Georgia State will need to improve in a lot of areas in order to turn around last year's 3-8 season. This series will identify five players that could be candidates to have a breakout season for Georgia State and give them a push in a certain area. The players highlighted must have started fewer than 6 games for the Panthers, but also were on the team last season. The second player highlighted is safety Rashad Stewart.
Class: RS Junior
2011 Review: Saw action in three games after joining the program last summer. Transferred from University of Louisville.
Spring 2012: It was quite the surprise to see former cornerback turned safety D'Mario Gunn not running with the first team defense during spring camp. Gunn had been one of the defense's best performers and many assumed the position change would not effect his role as a starter. However, that changed quickly due to the play Stewart. He out performed Gunn during spring camp and by the end appeared to have cemented his spot as a starter and was consistently praised by defensive coordinator Anthony Midgett, who also is the secondary coach.
2012 Depth Chart: While Gunn is also now in the mix at the "wolf" position, he will certainly see some reps at safety as well. So while Stewart will likely start it will be interesting to see if the two lineup together or are rotated to keep them fresh. Robert Smith also gets reps at the position.
2012 Outlook: Stewart did not cause many to take notice in his first season at GSU, but he certainly turned heads last spring. The Panthers are loaded in the secondary and therefore there could be as many as 4-5 guys seeing reps at either safety position, so I wouldn't expect huge numbers out of Stewart. But one thing Georgia State must improve upon is tackling and getting off the field on third and long. If Stewart can contain opposing offense and keep them from busting a big play then he will have had a very successful season. One thing he needs to continue to work on is his hands. He has great instincts and is closing speed, but isn't always able to reel in the interceptions.
Worst Case Scenario: Stewart does not continue his spring performance and costs the Panthers crucial games early in the season by missing tackles and giving up big plays. He gets benched in favor of Gunn and is relegated to special teams duties.
Best Case Scenario: Stewart is a ball hawk and sure tackler. Grabs a handful of interceptions and is top 3 on the team in tackles. Secures his place a starter and allows Gunn to be utilized in the "Wolf" position and therefore allows GSU to have their best athletes on the field at all times.
Prediction: I was very impressed with Stewart in the spring. I am personally a big fan of D'mario Gunn, so to see him surpass him, at least for the time being, certainly made a statement. I think he will be one of the more consistent players on the team, but won't wow anyone with numbers. I would expect him to be in the 25-30 tackle range with a couple of interceptions and maybe a forced fumble or two. But his performing well would give the Panthers so much flexibility with their defense and truly allow them to have a speed advantage over any opponent they face.