Jags Ready To Embark On Toughest Season Yet

August 31, 2012 · Filed Under Football · Comment 

On the eve of South Alabama’s season opener against Texas-San Antonio it’s a good time to look at what this season means to the program. After three seasons, the first two undefeated, and a 23-4 record the Jaguars are about to embark on their most challenging quest yet.

Last season they stepped up and faced two FBS teams, the first in the programs history. This season, they will face their first full Division I schedule. The only non FBS school on the schedule is FCS Nicholls State. Additionally, with the Hawaii rule, the Jags will play 13 games in 14 weeks this season including a full eight game Sun Belt schedule.

This is what the Jaguars have been working towards for the last several years. When they take the field, they will be a transitional FBS member.

Coach Jones can finally guage where his team stands in the FBS pecking order. “I think the biggest challenge for us, especially early, will be the depth on our team,” he Jones. “We’ve been recruiting to Division I really just this year. Now that doesn’t mean we don’t have any Division I football players, we do. But do we have the depth that everybody else has because they’ve been recruiting for a while and have 85 scholarships and D-1 players? I would think that will probably be the biggest issue, depth, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.”

What about this season’s schedule? “The most difficult thing is playing 13 games in 14 weeks for us and playing pretty much all Division I opponents,” Jones said. “Whereas in past years we’ve played seven, 10 and 10 (games per season), we had some off weeks and some time to get ready for games. You’re going to get your three or four days of practice and that’s going to be it, then you’re going to have to move on to your next game.”

Gone is offensive coordinator Greg Gregory and in is Robert Matthews brining the spread to South Alabama. Matthews, who learned the spread at Oklahoma State and Southern Miss, will bring a completely different attitude to the offensive side of the ball. The offense will run as quickly as possible with a no-huddle tempo that is designed to keep the defense off guard and guessing what is coming next. Plus it is designed to take advantage of the depth South Alabama has at the skill positions.

The offensive line is where the biggest unknown is located coming into this season. Gone are three starters from the previous two seasons. However back is senior Trey Clark and sophomore Melvin Meggs. In steps Drew Dearman, Chris May and Shaun Artz. Also a second string, Ucambre Williams and possibly Kentucky transfer James Elliott if he receives a hardship waiver from the NCAA. But this is the biggest offensive line the Jaguars have had in it’s short history.

Behind the line, there is plenty of talent on the roster. C.J. Bennett returns as the starter with Virginia transfer Ross Metheny as his backup and redshirt freshman Trey Fetner as the third quarterback. The South Alabama backfield is also stocked with talent. Back are Demetre Baker, Kendall Houston and Ellis Hill from last season along with Brandon Ross returning from a knee injury and redshirt freshman Terrance Timmons among others ready to contribute. At wide receiver back are Jereme Jones, Bryant Lavender, T.J. Glover, Corey Besteda and Tyrome Bivins with true freshman Cameron Broadnax who showed plenty of skill in preseason camp. With two tight ends graduating, Greg Hollinger moved over from wide receiver joining JuCo transfer Wes Saxton to fill their positions.

The defense is arguably the strength of the team. Led by Jake Johnson, the linebackers are the heart of the defense, with Clifton Crews, Enrique Williams, Maleki Harris, Bryson James, Ben Giles and Cordivido Grice to help him out.

The defensive front will need to put more pressure on opposing quarterbacks than in past seasons. Returning ends Anthony Taylor, Romelle Jones, Alex Page and Will Thompson will be joined by JuCo transfer Pat Moore to help towards that goal. At nose and tackle positions they return Randon Carnathan and Andy Dalgleish, who lead the group last season, with help from Montavious Williams, Rodney Thomas and Shane Doty (who moved from offensive line).

In the secondary, Alabama transfer B.J. Scott has stepped up as a leader. The staff focused their recruiting efforts to find more help there too. Darrius Morrow and Tyrell Pearson both come in and are expected to start. Alonzo Long will suit up next to Scott at free safety. Gabe Loper should get playing time as he is the returning secondary player with the most interceptions last season.

Michel Chapuseaux takes over the placekicking duties with Scott Garber also returning to handle punts.

“We want to be competitive. We want to win every game that we play,” head coach Joey Jones said. “That’s our goal. Now, is that going to be tough to do? Sure. I understand that it will be. The bottom line is I don’t want to cut our kids short in what we’re doing. We’re going to prepare and we’re going to go out there and prepare to win. But we also know there’s a difficult schedule ahead of us and we’ve got to step up each week. I think that our kids probably will play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder this year. Bottom line, every week that we play we’ve got to prove something. Anybody that we beat will be a big deal. We’re representing a lot of people, not just our football program but the university.”

The schedule will be tough. After UTSA and Nicholls State, the Jags travel to N.C. State again and Mississippi State before returning home for their first-ever Sun Belt Conference game against Troy. Troy, whom most expect will quickly develop into one of the leagues best rivalries, will mark the first part of the season. After their one and only off week, the Jags then visit the SBC defending champion Arkansas State. Then the downhill stretch of FAU (home), ULM (away), FIU (home), North Texas (away), MTSU (home), ULL (away) and their “bowl game” of the season at Hawaii.

If you only count wins and losses as the measuring stick for a season, it could be a difficult season. But if you expand your criteria for this team that will be completing it’s two year FBS transition at the conclusion of this season, you may be surprised.

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.