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Eagles have nowhere to go but up in 2017

POSTED: July 27, 2017 11:10 a.m.
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Senior defensive tackle Darrius Sapp at work during spring practice. The 6-foot-2, 310 pounder from Valdosta High School was one of three Georgia Southern players on offense, defense and special teams for the Eagles in 2016.

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When it comes to Sun Belt media day, those interested in Georgia Southern never have to dig too far to find a big story.

In 2014, the Eagles were new kids on the scene. In 2015, everyone wanted a piece of the defending conference champions. Last season saw plenty of intrigue as Tyson Summers made his first media day appearance as head coach.

And on Monday, with Summers back in town and the Eagles reeling from a losing 2016 season, the questions came early and often about how Georgia Southern intends to get back to winning.

Summers says that plenty of growth happened at a personal level in enduring a 5-7 season that led to the jettison of most of the offensive staff over the winter.

Valuable lessons don’t often come without adversity, but Summers is leading in and making changes with himself and his team.

"Your first year, you don’t know what to expect," Summers said. "For me, I have just really tried to pour my heart and my time into individual players and try to build trust and cohesion with our guys."

Summers immediately left town after fulfilling his media obligations as Tuesday marks the first day of Eagles fall camp.

The real change Eagle fans want to hear about centers on the offense.

Despite trying to stay true to its option roots last season, the Eagle offense sputtered and rarely looked like the rushing juggernaut that has become its calling card over the last three decades.

In an attempt to right the ship, Bryan Cook joins the staff as new offensive coordinator, along with receivers coach Juston Wood and offensive line coach Bob Bodine. All have extensive backgrounds coaching various versions of option offenses. The hope is that a solid base of knowledge at the coaching level will feed into a team that is talented, but much younger and less experienced than last year’s Eagle squad.

"I think you’re going to see an offensive line that is playing downhill and attacking similar to most option teams," Summers said. "I think you’re also going to see some explosive plays. I think the answers (to improving the offense) are built into our scheme and better than what you would have seen last year."

As much as the critics will look for the Eagles to regain the ability to run the ball, another concern is their ability to stop the run on the other side of things.

A wealth of experience in the front seven moved on after 2016, leaving plenty of empty spots on the depth chart at defensive line and linebacker. A secondary that proved itself with underclassmen last year now figures to be the strength of the Eagle defense, but last season’s reserves — as well as a few would-be starters who were lost to injury — want to do their part up front.

"The offseason has been good for us," Eagle linebacker Chris DeLaRosa said. "It is good that we are getting Todd Bradley back (after getting hurt last year). We have Logan Hunt and Darrius Sapp and they will be really good up front. Really, those young guys, the linebackers, they really bought in and have a lot of talent. I know they will be stars."

And, being as it’s Georgia Southern and all, DeLaRosa also had to give his take on the offense.

"The triple option is back. I can promise you that. After going against it every day in the spring, it’s going to be fun to watch."

The Eagles will continue to practice through August, holding scrimmages open to the public at Paulson Stadium on Aug. 4 and Aug. 12.

A third scrimmage will be Aug. 18 on the campus of Armstrong State University in Savannah.

The Eagles kick off their 2017 regular season Sept. 2 when they travel to take on Auburn.

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