It was all business when the Georgia Southern Eagles took to the Beautiful Eagle Creek practice fields Thursday morning for the first day of fall camp.
In fact, first-year head coach Willie Fritz emulates the pros at practice.
“We pattern our practices after the NFL,” Fritz said. “When I go in the offseason and talk to people, it’s NFL guys — unless I’m talking to somebody about how to stop the option, they’re not quite sure how to do it — but otherwise, we’re trying to replicate NFL practices.”
Depth was the primary topic of conversation Thursday as GSU began preparation for its first season as a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision in the Sun Belt Conference
The Eagles have some question marks at several key positions — most notably running back, linebacker and defensive line — and answering those depth-chart related questions is a top priority.
Depth, it’s often said, is what separates Football Championship Subdivision programs from the Football Bowl Subdivision, but Fritz says finding depth is the same challenge for just about everybody.
“You’ve got to have a solid backup at every position on offense and defense,” Fritz said. “It’s hard to ever get that. But if you’ve got 17 or 18 guys you feel confident about playing on both sides of the ball, you’ve got a chance.”
He added, “I think the top-notch FCS programs can compete with a lot of the FBS programs. We’re going to find out this year, right?”
Another focus at practice was tempo. The trend in college and the pros is to cram as many plays into as little a time as possible, and Fritz’s no-huddle offense is no different.
Of course, that takes practice, too. He hopes the Eagles eventually will be able to run three offensive plays per minute.
“We were a little better than two (plays per minute) today,” Fritz said. “We’ll start adding to it once our guys get used to the tempo.”
The new No. 1
Jerick McKinnon, a third-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings this year, wore No. 1 for most of his Georgia Southern career. Whoever has the number now has big shoes to fill. The honor went to redshirt freshman Alfred “LA” Ramsby, a running back who, just last spring, was playing quarterback.
“It means a lot,” Ramsby said about taking the jersey number. “I’ve worn it all my life.”
Fritz said he liked what he saw out of Ramsby at his first practice with the backs.
“When we walked out here, we said, ‘Yeah, that looks like a tailback.’ He’s a guy who can run the inside zone play and do all that kind of stuff,” Fritz said. “He’s got the physical tools. It’s just going to take repetition.”
The Eagles have been riding a wave of momentum that started last season with the Nov. 23, win over Florida and continued through the offseason with massive renovations to Paulson Stadium and, of course, the jump to FBS.
For Ellison, the momentum started a long time ago.
“We come from Erk Russell on up,” Ellison said. “Moving up to the next level is just a good opportunity for us to fly around a little faster and play a little better competition.”
Defensive coordinator Jack Curtis, who was retained from the previous staff along with tight ends coach Chad Lunsford, agrees with Ellison.
“I’ll say this. The spirit of being a part of this rich tradition carries you forward,” Curtis said. “But I’ll also say it’s a great time to be a part of this program. We finished last season with a win over Florida, there’s a new building, a new conference, a move up to FBS — it’s a really exciting time.”