Coach Matthews Speaks About Offense

August 10, 2012 · Filed Under Football · Comment 

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.

Jags wrap up second week of spring practice

March 5, 2011 · Filed Under Football · Comment 

Head coach Joey Jones observing his team as they warm up in Dothan for the Wiregrass Classic last season.

South Alabama completed it’s second week of spring practice and will now have four days off while students are on spring break.

On Monday, the first day of the second week of practice, started at 7:00AM and went for about two hours. The practice was split into two overall periods which focused on individual and team practice. Coach Jones said he is more interested in the individual portion in the spring, rather than the team portion. “I like to see how much better each guy is getting, and to evaluate talent. I think we have some individuals who are, and we’re challenging the ones who aren’t so that by the end of the spring every player will get better, that’s the whole goal.”

The Jags focused on first downs and third down plays in the red-zone on the first day of the week. Jereme Jones made a nice diving catch in the back corner of the end zone to score a touchdown. Also, Kendall Houston caught a screen pass for a score from CJ Bennett. Coach Jones remarked that he thought the final segment was pretty even, but that he would have to watch the game film to determine for certain.

On Tuesday, the Jags hit the field at 7:45AM for another two-hour workout. Coach Gregory, the offensive coordinator, echoed Coach Jones’ words about spring practice being about individual from Monday when he stated, “We’re not anywhere close to where we want to be as an offensive football team, but that’s really not our goal in the spring.  Our goal has been to focus on individuals.”

Coach Gregory then continued along this line of talk when he used a couple Jaguar players as an example, such as returning receiver Corey Besteda and the new player Greg Hollinger. “For instance, are Corey Besteda and Greg Hollinger going to become big-time receivers, or are they just going to look like big-time receivers? Is Tremain Smith going to become a big-time offensive tackle or look like one? I’m using those guys as examples, but how good is each individual player going to be? That’s what it is really all about.”

Another interesting insight from Coach Gregory on Tuesday was when he spoke about scheming in the spring. “As far as scheming, we try to do enough to have a chance to move the ball but we don’t game plan. We’ll come back and do that in the fall. I never want to look at a situation in the spring thinking we have to win this drill, because I don’t want to do something now that we will not do next season.”

Another group of positions that is receiving lots of focus this spring is the offensive line. The offensive staff is working hard on individual fundamentals. Coach Gregory mentioned that he is looking at their ability to block, their footwork and their hand placement.

Offensive line coach John Turner said that they are working to improve everything they do. “We start with our split and stance, then we look at our first step, hat placement and our hands. We go back and try to break down every play to see if we are accomplishing those things. And we try to harp on effort. One thing that we know is that we are going to play hard — I don’t care if they are 190 pounds, we are going to play hard by God. So we go back and grade that every day to make sure that we are challenging ourselves to give a great effort.”

What helps the Jaguars on the line is that they will be returning all five players who started the 2010 season finale against Arkansas-Monticello. Center Trey Clark, guards Jon Griffin and Melvin Meggs and tackles Brian Krauskopf and Levi Slaydon. Additionally, Chris Brunson who started four games for the Jaguars last season before a season ending injury will also return. However, four of the five will exhaust their eligibility at the end of the 2011 season. Meggs is the only underclassman.

However that has allowed several of the Jaguars underclassmen from the second recruiting class to work in and become integral contributors to the unit. Coach Turner named Ucambre Williams, Drew Dearman, Shane Doty and Chris May as some of the integral members of the group.

Coach Turner’s commented on these younger players by saying, “I tell you what, we’re finding some players. We are looking at some younger guys who are getting better. Obviously, they still have a long way to go, we’re not there yet. But I am proud of them, they have improved every day. You can see them compete, you can see them fight. They are not backing down. They are working very hard to try and get their assignments and learn where they are supposed to be.”

Injuries have affected the offense this spring. Brunson and Shaun Artz have been unable to participate in drills. While Brandon Ross is continuing to recover from knee surgery. TJ Glover is being moved from running back to wide receiver.

