Coach Matthews Speaks About Offense

August 10, 2012 · By · Filed Under Football 

Offensive lineman running position drills in preseason camp.

One of South Alabama’s most daunting tasks this preseason is to solidify the offensive line. Three starters have graduated from last year’s squad. Gone are veterans Chris Brunson, Jon Griffin and Brian Krauskopf.

So far this preseason, offensive line coach and Offensive coordinator Robert Matthews, is currently rotating 13 different players on the offensive line. Trey Clark at center is the anchor to the line as he has started all 27 games in South Alabama’s history. Tremain Smith has earned playing time as a reserve in the previous two seasons.

“We do have some young guys, a lot who are getting reps, including some who have been here but have not been starters,” Coach Matthews said. “We have been rotating 13 different guys on the line right now, They have been changing positions because we are trying to find the best five. For the first week-and-a-half of practice there have been a lot of good things, and there have been some things we need to clean up. I think we are headed in the right direction.”

“Tremain and Trey have been tremendous leaders, they are vocal leaders and they lead by example, and a huge help to us,” Matthews continued. “They have been real good telling the young guys that it is going to be OK. It’s a big transition coming from high school, but our young guys have done a good job getting through that.”

On the right side of the line, Melvin Meggs is expected to continue solidify that side of the line. Meggs has started 19 games through two seasons. But coach Matthews doesn’t want Meggs to only settle for playing time, he wants him to keep getting better.

“Melvin’s biggest challenge is being the best Melvin he can be,” Matthews explained. “Everyone knows he is a good football player, he’s been a starter on the line. Any time you are that guy on a team, you have to push yourself to be better than just that. He’s been working hard on that. Melvin knows he is going to play, let’s be honest, everyone knows that. But he needs to play at a level he is capable of being at. Our challenge, and his challenge, is to continue to push himself to where he can be more than just a player. We want Melvin to be a great player.”

Drew Dearman and Shaun Artz entered camp with a golden opportunity to earn the starting left guard and right tackle positions respectively. Shane Doty and Ucambre Williams both could provide help as well. Chris May, who was redshirted last season, should be another contributor this season. Coach Matthews likes his footwork and also says that he has worked hard to study how the offense works and to discipline himself within the system. “He is very athletic, he was a state championship wrestler coming out of high school,” Matthews said. “I’ve been extremely happy with the progress of Chris, he is only a redshirt freshman so he has four years left to play. Certainly we want him to be game-ready in a couple of weeks, but his long-term future is really good.”

Four incoming freshman from the 2012 class have also been receiving reps on the line. Daniel Aust and Clay Machen have been working at outside positions on the line while Steven Foster and Joseph Scelfo have been working at interior positions on the line.

This is a fresh start for the offensive line. With no seniors and only two juniors, the line is stocked with young talent. With eight players weighing in at 300-pound or more, they also have size. What they lack is experience in the new system. In the spring, the Jags began the transition to a spread offense, while the players that were already in the program were accustomed to the pro-style offense that the team used in it’s first three seasons.

The fundamentals are the same, but the semantics and certain aspects of the position is different.  “We play a lot faster than they used to play, but some of the schemes are very similar. Football is football, pass protection is pass protection and run blocking is run blocking,” Matthews said. “Our terminology is a little different, but I would say there is about a 50-percent carryover from a skill set and things of that nature. We’ll see how it goes. I think they are headed in the right direction, but we have a way to go before we are any good. This is coaching cliché, but we have to come out to work every day. It’s the truth. We’re not great, but we’re not bad and we have to get better.”

As they head into the first scrimmage of the preseason, the offensive line get the most attention. “We’re going to find our best five,” Matthews said. “A guy that played guard today might be playing center tomorrow… We’ll start to narrow that down in the next week or so. … Saturday will be a big day for those guys to show what they’ve got and how they’ve progressed so far.”

Coach Matthews not only plays faster, but in practice he is constantly in motion and he keeps the players in almost constant motion. Like he is doing with the offensive line by rotating in lots of players and moving them around to see where they fit. He is doing that on a larger scale with the whole offense. “The thing I like is we’re moving a lot of guys around right now trying to see where everybody fits,” he said. “Nobody is backing away or turning away from that. Guys are learning two, sometimes three positions, and they are embracing it, so I really like the attitude of how they’re doing that. I think there’s no question we’re a lot better right now than we were in the spring. We’ll continue to be a work in progress and every day is important for us.”

Coach Matthews brings a thorough knowledge of the spread offense with him and a thick playbook to go along with it. Matthews came to South Alabama from Southern Miss through Oklahoma State. He is well steeped and is ready to unleash it’s potential at South Alabama. And the key is pace. Action needs to swift and constant and decisions need to be made quickly and correctly.

Matthews also spoke about other positions.

“People don’t realize how much you run in this offense as a wide receiver. They’re changing sides of the field, they’re running routes. We might throw a 6-yard route, but someone else may have had to run 30 yards to get that route open and he didn’t get the ball. He has to run back and get lined up. They have worked extremely hard and I’m proud of their progress.”

“It’s good to see Kendall (Houston) healthy again. We’ve been working about five [running] backs back there, and I think that’s good for competition.”

“We’ve been going two groups at once and we have five quarterbacks right now getting reps. Obviously, we’ve got to find out who our starter is, but even some of the younger guys on the roster, the reps they are getting right now are invaluable to them as they continue to learn the playbook.”

“I think they’re [tight ends] getting better every day, and we’ve got about two or three guys who hopefully will help us win on Saturdays.”

Trey Fetner returned to the field on Thursday after missing a day and a half with an illness. Senior linebacker Jake Johnson missed much of Thursday’s practice with a mild ankle injury but is expected to be ready for Saturday’s scrimmage. Tight end Wes Saxton missed part of yesterday’s morning scrimmage but should be ready for Saturday as well.

Saturday’s scrimmage is closed to public and the team will be off Sunday.

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