the lower Hannah Field House parking lot, with the Georgia Southern cheerleaders performing at 5 p.m.
Macon News Telegraph