Coach Gregory mentioned the injuries when he spoke. “T.J.’s absence has hurt us the most. We know Brandon can play, but we’re moving T.J. and there were some things we wanted to do with him at receiver that we wanted to look at in the spring but have junked. I think the big loss is Chris and Shaun. They are two big bodies, and we need to get bigger up front. Shaun is 290 and Chris is almost 300 pounds, we need them in there as starters or top back-ups who are going to play a lot.”

Thursday, the Jags hit the practice field behind the fieldhouse for the eighth time, marking the halfway point of spring practice. In addition to their individual drills, the team period focused on third and goal situations in the red zone. Then both first and second team offensive units had one chance to score during a two-minute drill.

CJ Bennett guiding the first team from their own 40 yard line into the red zone with three consecutive completions to Bryant Lavender, Kevin Helms and Jereme Jones. But the group had to settle for a 28 yard Jordan Means field goal.

The second team offense lead by Myles Gibbon crossed midfield on their second play when Gibbon found Taylor Noon for a gain of 24 yards. Three consecutive incomplete passes forced a 4th and 10. Gibbon found Greg Hollinger in the back corner of the end zone for a 36 yard touchdown on the last play of the team session.

Just like the offense, the defense has been working on the basics at each position. They begin each practice with tackling. As Coach Bill Clark, the defensive coordinator, says they are trying to be expert tacklers because that is what defense is all about. It’s about proper technique and angles.

Another facet that the Jaguars are working on is take-aways. In the course of winning all 17 of the schools games thus far, they have totaled 48 turnovers. They had 23 in the first season and 25 in the second season. Coach Clark wants to increase that number again in order to help give the team an even better chance to win.

Coach Clark comments, “We always say that a turnover is a gift that the offense gives us. We’re not looking for gifts, but we’ll take them. “We know that we have to physically take the ball away, and there’s a science to that — punching it out, stripping it, scooping and scoring.  There are a ton of techniques to it, and we want to create that mentality that we will get the ball back to our offense.”

Another technical aspect that is being worked on this spring is how the defenders pursue the opposition. Coach Clark explains by saying, “Our goal, when you look at our defense, is to have people say they’ve never seen anyone run that fast to the ball. But there’s a way to do that. There’s leverage, which shoulder to keep the ball on. That’s how you keep from having big plays against you. So that’s where we start, putting those three things — pursuit, tackling and takeaways — together. Then you go to individual fundamentals. And so far we’ve been pleased, it’s been a real good spring up to this point.”

Coach Clark looked to shore up the secondary in the offseason. With transfers from four-year schools and junior colleges added to the roster, everything was looking pretty good. However only two players, Spanish Fort’s Ameriol Finley and Damond Smith have been able to participate in drills these first two weeks.

Coach Clark talked about the secondary. “The future is bright, but we’re a little frustrated. There are different reasons why guys aren’t here, and though we see them coming they’re not here yet. A lot of the guys who are out there now people have seen before, and they have improved. They have another year of experience and are another year older, so we’re excited about them. A lot of these guys have been with us and are going into their third season. That in and of itself is exciting. When we add these guys on the way, we feel like it’s going to be a good situation.”

While the Jags continue to run a 3-4 defense, Coach Clark and Coach Jones have created a hybrid position which combines the responsibilities of defensive end and outside linebacker. So far, the individuals who have made the move into this hybrid position have been Anthony Taylor, Logan Bennett, Clifton Crews and Alex Page.

Coach Clark elaborates on this new position. “For us, the position has fit real well. We think it fits our personnel probably a little bit better. “You can see from watching us that it is a little bit different, and I think it’s going to help us for what we’re seeing being done offensively.

