Georgia State will open spring practice Wednesday and, other than the team’s facility, everything has changed.
There’s a new coach in Trent Miles. There are new assistants at every position. There are a few new players as Miles looks to upgrade the talent and depth. There’s also a new playing level, the FBS, because of a new conference, the Sun Belt.
Everyone hopes for new results after last season’s 1-10 record in which the offense averaged slightly more than 17 points per game and the defense gave up 38.5.
Because of those results and the change in staff after coach Bill Curry retired, there are no penciled-in starters at any position.
“The eyes will be on everybody,” Miles said. “Every person, coaches, managers, trainers … everybody will be evaluated every single day.”
Here are five things the team hopes to do this spring:
Establish a No. 1 quarterback: The team has struggled at this position for the past two years, starting five different players. Two of those starters, Ben McLane and Ronnie Bell (who combined for 21 interceptions last season), have been joined by Clay Chastain, who signed out of Georgia Military College. Kelton Hill, another starter, asked to be moved to safety for the second consecutive season.
“The quarterback is the key to the whole offense, the whole team,” Miles said. “You can’t win games without a quality quarterback, so you have to establish that in a hurry. We have to create competition within the group, and I think we are going to have that. It’s just going out and those guys learning the system and those guys understanding the schemes we are trying to do and perform and perform well consistently.”
Chastain has the size (6-foot-4, 218 pounds), but whether he has the skill or temperament to lead the offense remains unknown. He passed for 1,907 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season.
Develop chemistry between staff and players: This may be as crucial as finding the quarterback.
Last season’s team seemed to reach a point of tuning out the coaches, as evidenced by the broken plays and mental mistakes that torpedoed the squad in most games.
Miles has worked hard at creating competition in almost every drill, which is something that men’s basketball coach Ron Hunter also did when he first arrived at Georgia State.
Miles said that the players seem to understand his and his staff’s wants and expectations. They have been meeting for film study (allowed by the NCAA) and now need to see if that translates into improved results on the field.
“You never really get it until you get out there and blow the whistle and the helmets are on and the pads are on and they start hitting,” Miles said. “But they will know from our personality how we will be.”
Increase interest in the program: Georgia State’s announced attendance decreased to an average of 12,309 per game last season. The NCAA requires FBS teams have an average of 15,000 fans per season once in a rolling two-year window. Georgia State will play seven home games this season, which will provide more chances to increase that average.
More than 300 new season tickets have been sold (the deadline for renewals is May).
Miles said he thinks the administration is doing a “great” job of trying to get people more involved in the program.
“We have to put a good product on the field,” he said. “You know how society is. If you are doing well they will come, and if you don’t they won’t. It’s pretty simple.”
Find a team leader: Leadership was another area that appeared to be missing last season and will be needed if the team is to improve.
Miles said he was impressed by the players’ effort and desire to improve in the winter workouts. For example, defensive tackle George Rogers, a 300-pound junior college transfer, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds and squatted 600 pounds.
The team returns 17 starters and 46 letter-winners, so the experience is there.
“Leadership, we are still working on that,” he said. “There has to be a blend. We had a lot of kids that I feel that have shown commitment, they want to do it right. They need to show it when we put the pads on.”
Find a playmaker: Wide receiver Albert Wilson was the team’s most consistent playmaker last season and should be the focus of every opponent’s game plan next season.
After Wilson, the production of the next-best receiver dropped considerably to tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi’s 282 yards.
The running back group returns Travis Evans (5-11, 190) and should be boosted by the signing of junior college transfer Gerald Howse (6-2, 215), the type of big back that Miles likes.
Miles said he’s not worried about teaching schemes because he said good players make schemes look good.