With all of the talk about the 2008, season-ending Furman win, the emergence of Lee Chapple at starting quarterback, the wide receivers and the passing game, it’s easy to forget about what used to be Georgia Southern’s bread and butter — running the football.
It hasn’t gone anywhere.
The Eagles may just try to keep running the football in 2009.
“We hope so,” said GSU coach Chris Hatcher, who is most well known for offenses which primarily throw the football. “We hope we have some (running backs) that have a 1,000-yard season as well. They’ll have to do both just like those pro backs have to do. They’ve got to catch and run, and ours is no different than any other offense.”
Over the past two seasons, quarterbacks have led the Eagles in rushing. Jayson Foster’s speed and elusiveness were a valuable weapon in 2007 and Antonio Henton’s size made him hard to bring down in ’08.
With Chapple at the helm, the running game will return to the hands of the running backs. Chapple will look to spend most of his time in the pocket.
“He runs well enough,” said Hatcher about the sophomore QB, “but we kind of (ran the quarterbacks) out of necessity just because of who we had playing quarterback. You won’t see (Chapple) being a guy who carries the ball by design.”
Adam Urbano is the team’s leading returning rusher. He carried the ball 52 times for 314 yards and seven touchdowns in 2008. In crunch time when his number was called, he delivered.
He also caught five passes for 28 yards — a number that could go up exponentially in 2009.
“He’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Hatcher said. “He’s tough, he’s a good runner between the tackles and he also has good hands. He’s a guy that definitely brings a lot to the table. He’s a tough guy. He runs hard all year ’round and he’s definitely one of the leaders on the team.”
Georgia Southern asks a lot out of its running backs. Along with gaining yards on the ground and through the air, the backs need to be key contributors in the most important element of the GSU offense – they have to protect the quarterback.
“The biggest job we have I think is setting the pass protection, because once we set it, we go into another role into receiver,” said sophomore running back Zeke Rozier, who suffered an injury to his arm in Friday’s scrimmage and will likely avoid contact in the remainder of spring drills.
“Blocking, running — I like the job.”
For Rozier, helping to give the QB time to throw is the most exciting part of the game.
“It puts all of the responsibility on us to me, because we’ve got to know what to do and how to do it, when to do it,” said Rozier. “I enjoy bringing the wood, I enjoy hitting people now. I’d rather make the game with a block than a score.”
Pass blocking has been the toughest job for the running backs to get accustomed to, but GSU offensive coordinator/running backs coach Rance Gillespie is pleased with the progress he has seen.
“Typically speaking, that’s the last thing that comes,” Gillespie said. “It’s different, so it takes a little while to develop as a pass blocker. It’s fun, because you see them make the biggest gains in that area.”
Along with Rozier and Urbano, the Eagles have some other guys on the depth chart that will look to make an impact on the ground game. Chris Teal returns from injury and looks to back up Urbano at the H-back position — a hybrid role that also lines up as a receiver — and newcomer Tobi Akinnirayne is having a solid spring so far.
At the F-back position — a more traditional running back role that stays in the backfield — freshmen Lamar Brown and Darreion Robinson have seen some snaps throughout spring workouts.
“We have a great backfield,” said Urbano. “A lot of guys are going to touch the ball and get a lot of opportunities. It’s going to be a great season. I like catching the ball out of the backfield — just anything really to help win the game.”
The GSU running backs expect to get their yards, but a good chunk of them will just be on a different column of the stat sheet.
“We’re still gonna get the ball a good bit — get to run it,” Urbano said. “They’re throwing it to us a little bit more this year, and that’s really the only thing that’s different.”
It’s no secret the Eagles will look to air out the ball in 2009, but it’s nice to know that the ground game is there when they need it. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a little balance.
“We don’t go into a game saying we’re going to run and throw 50 percent of the time and be balanced like that, but more times than not, we’re pretty much right around that 50/50 mark,” Hatcher said. “At Furman, we wanted to go out there and throw the ball a bunch of times. That’s just what we felt like we had to do to win that game. We’ll be able to do both. If we don’t, we won’t be very good.”