He continues, “Defensively, it’s all about stopping what offenses are doing. You look at your schedule and identify who our opponents are, because we have to look ahead to those teams and what they do. We always say that we are reactors on defense, we counter the trends in offensive football. You can see from the national championship game the spread formations used and the speed of the game, and that’s what we have to get ready for.”

Then to wrap up the week, the Jaguars moved their Saturday scrimmage to Friday morning at 7:30AM due to weather concerns. The team took part in a full scrimmage when it ran through about 100 snaps.

The Jaguar defense held the offense to less than 300 total yards while giving up two touchdowns and three field goals. The scrimmage lasted almost two hours.

The offense started quick with Myles Gibbon moving the team 70 yards in 14 plays which was capped off by Ellis Hill scoring the touchdown on a 2-yard run. The third and four play back on the offense’s 37 yard line was one of the highlights on the drive. Gibbon connected with Greg Hollinger for 34 yards to move the chains. On another third down play later in the drive. When the offense needed 14 yards, Gibbon found Richard Ross for 15 for another first down.

Gibbon would finish the scrimmage 5-of-6 for 57 yards to lead the stable of quarterbacks.

CJ Bennett lead the offense on it’s ensuing drive. Bennett found Lamontis Gardner for 12 yards then Jereme Jones for nine more yards to move the offense across midfield. Kendall Houston reeled off a 16 yard run on third and one to move the chains and get into field goal range. However, an attempt at a 50 yard field goal would fly wide right. Bennett would complete five passes for 50 yards in the scrimmage.

The defense would strengthen and limited the offense to only two field goals on the next nine possessions. Both field goals came on drives led by Ray Cotton. But the defense also forced two turnovers during that stretch.

Bryson James both forced and recovered a fumble on the defense’s 27 yard line. Jonathan Cameron intercepted a pass at the goal line on the first play of a drive that started on the 30 yard line.

Another drive that started at the defense’s 30 yard line resulted in a touchdown. Demetre Baker ran on the first four plays of the possession for a total of 20 yards. Then Bennett found Ross for an eight yard completion. Then Baker ran again for a one yard gain. Then Kendall Houston capped it off with a one yard run.

James and Justin Harris both recorded four stops tieing for team best. Jake Johnson led a group of four players who made three tackles.

Richard Ross and Greg Hollinger were the lone players to record multiple receptions with Hollinger leading all with four catches for 55 yards. Julien Valentin led the ground game with eight carries for 41 yards. Baker and Santuan McGee each added 24 yards.

Coach Jones spoke after the scrimmage saying, “I think we have some guys who have gotten fundamentally better, especially the freshmen who joined us at the beginning of last season. They have really jumped. Each coach was taking their guys trying to get everyone involved in the scrimmage. I told them not to even worry about trying to group guys together. We ran about 100 plays including the kicking game, which was what we wanted to do. And I don’t think anybody got hurt, which is always a positive.”

Coach Jones continues with comments about both sides of the ball starting with defense. “Defensively we had a good day, they got after it; they played with a lot of effort and intensity.”

Then he commented about the offense by saying, “All three quarterbacks came out and played well today. They were calm in the huddle and did a good job running the team. We also got a little better blocking on the offensive line today. I know I keep saying this, but it’s not about who won the scrimmage. I don’t even care. It’s about who is getting better fundamentally. That’s what we keep looking at and the way we set practices up.”

In addition to the offensive versus defensive plays, the Jaguars also worked on special teams play throughout the scrimmage. One period was devoted to kickoff returns while another was devoted to kickoff coverage. All three kickers on the roster attempted a minimum of three field goals during and after the scrimmage.

The Jags will have four days off with the next practice scheduled for Wednesday at 7:45AM.

Coach Joey Jones Show Recap 2010-10-19

October 20, 2010 · Filed Under Football, Joey Jones Radio Show · Comment 

Coach Jones looks on from the sidelines as the Jaguars take on Lamar University.

