Players responded well to Georgia Southern head coach Chad Lunsford during his interim period in the second half of last season, but filling some roster holes and implementing scheme changes give him a heavy lift in Year 1. The top priority for Lunsford is reviving the Eagles' identity as a dominant triple-option offense. To do that, he's bringing back the shotgun-based scheme Willie Fritz employed with great success in 2014 and '15.
Previewing Georgia Southern Football's Offense for 2018
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Lunsford has turned over the offense to Bob DeBesse, who was with Fritz at Sam Houston State and more recently engineered New Mexico's offensive revival.
"We needed to get back to the root of what has been successful here," says Lunsford, who was an assistant at Georgia Southern under four different head coaches.
Though the scheme change should help, there's plenty of work to do for a unit that averaged a pedestrian 20.8 points and 332.3 yards per game. Sophomore Shai Werts should take full command at quarterback after running for 722 yards and throwing seven touchdowns last season, but Lunsford is looking for improvement in Werts' technique after he relied on instinct and talent in his first year as a starter.
Running the ball will be a priority, and Lunsford saw growth in the offensive line in the spring, particularly inside where senior Curtis Rainey and junior college transfer Jawaski Webb will provide the foundation.
The Eagles are counting on another big year out of senior Wesley Fields, who led the team with 811 rushing yards last season and will look for ways to get the ball to tight end/H-back Ellis Richardson, whose playmaking presence might lift a receiving corps that otherwise lacks a standout.
Previewing Georgia Southern Football's Defense for 2018
There could be some rocky moments in Lunsford's first year as the Eagles switch from the 4-3 to 3-4 scheme and will do so without an overwhelming amount of linebacker talent. They should be solid on the inside with Tomarcio Reese and Todd Bradley returning, but filling those outside roles will be an ongoing question mark.
The Eagles should continue to be among the Sun Belt's best against the pass (230.1 ypg last season) with arguably the league's top corner duo in juniors Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor, who combined for eight interceptions last season. Safeties RJ Murray and Joshua Moon have played a lot of snaps as well and are versatile enough to move around and give offenses some unique looks.
Up front, coordinator Scot Sloan has three starters back but inherits a pressing concern with depth. Players such as senior Ian Bush, who flashed this spring, need to step up.
Previewing Georgia Southern Football's Specialists for 2018
Junior kicker Tyler Bass turned into a legitimate weapon by the end of his sophomore season, making 12 of his final 13 attempts including a perfect 8-for-8 from beyond 40 yards. Bass could end up punting as well if none of the walk-ons pan out. Sophomore slot receiver Wesley Kennedy, who got a bit of experience last season, could provide more pop in the return game.
The atmosphere is far better now than it was during Tyson Summers' failed 18-game stint, as Lunsford understands the pressures and expectations of being at Georgia Southern. "One of the biggest changes I wanted my staff and us to do is make sure football was fun again and still be able to hold them accountable," he says. "I think we've accomplished that."