Media Day

August 13, 2014 · By · Filed Under Football 
Coach Jones Observing warm-ups.

Head Coach Joey Jones oversees the Jaguars pre-game warm-ups at N.C. State.

The South Alabama Jaguar football team held their annual preseason media day at the Jaguar Football Fieldhouse on Tuesday. Along with Head coach Joey Jones, offensive coordinator Robert Matthews and defensive coordinator they also had defensive back Terrell Brigham, defensive lineman Jesse Kelley, wide receiver Jake Howton and offensive lineman Ucambre Williams.

Below are some excerps from the press conference.

Head Coach Joey Jones:
Talking about expectations for the 2014 season and recapping the opening week of preseason camp. “We’re very excited about this season, our guys are ready to get after it. We’ve been practice six or seven days, they are bringing a lot of energy to practice and to the season, so we are excited about where we are at this point and looking forward to the schedule we have. It’s obviously a tough schedule, we know about all the teams in the Sun Belt and we’re playing Mississippi State, South Carolina, Navy and Kent State. The kids know what is ahead of them and are excited about the opportunity.”

The Jaguars have played some tough teams closer than expected through their first few seasons against FBS competition. Jones talked about how that previous experience helped prepare the program for the upcoming 2014 season.

“First of all, our guys want to play the best. They want to play SEC schools, they want to play ACC schools, they enjoy playing in those venues. The teams we’ve played in the past, we’ve played N.C. State a couple of times, Mississippi State on the road, we’ve been working our way up as the years have gone by. Right now I believe our schedule is probably the toughest in the Sun Belt, that’s what some publications are saying, but we don’t care about that.”

“We’re just worried about becoming a great football team, and doing what we have to do to have a chance to win fundamentally,” Jones continued. “When Saturdays come we hope to perform well, that’s what it’s all about. We raise our expectations every year. Two years ago we played a Division I [Football Bowl Subdivision] schedule even though we weren’t a Division I team yet, but we wanted to play teams like that. Last year was our first year in Division I and we faired fairly well, but we want to do better so our guy’s expectations are higher just like any teams are. Our goal is to go out and do the very best we can.”

Coach Jones then talked about who he considers to be standout players for the upcoming season. “I will mention a few names. I believe that any football team is built on the line of scrimmage, it all starts there, I’ve told my guys that every year. On the defensive line we have Jesse Kelley and Jerome McClain who will anchor the inside of our defensive line. They’re very good football players that we are counting on to play extremely well. Theo Rich is another who I think is going to be an NFL player, he’s really come on at defensive end. On the offensive side of the ball, Chris May and Ucambre Williams are our tackles and both are preseason all-conference, that doesn’t mean anything, but I know they are good football players. Melvin Meggs is back and having a great summer picking up where he left off two years ago.

“At the skill positions, you have to start at quarterback. Brandon Bridge is going to need to play well for us, any quarterback needs to play well for their team to have a chance to do well. He’s had a great summer, I’m looking for great things out of him. I think our receiving corps is real deep with Marvin Shinn, Danny Woodson II, Shavarez Smith, Wes Saxton, JeremĂ© Jones and on down the line. We have more depth on offense at wide receiver and on the line.”

He also talked about the progression of the defense. “I thought today on goal line was one of the best defensive goal-line practices we’ve had since I’ve been here. The offense ran close to 20 plays and didn’t score on any of them. Our defense is really flying to the football, Coach Pearson has done a great job of coaching effort, defense is a lot about effort, and simplifying some things, which is really paying off. We’ve got to get some more depth at certain positions. We have depth in the secondary, but we need to find more up front to have a chance because you’re going to have injuries during the season. We’ve progressed, but my biggest question mark is finding depth on the defensive front.”

Jones also talked about the quarterback situation. Ross Metheny graduated after last season and they have some new faces fighting for playing time along with Brandon Bridge. “Right now Brandon is the starting quarterback, that’s pretty much a slam dunk. Our question mark is who is our No. 2, and I don’t know the answer to that right now. We have to give that some more time. We have some ideas with the three guys who are fighting for the job, and after the scrimmage on Saturday we’re going to have to start cutting reps for one of them and after another week or so we’ll have the guy elevate to No. 2.