Chris Brunson out for the year with a broken ankle. When asked, Coach Jones said that we are not deep at that position. Brian Krauskopf was used at center in practice, but he will probably move into Brunson’s spot. Brian is probably the most valuable player on the line because of his flexibility and ability to do whatever the team needs.

Kendall Houston rushed for more yards himself than Lamar’s entire team in the game. Mitch Rodrigue is the other coaching guest on the show.

Caller asked about the logistics of traveling to California. Coach Jones said that they are flying out of Mobile Airport at 9am on Friday and land in California around 12:40 pacific time. When they went to Lamar for the game, they carried everything they needed in trucks mostly.

Everything they needed for the game but not necessary for practice, stayed on the truck and went on to California. Shoulder pads and helmets obviously was needed for practice, so they came back with the team to Mobile. Jersey’s and such went out to California. The stuff they needed for practice they will carry with them on the flight in bags when they leave on Friday.

It’s a very tedious process and has to be well thought out. Even more so when you have to get on a plane. They even continued to have meetings on Tuesday to tie up loose ends.

Lee asked about how USA uses tight ends. Most teams use one tight end if they use one at all. Typical teams that run the spread offense don’t even use a tight end. Coach Rodrigue said he thought Tight End was one of the most important positions on the field. They can be utilized in so many ways and South Alabama uses them in all of them. As a receiver, as a blocker and in the back field as a full back.During the course of a game, coach Rodrigue estimated that they probably use four different tight ends.

Lee asked Coach Jones why they use the tight ends so much. Coach Jones said that they want to be different. Coach Jones went to the spread in the late 90’s when everyone was running the I formation. Now seemingly everyone has transitioned to the spread with four wide.

So when they began to form the program, he knew he wanted to be different. They knew they had Brandon so they had a big strong back for a good running game, which is one thing they wanted to do, run the football. Coach Jones believes that championships are won by running the football. You can run out of the shotgun, but when you use tight ends, you spread the defensive front out. With four wide-outs, that defensive front shrinks and makes it harder to run.

But with a tight end detached from the line, you have more running lanes and also more passing opportunities. With tight ends in the game they have to still be concerned about the run. You can’t block a tight end with a cornerback and you can’t cover a tight end with a linebacker.

Coach Rodrigue also chimed in by noting that defensive coaches want to know, first off, what personnel are in the game. When a defensive coach first hears that they have two tight ends in the game they immediately think that they will be attached to the line and think run. But the South Alabama offense, by utilizing tight ends the way they do, they can pretty much do anything they want. USA can line up with two tight ends but an empty backfield.

With such a good running game, the tight end can easily get open for a pass on a play action pass.

A person emailed a question about the last two games and the Jags being 1-for-20 on 3rd down conversions. Coach Jones didn’t know about the stat but did say that they got quite conservative in the red zone and need to try to do that better.

Coach Jones previews some information about UC-Davis. They are a really good, sound football team. They won their conference last year and picked to win it again this year. They beat Stanford a couple years ago. Defensively they play really hard. While they may not be as athletic as some of the teams that USA has played, he said that they played better as a team. Special teams are good and limit turnovers. They aren’t going to make mistakes and give you the game. You have to go out there and beat them.

UC-Davis is really efficient throwing the ball, but they are trying to find a running game. Sometimes they run it well but it’s not consistent. When you are not balanced, teams try to exploit that and that’s what has happened to the Aggies.

Coach Rodrigue attributes their good practices and success in games to practicing early in the morning. He thinks they are wide eyed and haven’t gone through a day to have stuff lingering in their mind from a normal day of class and stuff. They are out there focused on football. Good practices leads to good games.

Someone asked how competitive the coaches think we would be against a Division I-A team. Obviously we have a ways to go to be competitive against the BCS schools but Coach Rodrigue thinks we could be competitive against some Division I teams, including being competitive in the Sun Belt. He thought our Achilles heel would be our lack of depth. Experience and depth would be negatives for our team.

