Receiver Michael McIntosh stretched out just far enough, quarterback Lee Chapple leaped high in the air and the Georgia Southern football team capped its initial week of spring practice with an offensive outburst in its first scrimmage in full pads.
Spring practice resumes this morning after spring break.
Several dozen fans and former Eagles trickled out to Beautiful Eagle Creek for a glimpse of second-year coach Chris Hatcher’s team, which is working to replace its entire offensive backfield and line. If the last practice was any indication, things are moving along nicely.
“From receiver to running back to quarterback, everybody is working very hard just trying to push each other and make each other better,” McIntosh said. “From the 1s to the 3s, it seems like everybody is trying to get better at each position. This is my last year, so I’m going to come out here, work hard every day and make it my best year yet.”
McIntosh teamed with Chapple for one of the day’s top catches when the senior receiver laid out for a touchdown barely inside the right edge of the end zone.
“It’s always good to see one of your receivers go all out for a ball,” said Chapple, a frontrunner for the top job. “You can’t explain it. You just get really excited when he catches it. For a first scrimmage it was awesome. It’s awesome to get back out here and go full speed against each other.”
With the cornerback sitting on the leverage McIntosh needed to get to, the receiver did his best to muscle his way to the outside corner.
“I heard everybody saying ‘Ball! Ball! Ball!’” McIntosh said. “I looked up and it was coming, so I tried to extend as much as I can and make a great catch.”
A few plays earlier, quarterback Kyle Collins found junior receiver Garryon Taylor on an equally impressive touchdown catch. Collins, Chapple and Billy Lowe, who connected with Tim Camp for a TD catch over the middle, were rotated at the helm, each taking snaps with the different offensive groups. The trio is part of the most-watched position battle this spring as the Eagles look to replace Walter Payton quarterback Jayson Foster. Together they helped the offense control the scrimmage.
“Being in this system for two years, we’ve kind of got it down pat,” Chapple said.
The Eagles are also looking to fill voids at running back after losing their top three rushers from a year ago. South Florida transfer Ricky Ponton looked solid, barreling his way into the end zone while running with the first-team offense.
“That’s what I’m working for, so hopefully it happens,” Ponton said of earning the starting role. “People around here love football, so that’s a good thing. I think we had a pretty good first week. Coach Hatcher said we were progressing every day, so that’s always a good thing.”
Ponton, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior, feels comfortable with GSU’s offense, which is similar to what he ran when playing for USF in 2006. Hatcher characterized him as a between-the-tackles-guy and has also been impressed by two other backs.
“Durell Norman from UAB has a lot of explosiveness and a lot of intangibles that we hadn’t had in some time,” he said. “And Terrance Hall, the other running back, had a great day before he went out with an ankle injury early in the scrimmage. So we got some good guys back there and of course we signed a lot of them that’ll have to come in and play a little bit early in the season for us as well.”
Georgia Southern’s defense, working with a new look of three men up front, made several key stops in goal-line situations.
“It’s getting the kinks out,” senior lineman Larry Beard said. “But I feel like we did real well. We executed when we had to and showed we could stop people and really use this defense to help us.”
Hatcher liked the intensity of the last workout and thought both the offense and defense had ups and downs. Overall, he was pleased with the first week of spring drills.
“One glaring thing is we’ve got to tackle better,” he said. “Of course we haven’t worked on that as much because this was the first day we could actually go to the ground.”
He was also happy with the high-tempo displayed by the offense.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys out there, and we’ve kept it simple so there wouldn’t be a lot of confusion,” Hatcher said. “I thought they executed well for most of the day.”
The Blue-White game is slated for April 12.
Thoughts on the QB race?
• Chapple: “I don’t think it’s really formulated into anything. It’s still a battle, and it’s going to continue to be a battle all the way through spring. I’m looking forward to competing.”
• McIntosh: “It’s fun to see the guys go out there and compete. They are (all) working hard, and they’ve got great arms.”
• Beard: “I don’t care who’s back there as long as they get the job done. I feel like all three of them are really great quarterbacks.”
• Hatcher: “We’ve got a good battle going on right there. All three of those guys have really been playing hard. They’ve gotten better, they want to learn, all of them want to be the quarterback and I think each of them brings a little something different to the table. We’ll play that out and see how it goes when we get back from the break. It’s pretty even right now. We’re going to let it go a little bit longer, then hopefully we’ll be able to find a guy here pretty quick.”