“I’ve been somewhat happy [with the guys behind Brandon], some of the problem is we’re giving all three of the back-up guys reps so you don’t have time to evaluate them. It’s not our fault, we just need more time. I feel like all three guys have the ability, but who that No. 2 guy is I don’t know yet.”

Jones talked about what kept the team from winning a couple more games last season and what they have done to correct that.

“It’s coming through in the fourth quarter. There were three games last year where we were ahead with about a minute left in the game and lost the ballgame. You look at Louisiana-Lafayette last year, they had two or three games that they won very late in the game, and that’s the difference between a great team and an average team. We have to find ways to make those plays at the end of games, we’ve talked about that throughout the offseason, we don’t want to dwell on that because this is a new team, a different year, but we are talking about finishing. Our guys have done a great job, at today’s practice they finished well. We’re working on finishing every practice and every play.

“Last year we were a little thin with our depth at times, we were tired at the end of games. Although now we have more depth, that does factor into it, but it’s also just a mentality that we are going to finish this ballgame and we’re going to win it. I think that comes with time. Our program is growing, we went from not winning many games the year before to trying to learn how to win, and now we need to learn how to close out close games.”

Offensive coordinator Robert Matthews

Matthews talked about his expectations for the offense this season. “We expect to win every game we play, but it’s a process. We have to take care of one day at a time. You can’t look too far into the future. We have to take care of today, then we have to take care of tomorrow then Saturdays take care of themselves if we do what we’re supposed to do.

“I think the guys are really excited about the season. Their expectations are extremely high, and when your players are excited and enjoy playing the game and coming to practice every day working together then you have a chance. And we have that with this group. You have to play every game, no matter who you are playing, to the highest of your ability. If you don’t, anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday.”

Talking about the offense’s progression so far this preseason camp. “The first week of camp has gone really well. Guys are competing, and that has been fun to watch. We have more depth at the wide receiver position, so it’s good to see those guys get out there competing for balls. We also have more depth at running back and more depth upfront, so it’s been fun to watch those guys get out there and really practice hard.”

He also talked about the experience returning on offense. “We do have a lot of talent. We have guys who can run and catch at wide receiver on the outside. We have Wes Saxton coming back, and he has a chance to have a really good year. I’m excited about our perimeter can be in throwing the football. We just have to have guys who go out and perform. The thing I told them today is as you get into days eight, nine and 10 at camp, guys get dinged up so the next guy has to step up and play. We’re not going to change who we are and what we do because one guy goes out.”

Matthews also talkeda bout Brandon Bridge and how he is a better quarterback from last season. “I think the game is slower for him with the experience he got last year, the continued reps he got in spring practice and the work he has put in in the film room and on the field this offseason. He understands the concepts and coverages better, and he has a lot more confidence in himself because of the hard work he has put in to it.

“From a physical-ability standpoint, Brandon has all the tools that you want. He has to understand that it’s not about everyone else. You just play within yourself, and I think he will do a really good job of that.”

Defensive coordinator Travis Pearson

Coach Pearson talked about the expectations for the defense this coming season and how the first week of camp has gone. “Our expectations are the same I guess as they are everywhere else in the United States, it’s to win. That’s our expectation coming into every year. We expect to come in and get better every year. We expect to come in and get better every day and that’s the way we take it, day by day. As far as camp, it’s going as expected. I think the kids are battling every day. Their energy’s at a high level right now, we just have to build off that.”

With several experienced defensive players, primarily in the front seven, who graduated after last season, pearson talked about replacing that talent. “We lost some key guys up front in Romelle Jones, Montavious Williams, Alex Page, Clifton Crews and Pat Moore, but we’ve got guys (returning) like Jesse Kelley, who started every game last season, and Jerome McClain. He’s another guy who played in every game last season.

“The roles are being filled really well. I think our guys understand that it’s a package deal. We just can’t rely on two guys to make this happen, they understand that. The leadership is quietly coming. In this business, if one (leader) hasn’t already jumped out to you, it’s going to take a little bit for them to jump out. But it’s quietly coming and I’m pleased with that.”

He also talked about what he wants the identity of the defense to be this season. “Fast and relentless. (I want them to) think fast, play fast and be relentless in our pursuit of that win. That’s what I want to be our identity.