After Three Weeks, The Jags Are Ready To Play

September 24, 2009 · Filed Under Football · Comment 

South Alabama students swinging their white towels during the schools first game against Hargrave Academy. Photo courtesy of Doug Roberts.

“This almost seems like our first game again because we’ve had two off weeks and there’s that kind of anticipation. We practiced four or five weeks for the first game, and now we’re practicing three weeks for the second ballgame,” USA head coach Joey Jones said at Media Day on Monday. “The anticipation is there, and I know our kids have really worked hard the last two weeks.”

It does not feel that way to the fans though. Everyone is itching to see the Jags on the field again for their follow up their 30-13 showing against Hargrave Academy. In the game the Jags had 429 yards of total offense which was lead by Brandon Ross with 139 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The entire team ran for 265 yards combined. Courtney Smith had five receptions for 104 yards and also scored the first points in program history on a 60 yard reception from Myles Gibbon with seconds to go in the first quarter.

At one point the Jags were up 20-0 before Hargrave began their attempt at a comeback.

The Black Knights of Army Prep come into Mobile with a 1-2 record. They opened the season with a 21-14 loss to Army’s junior varsity team then came back to win against Hudson Valley Community College (N.Y.) 46-44. They then lost last Friday 13-8 against Nassau Community College (N.Y.).

Army Prep runs the triple option on offense and a 3-5-3 formation on defense. As coach Jones has said in every talk since the Hargrave game, they are very disciplined. “Army Prep is a very disciplined program,” said Coach Jones. “Their offense is very hard to defend from a mental standpoint, you’ve got to be in the right places at the right times – we’ve been working on that for the last week or so. Defensively, they run a flex front, and it’s a little bit of a different front. Most people run a 4-3 or a 3-4, but they run a different front that we’re having to work on a little bit. They’ve got some good players, and we recruited some of the players on their team. I look for it to be a great ballgame this Saturday.”

Cornerback Jerron Mitchell said, “It’s all about being disciplined. Army’s coaching staff has done a great job with preparing their kids, making everything fundamentally sound. Coach Clark and his staff have done a great job with laying out the option figuring out ways to stop it.”

Offensive lineman Chris Brunson was confident in his teammates on the line. He said, “Army runs a different look. Their players are smaller but quicker, while Hargrave was bigger but more physical. But, we can still duplicate what we did against Hargrave.”

The parking lot will open at 8am at Ladd-Peebles Stadium and the gates will open at 2pm. Tickets can be purchased by contacting the USA Ticket Office or visiting the Mitchell Center ticket office until Friday at 5pm. Tickets will be then be available beginning at 10am at Ladd-Peebles.

Shuttles will be running from Bell Air Mall in the south parking lot behind Target and J.C. Penney to the stadium beginning at noon. Continuous service will be provided until 90 minutes after the game for a $2.50 charge for round-trip service. Also there will be buses running from campus to Ladd-Peebles stadium at 11am, noon, 1pm and 2pm, which will be free for students and $5 for round trip to all other individuals.

The Jaguars Sign Another Offensive Lineman From JuCo

January 7, 2009 · Filed Under Football · Comment 

Coach Jones announced that Jon Griffin, Offensive Lineman from Ventura Junior College from Ventura, California, has signed a National Letter-of-Intent. Griffin makes him the 10th Junior College player to commit to the USA Football Program.

As a freshman, Griffin and Ventura JuCo won the conference championship and claim the Southern California Bowl title. Last season they finished 5-5 overall going 5-3 in the Western State Conference. Their offense averaged 350 yard of total offense and just under 29 points per game. Griffin will join the other Junior College recruits, Heath Blount, Chris Brunson, Kevin Helms, Early James, Brian Krauskopf, Chris Payne, Steven Pease, Corey Pittman and Levi Slaydon as the first Junior College recruiting class for the USA Football program. All 10 players will begin class on Monday, January 12th and will participate in Spring practice scheduled to start in February.

Go Jags!