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Meet the Eagles — Defense, defense


August 17, 2016

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    Last week, we took a look at the Georgia Southern offense. This week, let’s talk defense.
    We’ll start with the defensive line — a unit that is expected to be one of the best in the Sun Belt. Two Eagle defensive linemen were named preseason All-Conference. Jay Ellison was named to the first team and Bernard Dawson is a second-teamer. But the Eagles have a wealth of depth and experience up front.
    Darrius Sapp, Ryan George, Nardo Govan, Jamal Johnson and Tre Griffin are all upperclassmen who have seen significant playing time throughout their careers. Several highly touted freshmen are also ready to step in and make their mark. In addition, Jonathan Battle was recently granted a sixth year by the NCAA due to a knee injury, so he’ll be back and healthy to start the 2016 season.
    The linebacking corps loses Antwoine Williams from last season’s team. Williams was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions after an outstanding career at Georgia Southern. But on paper, it looks like the Eagles have a very capable replacement to fill his large shoes in Ukeme Eligwe. Eligwe transferred to Georgia Southern from Florida State and has two years of eligibility left. He saw action in
13 of 14 games during the Seminoles’ national championship season of 2013. I have a feeling Eagle fans — and opposing offenses — will get to know him quickly.
    Unlike the defensive line, there isn’t a ton of depth at linebacker — but there is talent. Ironhead Gallon will return as one of the leaders of the defense. He was an honorable mention all-conference selection last season after recording 81 tackles (second highest on the team),
1.5 sacks and two blocked punts. Chris DeLaRosa saw action in all
13 games last season, William Bussey played in all 13 as well (although the majority of those snaps were on special teams) and Ken Butler played in 11.
    The secondary is young and unproven, but loaded with potential and high expectations. Cornerback Darius Jones is the only returning starter from last year’s defensive backfield, but these underclassmen stepping into starting roles pass the eyeball test, if nothing else.
    Vegas Harley, a very physical runner when he was at quarterback, has moved to safety. Freshmen cornerbacks Christian Mathew (6’3”), Jessie Liptrot (6’0”) and Monquavion Brinson (5’11) along with freshman safety Martial Washington (6’3”) and sophomore safety Josh Moon (6’0”) provide some size in the secondary. In fact, the Eagles have eight defensive backs on the roster that stand six feet tall or taller.
    Anytime you have this many young players on one unit, there will be a learning curve. But head coach Tyson Summers’ background is in coaching defensive backs, so you have to feel like this group will come along quickly. And having one of the best defensive fronts in the league will also help tremendously. If the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw, it takes a ton of pressure off the secondary because they don’t have to cover receivers for nearly as long. Hopefully, the offense can consistently put together sustained drives to keep the defense off the field as much as possible.
    Opening up with Savannah State and two relatively weaker conference opponents will hopefully give the newcomers time to get acclimated to their new roles. Going into the season, most armchair quarterbacks like myself expect the defense to be solid — possibly one of the best we have seen at Georgia Southern in a while. It certainly looks good on paper, but we’ll have to wait to find out when the Eagles hit the field.
    And we’re really getting close now — only two weeks until game week.

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