“We want everyone to know that we’re coming out to play and that we’re going to play fast, especially with the tempo offenses are playing with now. The identity of this team is that we’re going to be fast and we’re going to be relentless. We’re going to build walls and do our very best to keep the deep balls to a minimum because we understand that’s what can get us beat. As long as they understand that, and keep everything in front of them and get it on the ground, we’ve got a shot to win.”

Pearson talked about what he sees as the mission of the defense this season. “We have several missions. I want to get better in the red zone. I want to get better in our goal line area. I think the Texas State, Troy, Arkansas State and Southern Utah games were learning tools for us, the kids never leave it. They understand that if you don’t finish it, those are the things that can happen. We walked out of those games with our heads held down when we were up.

“We’ve got to learn to finish the game, we always talk about that. When you get tired and there’s a moment that you think you can’t make it, let those four games run through your mind. You are in total control of the feeling we have when we walk off that field. So, those things are definitely character builders. I thought those games brought our team closer. Those guys rallied behind those losses and we turned this thing around and started going the right direction.

“I think those four losses really helped us.”

Offensive lineman Ucambre Williams

Talking about the depth of the offensive line. “We have some younger guys who have stepped up, the depth is there. Last year we didn’t really have a lot of depth, but it has improved each year. Now we can really get some substitutions in there if you need a breather. We push each other at practice and help each other as well. But the depth has been good for the offensive line.”

Williams talked about Mississippi State, the Jaguars home opener this season. “We’re not thinking about that game. We have Kent State first. We got beat in our first game last year, so we are just going to take it one week at a time. We have to take care of business against Kent State, then we will focus on Mississippi State.”

He also talked about how the finishing last season helped the team in the offseason. The Jaguars won their final three games, including a 30-8 win over conference co-champion Louisiana-Lafayette. “We beat the conference champions, and it showed us that we can be number one in this conference. We just have to work a little bit harder than last year to achieve our goals.”

Wide Receiver Jake Howton

Howton talkeda bout the first week of preseason camp. “We have the potential to be very good on offense. We have a lot of veteran guys up front with three senior starters returning. And there is a ton of talent at receiver this year, and we have guys back in the backfield. And of course Brandon at quarterback, who brings a big-play element to our offense. But I believe we have the opportunity to be really good.”

He also talked about how finishing last season helped the team heading into this season. “We have a lot of high expectations. We finished strong last year, and felt like we were a really good football team over the last four or five games of the season. We have a lot of starters back and a lot of guys who have been here a long time and played who have to step up this year, myself included. We’re really looking forward to it.”

Defensive Lineman Jesse Kelley

Kelley talked about the expectations for the season and how the first week of camp has been. “Our expectations going into the season are pretty high. For myself, I want to win a championship and I want to win a bowl game.

“On the defensive line, we had a lot of growing pains after losing five or six seniors, but we have a great group of guys that coach (Brian) Turner brought in and we are just maturing each and every day. By September 6 when we play Kent State, I believe we will be ready to go.”

He also talked about how today’s offensive concepts have changed the way defenses play. “It’s been the same thing since back in the day. The teams are going to win the football game by establishing the run game. It’s my job, and our defensive linemen’s job, to stop the run first and wreak havoc on the quarterback, so our secondary guys can have some fun back there and take some picks and get the ball back to the offense so they can score.”

Kelley talked about the depth on the defensive line, one of the concerns coming into the season after the graduation of several defensive lineman last season. “We have lots of depth. We have a lot of new guys who are still trying to get their feet wet. We’re just going to have to keep harping on the fundamentals to them right now. The fundamentals aren’t where they should be right now, but day by day, our fundamentals are getting better. As I mentioned before, come next month, everything should be ready to go.”

Defensive Back Terrell Brigham

Brigham talked about the expectations for the upcoming season. “I feel like we have high expectations just like pretty much everybody around the country. We want to win the conference championship and then go to a bowl game. We have some experience back in the secondary with three seniors and a sophomore who got playing time last year. With that experience coming back, I feel we have high expectations.”

He also talked about the experience level of the secondary that has developed over the last couple of seasons. “I feel like the experience and exposure that we’ve received over the years has helped us learn more and apply more to the game. That’s really helped us out to where we can teach the young guys and show them how we play and do things here.”

South Alabama will hold an open scrimmage at St. Paul’s Episcopal School on Saturday at 9am. They begin their 2014 season in Kent, Ohio against Kent State on Saturday, September 6.

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