Georgia Southern will field a young football team this season, but youth often brings about excitement and Tuesday morning looked like Christmas in July.
Eagle players made their way across Beautiful Eagle Creek for their first practice of fall camp and began writing the book on the 2017 season.
"First day of practice, I was very pleased with a lot of things," GS coach Tyson Summers said. "Giddy energy is what I’d say. We go and mess up the stretch lines right out of the gate and we’ve got 50 people going 50 different ways, but nothing is wrong and everyone did a good job doing what we were asking them to do.
"It was pleasing to mean in how much farther along we were in even our first hour, our first hour and fifteen of practice."
Once again, much of the attention was focused on the Eagles’ shift back to a more traditional triple-option offense. Regardless of the new approach, nothing will work in an option without solid quarterback play and Georgia Southern is looking at gaping holes in the depth chart following the graduation of Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw and the decision of Seth Shuman to focus on baseball.
That leaves the Eagles with a quartet of quarterbacks entering fall camp.
LaBaron Anthony, a Bradwell Institute alumni, is a redshirt junior and is the only one of the four quarterbacks to see game time with the Eagles last season. He and redshirt freshman Shai Werts are currently working with the starters as both of them guided the offense through spring camp. Also pushing for playing time are redshirt junior Kado Brown — a junior college transfer — and true freshman Jaalon Frazier from Liberty County High School.
"We’ve got four guys that we feel good about," Summers said. "They’re all dual-threat guys that fit what we’re trying to do. "LaBaron is a guy who has progressed in the offense. Kado has been in an option system before coming here. Our system might be made for Shai and he has a good relationship with (offensive coordinator Bryan) Cook who recruited him at Georgia Tech. And Jaalon is just a freshman, but he’s got a lot of talent."
Once the quarterback situation plays out, there will need to be space to run.
Last season saw an inability for Eagle rushers to break around corners and the downfield blocks that play important roles in the big plays the running game is accustomed to came few and far between in 2016.
At his introductory press conference early in the year, Cook mentioned that the offense could take a while to hit full stride as the team needed to restock its roster with offensive linemen more suited to the style of play.
Thanks to a dedicated group of returning players and new strength and conditioning coach Dwayne Chandler, that transformation is coming along quicker than expected.
In several preseason interviews, Summers has sung the praises of Chandler and his staff and the work that the linemen have been doing in the weight room and, evidently, in conditioning drills. Players initially brought in to hold their own while pass blocking in the trenches have slimmed down and are ready to chase down blocks instead of hitting only what is in front of them at the snap.
"We’re going to have an aggressive line," Summers said. "That group might have had the best spring and summer. We have high hopes for what we can accomplish there."
Time will tell just how far along the Eagles have come and they’ll get an answer relatively quickly as a season opener against Auburn will test Georgia Southern in all facets.
For now, the best evaluation might come from someone who has seen the good times as well as the lean times for the offense. L.A. Ramsby sat out spring practice while recovering from offseason surgery, but was back to full speed Tuesday morning.
"I’m excited," Ramsby said. "The lanes we ran through all day were huge. I’ve been in a triple-option system since I was in eleventh grade and coach Cook is doing some things with it that I’ve never seen. We’re excited to get to work on this."