The five most noteworthy storylines before fall camp

Redshirt sophomore Jaalon Frazier is a quarterback Coach Lunsford is excited about. 

McClain Baxley

A new era for Georgia Southern football is now just a month away and with that it’s now time to seriously look at the remaining questions and concerns for the team. After talking with Coach Lunsford and looking back at spring tapes, here are, in my opinion, the most intriguing storylines to follow in fall camp for the Eagles:

How secure is Werts’ starting role at quarterback?

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Shai Werts did well in his first year as starting quarterback. Starting in 11 games and only getting better in the offseason, it’d seem like Werts is a lock to lead the Eagles to start the season. But Lunsford made sure to note that Werts isn’t set in stone as the starter.

“I still feel like that there is a competition that we need to look at,” Lunsford said. “Shai came out of spring as the starter, but he still needs to continue to fight for that spot.”

Redshirt senior Kado Brown started the game against UMASS and went 4 for 9 in the air for 148 passing yards while picking up two rushing toucdowns as well. The other redshirt senior, LaBaron Anthony, has only played 56 career snaps for the Eagles, but in spring practice, he was the most efficient in his passes and his vision.

So there are two seniors gunning for Werts’ job, but also two young Eagles who Lunsford feels can compete for the position, too.

“Jaalon (Frazier) was a guy that showed a ton of promise during the spring. I think Jaalon can be a guy that will compete,” Lunsford said. “(Justin) Tomlin, off of his highlight film and the little bit you can get from the strength coach during the off-season, he’s a guy that really is mature so should have an opportunity to go fight for it also.”

I think it’s a safe bet that Werts will be taking snaps against South Carolina State September 1, but the other four quarterback’s improvements and zeal will be something to look at.

Just how dominant can the secondary be?

Junior cornerbacks Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor have both reached preseason headlines and watch lists and rightfully so. Last season, Brinson led the Sun Belt in interceptions with five, earning him a spot on the All-Sun Belt second-team. Vildor wasn’t quiet in 2017 either as the CB from College Park picked up 21 tackles and three interceptions.

Lunsford is confident that the two backs have done nothing but improve this offseason and is looking forward to seeing their progress in camp.

“They like to work on their craft and put the extra time in,” Lunsford said of Brinson and Vildor. “I think that shows. It certainly showed last year and I think it will show again this year.”

Rounding out the experienced secondary is senior safeties Sean Freeman and Joshua Moon who have had their own form of success in their time with GS. Freeman tallied 32 tackles and three pass breakups last year and Moon was third on the team with 47 tackles. Moon was also able to come down with two interceptions and two pass break ups.

And those are just the upperclassmen. In February, a myriad of cornerbacks and safeties signed to play with the Eagles. Justin Birdsong, Brandon Cross, Najee Thompson and others are all young secondary players that add to the already exuberant depth for the Eagles’ secondary.

Who is going to be punting for the Eagles?

This seems like a silly question because if you look at the roster you should be able to see who the punter is. But, there are three eligible punters on the roster, not to mention placekicker Tyler Bass who has also been known to flip the field on opponents.

The easy answer is redshirt sophomore Magill Bauerle simply because he’s the oldest and has been around the team the most. But true freshman walk-on Bryce Christensen from Lambert High School has been a proven and tested ace. Christensen was named second-team All-State his senior year after averaging 41.8 yards per punt and downing 16 of them inside the 20 yard line.

Another name that has been into the ring is true freshman Anthony Beck II from South Effingham High School. The local force averaged 38 yards per punt with his longest punt going 59 yards. Interestingly, Beck also downed 16 of his punts inside the 20.

The only punter on the roster who has played a down for the Eagles is redshirt junior kicker Tyler Bass. The 2017 All-Sun Belt second team kicker punted twice last season. One of his punts went 61 yards and the other went 38 to make his average career yards per punt 49.5, which is fantastic.

It should be interesting to see these four beasts battle it out the next few weeks because it seems like none of them really have the upper hand, or foot.   

How much of a toll will moving to a 3-4 defense take on the defensive line?

This is one of the most menacing front lines from Georgia Southern in a long time. The menace comes from experience and trust in each other. New defensive coordinator Scot Sloan has thrown a wrench into the line’s plans to dominate up front in the Sun Belt this season by switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

Lunsford clarified that the players weren’t really fazed by this transition.

“We are changing from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 package, so there are some growing pains there,” Lunsford said. “But I feel like it fits to our talent, I do expect big things out of the defensive line. I feel like we have the talent there.”

The talent is there, even with Syracuse transfer Justin Ellis staying ineligible. Defensive end Raymond Johnson III had unprecedented success in his first year with the Eagles with 36 tackles and four sacks. From sophomore to senior, Logan Hunt is the defensive end who has received national attention following his 32 tackle, five sack junior year.

“You have guys that are seniors that want to see us succeed,” Lunsford said of Hunt and inside linebacker Tomarcio Reese. “The defensive line needs to be a strength for us.”

Is this the year a GS kicker wins the Lou Groza Award?

Two years ago it was Younghoe Koo who made the trip to Atlanta for the College Football Awards show and came home empty handed after being named a finalist for the Lou Groza Award given to the best kicker in FBS. Bass was clutch for the Eagles last season going 15 for 19 with nine of them being longer than 40 yards.

The All-Sun Belt second team selection from last year was one of 30 FBS kickers named to the Lou Groza Award preseason watch list. Bass is the only Sun Belt kicker on the list and is one of 11 Group of Five kickers on the preseason list. The expectation is certainly there for Bass to continue his success from a year ago and exceeding the expectation isn’t new for Bass. Outside of being a kickoff specialist and place kicker, Bass also punted twice last year and picked up two solo tackles—one against Auburn and one against Indiana.

The Eagles will run across Eagle Creek for the first day of fall practice Friday morning at 8:30 a.m.

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, [email protected]