STATESBORO — After an offseason spent reigning over the Sun Belt Conference as 2014 champions, the Georgia Southern Eagles crossed over Beautiful Eagle Creek on Monday for their first fall camp practice in hopes of turning last year’s surprise (for many) into the norm during their second season in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
While there was plenty of doubt about what Georgia Southern might accomplish last season, the conference title and a recent coaches’ poll prediction for the Eagles to repeat made sure that they wasted no time in getting back to business on the first day of practice.
“We came out with a lot of energy and need to keep that up,” senior safety Matt Dobson said. “It’s fun to watch people fly around from day one. Everyone made some plays. Obviously, I like it when the defense makes the plays, but it’s good to know that the offensive side was clicking, too.”
The offense Dobson speaks of is the same unit that grabbed so much attention last season.
Georgia Southern led the nation in rushing yards per game and — despite losing much of last year’s starting line — returns key skill players in quarterback Kevin Ellison, running backs Matt Breida and L.A. Ramsby and receiver B.J. Johnson.
The Eagles emphasized becoming more of a threat to move the ball through the air during the spring and still look to be committed to that goal, as plenty of Monday’s position drills saw GSU quarterbacks running through routes with the receiving corps.
Some of the day’s best back-and-forth action came when the offensive skill players trotted over to the defensive field to throw against the Eagles’ secondary and linebackers.
“We think that we’re going to have a good defensive unit this season,” linebacker Antwione Williams said. “A lot of our younger guys in the secondary got thrown right in and did well. There’s inexperience, but there’s a lot of talent and room to grow.”
The Eagles are looking to take plenty of strides in the next two weeks. One obstacle that every team must face each season is re-acclimating to the wear and tear of everyday practices. August in Statesboro isn’t exactly a welcoming environment for diving back into full-speed drills, but GSU head coach Willie Fritz liked much of what he saw Monday.
“It went alright,” he said. “We worked hard all summer and (strength coach Kyle Speer) does a great job, but there is a little bit of a difference in getting up to game speed. Overall, I was pleased, and we’ll continue to improve.”
Fritz also mentioned the advantage of the team being on the same page this fall. In his first season in command of the Eagles, Fritz had only the short spring session to evaluate his team on the field, leading to more of a feeling-out period in the opening days of 2014 fall camp. This time around, things are running much smoother.
“We’re hitting the ground running,” Breida said. “We aren’t wasting any time getting back to where we were last year. It’s a little easier in the second year of this system, but that leaves more time to improve.”