The NCAA has made things a lot easier for a first-year head football coach to install his system.
Because of this, Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz can spend more time sorting out depth and a lot less time teaching his scheme to the Eagles, who were scheduled to open fall practice Thursday at Beautiful Eagle Creek.
An NCAA rule passed in October allows the coaches two hours of access with the team per week during the summer. The returners utilized the extra time with the coaches through summer’s first term, and all but four of the freshman recruiting class joined the sessions for the second term.
“From the first fall practice, we’ll be where we would have been [at] practice seven or eight,” Fritz said. “Instead of taking 10 or 12 practices to get all your offensive and defensive schemes, shoot, by practice five or six, we’re going to have probably 90 percent of our offense in.”
In total, 101 Eagles worked throughout the summer, and 105 reported on Wednesday.
The biggest name on the field is sophomore quarterback Kevin Ellison, who took his lumps in 2013 while backing up Jerick McKinnon through the first half. Ellison inched his way into the starting role and rushed for 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns in GSU’s 26-20 win over Florida on Nov. 23 in the season finale.
Ellison will be backed up by a pair of quarterbacks. One is senior Ezayi Youyoute, the starting quarterback in 2012 before losing the job to McKinnon and moved to running back, but spent 2013 injured. He was moved back to the quarterback position after a combination of ineligible players and arrests during the summer thinned the roster of running backs and caused several position changes.
Sophomore Favian Upshaw, a transfer from Florida International, will occupy the other backup spot.
“We feel like we’ve got some competition,” Fritz said about the quarterbacks. “We really do.”
Freshman quarterback Monteo Garrett will join the mix, too.
“He’s going to get some reps,” Fritz said, “but more than likely he’ll be a redshirt for us this season.”
The starter at running back is anybody’s guess. Sophomore Matt Brieda; converted quarterback Alfred “LA” Ramsby; seniors Devin Scott, Brandon Thomas, Dennis Pritchard and Ian Days; and freshmen Ryan Peterson and Cornelius Collins all will be vying for playing time.
“A lot of guys will see reps at that position,” Fritz said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to pare it down to three or four guys before the North Carolina State game.”
The incoming freshman likely will work out with the threes during camp, but Fritz won’t shy away from letting them rise to the top of the depth chart if they’re good enough.
“The new guys will probably be working with the threes the majority of the time, but if they show us some things, we’ll bump them up in a hurry,” Fritz said.
The kicking game, Fritz said, got less attention during the spring when the offense and defense were learning new schemes, but there will be plenty of competition for place-kicking duties between junior Alex Hanks and sophomore Younghoe Koo.
Junior Ryan Nowicki is the favorite to take over Luke Cherry’s punting duties, and Jake Banta is the favorite to retain his spot at long snapper.
The Eagles open the season Aug. 30 at North Carolina State.
NOTES: 2013 defensive-line signee Larry Mathews has transferred to Eastern Arizona College. … Wide receiver Kentrellis Showers and defensive back Tay Hicklin, who both were arrested on minor charges during the offseason, remain on the team in good standing. … On Saturday, Fritz and the Eagles will hold a free, one-hour camp at Paulson Stadium for children ages six through 12. Registration begins at 10 a.m.