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Jags Begin Spring Practice Facing Lots Of Changes

February 15, 2012 · By · Filed Under Football 

As the Jaguars hit the practice field today for the beginning of spring football practice, the offense will begin to make a big change. Players and coaches believe that it will be a change for the better.

With the hiring of Robert Matthews as the new offensive coordinator, the offense will move from a more pro-style offense to a spread offense. Coach Jones believes this will give the team the best chance to put up lots of points. Also, they believe it will take pressure off of the offensive line as they don’t have to sustain their blocks and be pressured to hold protection on every play. The offensive line replaces three starting seniors from last season. While their replacements are larger, they are less experienced than the outgoing seniors.

Additionally Coach Jones believes the switch will also allow the staff to take advantage of the different running types of the running backs on the roster.

Adding to the pressure of learning the new offense, the Jags will be stepping up their schedule in the fall as they go into the season year of the two-year transition into the FBS level. As part of this, South Alabama will play an eight game Sun Belt schedule in addition to a non-conference schedule of all FBS schools consisting of road trips to Mississippi State, NC State, and Hawaii while hosting Texas-San Antonio and Nicholls State.

“It’s a good bit different because it’s a spread offense and we’re going to be in the gun, which is really what I have run most of my years in coaching,” Coach Jones said. “I decided three years ago to run the power [offense] and be a physical football team, but the spread is what I really feel comfortable with and I think we’ve got the people to do it.  Sometimes you need some change, I think it excites you.”

“We understand that we are going to have to get it done quickly, because of the schedule we’re playing,” Jones continued. “We’ve got to be as good as we can be, so there is a sense of urgency to getting this done and getting it done right. It’s probably the biggest thing this spring that we’ve got to concentrate on. People are wondering if we are going to win a game next year, I have no clue what will happen from a win-loss standpoint, but I do know that we will be competing at the highest level of college football in the country. We’ve gotten there pretty fast, but we have got to elevate our play and become much better at what we do.”

After the season finale loss to Cal Poly back in November, Coach Jones changed his approach some. The staff has introduced competition to their everyday life. “Not only on the practice field this spring, but going to class, study hall, in the weight room,” he said. Jones believes that if its second nature the Jaguars will do it when on field. “There are consequences now, because there will be in the fall if we don’t play well.”

“We meet after every season as a staff and we meet as a team. The thing I challenged the team with was that I felt that leadership is something we have got to concentrate on this year,” said Coach Jones. “We have broken down into 13 different teams within the team, and each one has a captain. Everything they do in the offseason program is done by that team; there is peer pressure, things they have to do every day. And if they do anything the wrong way or just miss, they pay for it. We were a pretty disciplined team, but we are going to take it to the highest level. We’re not trying to punish them, we’re trying to create great discipline.”

As mentioned previously, Coach Jones announced changes in responsibilities for his assistants, both on the offensive side and on the defensive side of the ball. First year offensive coordinator Robert Matthews will take over working with the offensive line, while John Turner moves to tight ends, and Bryant Vincent moves to quarterbacks. Defensively Coach Clark, the defensive coordinator, will take over coaching the linebackers while Kurt Crain moves to defensive tackles and Brian Turner will concentrate on the defensive ends. Duwan Walker will continue coaching the secondary and Tommy Perry will continue coaching the running backs.

“After bringing coach Matthews in, he knew exactly what he wanted with the offensive line and had coached tackles. Rather than training somebody else and creating a learning curve there, I just felt like we would move him in and let him coach them,” said Coach Jones. “John was extremely happy about it, tight ends are a different dimension but he really liked the idea, and Bryant has been coaching quarterbacks his whole life and is really comfortable with them. Bill wasn’t really coaching a position, which I wanted him to, and he is comfortable with linebackers. Kurt had coached defensive linemen at Auburn, that’s really what he has always coached, and is excited about the move.”

Offensively, all of the changes make very good sense. Coach Matthews did a great job with the offensive line in his previous stints. Also Coach Gregory was the quarterbacks coach, so Coach Vincent’s move there also puts him back into coaching a position he is very familiar and comfortable with.

Defensively, Coach Crain has done a great job with the inside linebackers. His work with the defensive tackles will make a big difference as well.

There are a few players who will not be able to take part in spring drills or will not be at full speed. Kendall Houston and Enrique Williams are not scheduled to practice while they are recovering from offseason surgeries. Bryson James will not be able to return, if he is able to return at all, until late in the spring drills. Brandon Ross and B.J. Scott will take part, but in a limited role.

While the team is coming off a season that saw their first loss, facing a complete change of the offensive scheme and actually ending the season with a loss, Coach Jones is not worried how the team will respond. “I have never seen our team quite this motivated because they realize the challenges ahead. But they’re also excited about those,” he said. “This is where they all wanted to be, they’ve dreamed about playing these kind of teams every week. There’s no doubt there is a difference.”

Tuesday morning quarterback C.J. Bennett joined the WNSP morning show and talked about the changes on offense. He said that he played in a spread offense throughout high school, so the change to a pro-style offense was a bit of a transition for him. So he thinks the transition back to the spread will be an easy one for him. He also mentioned that they replace three offensive linemen and named Drew Dearman, Shaun Artz, Melvin Meggs and Trey Clark while they also expect big things from McKeller as well.

As for the running backs, Bennett said he has never seen a runner like Kendall Houston. He has excellent balance and a hard runner. Baker adds more speed and having a healthy Brandon Ross will make for an excellent trio of runners in the backfield.

They have a big challenge in front of them, but you better believe that this team has the heart and drive to tackle it.

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