Southern coach Dawson Odums is having to do his best Dr. Frankenstein impersonation this week as he tries to piece together a battered Jaguars roster.
Several injuries and an academic probation have the Jaguars staff shuffling players in the hopes of building a temporary stop gap in the depth chart, but Odums is far from panicking just yet.
“It’s just one of those roller-coasters that you’re going to have,” Odums said at his weekly luncheon press conference. “I told people all the time that the first four games of the season are going to challenge this football team because you’re going to get beat up, you’re going to get nicked up, and you won’t have as much depth.
“The next guy has to get ready, regardless or who it is.”
Sophomore cornerbacks Ki-Jana Curtis (shoulder) and Jamar Mitchell (hamstring) are listed as questionable this week. Curtis, who was originally listed as Mitchell’s backup, missed only last week, while Mitchell has been held back since preseason camp.
With Curtis and Mitchell sidelined, freshman Demerio Houston stepped up at the left cornerback spot last week and recorded a pair of tackles and an interception, warranting a comparison to the Jaguars’ first-team All Southwestern Conference cornerback Danny Johnson by Odums.
Having to reach so far into the depth chart, Odums pushed wide receiver Justin Morgan to play both sides of the ball as a backup to Houston and plans to keep him there for the foreseeable future.
But Odums considers Morgan — who had four tackles and an interception against Mississippi Valley State — and the other replacements to be more than just warm bodies to fill out a roster.
“They’ve got to play, and they will play a lot,” Odums said.
Whatever secondary Odums puts on the field, it’ll have to be ready for a strong passing attack from Jackson State.
The Tigers lead the Southwestern Conference in almost every passing statistic through the first two weeks of the season, including a conference-best 593 yards on 47-for-80 passing.
Southern won last year’s meeting between the programs, but not before Jackson State quarterback LaMontiez Ivy threw for 424 yards and three touchdowns on 32 completions.
“(Jackson State) is playing with confidence, even if the win column doesn’t say it,” Odums said. “They’re moving the ball up and down the field on anybody they play.
“There’s going to be some up and some downs — there always are in this rivalry — you just have to weather the storm and believe.”
The absence that created the most trouble for the Jaguars the past two weeks is nickleback Rhaheim Ledbetter’s academic probation.
Odums said he was still unsure of when the former transfer from Florida would return, but Ledbetter is expected to miss at least this week’s game.
Linebacker Martin Henry filled in for Ledbetter last week but is moving back to his original buck linebacker position, which means Roshaud Turner and Jamal Jenkins will split responsibilities at nickleback. Turner is expected to play in run situations, while Jenkins will take over on passing downs.
Mike linebacker Demetrius Carter is listed as questionable with a lower leg injury, as is backup Calvin Lunkins, whose injury was not disclosed. But Kentavious Preston is prepared to move from buck to mike if neither are able to go.
“We’re just adapting and overcoming all of the obstacles set against us,” Henry said.
“We’re taught to learn the whole playbook because you never know where you might be needed. The transitions weren’t too hard.”