STATESBORO — When Chris Hatcher walked off the practice field Thursday, he expressed satisfaction with the way his third season as the head coach at Georgia Southern had started.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were (after the first day of practice this year compared to the past couple of years),” Hatcher said. “Maybe not as much as far as knowing what to do on the field, but our attitude is tremendous.
“Our guys believe in the coaches and what we are trying to get accomplished. Everybody is on the same page. Everybody knows exactly what we are going to do each and every day, offensively, defensively and special teams. There are no questions.”
During the first three days of practice, Hatcher and his coaches used a split squad approach, working with the younger players in the morning and the experienced players in the afternoon.
Thirty-seven of the players at practice are freshmen. The split practices were done for learning purposes, and Hatcher was happy with the way it worked out.
“We found out right now who we think is going to be ready to play,” Hatcher said. “I say going to be ready to play because we’re projecting that after a few more weeks of practice, some of these young guys will be able to step in and help us.
“We’ve also identified a few guys that right now may not be quite ready to play yet. Time will tell, but we feel read good about the team.”
The Eagles had their first practice with a combined squad Saturday and practiced in full pads for the first time Sunday.
“It was a good day,” Hatcher said of Sunday’s practice. “I think we got better from (Saturday), which, to be honest with you, may have been the best practice we’ve had out here since I’ve been the coach.
“I’m not talking about as far as the execution and knowing what to do, but our attitude. It was awesome to see the guys wanting to learn and flying around.”
Georgia Southern opens its season Sept. 5 against Albany (N.Y.). The Great Danes were 9-3 last year and won the Northeast Conference title with a 7-0 league mark. Albany features one of the top running backs in FCS play in tailback David McCarty, who had 1,852 yards rushing last year and 2,208 all-purpose yards.
Most all of the Eagles’ starting positions were basically settled coming out of spring practice. What the coaching staff is looking for in these early days of practice is depth.
Freshmen who will make the biggest impact will come at receiver, where the Eagles lost their top seven receivers.
Highly touted recruits Patrick Barker and Jamere Valentine have been impressive in the early going as has J.J. Wilcox and Jonathan Bryant. Garryon Taylor, one of 13 seniors on the team, and redshirt freshman Tyler Sumner, who was the star of the spring game, are also in the mix.
Of the 12 receivers in camp, Taylor is the only one who caught a pass in a game last season. He had two receptions for 39 yards.
Quarterback Lee Chapple finished Saturday’s 11-on-11 drill by completing 5-of-6 passes to five different receivers. Backup Kyle Collins completed three passes during his snaps.
Leander Barney, who was in the mix to be a starter at wide receiver, joined Carson Hill and Chris Teal as an academic casualty. The three will redshirt this year. The defensive line, which lost all three starters from last year, got some help with two FBS transfers. Neil Harrell (6-foot-3, 311 pounds), a junior, transferred from Western Kentucky, and sophomore Brandon Lampkin (6-5, 260) transferred from Arkansas.