Southern linebacker Kentavious Preston has to be ready to play at a moment’s notice.
Preston, a backup, doesn’t have much experience, but his week practicing with the first-team defense after starter Demetrius Carter was sidelined with a mild case of turf toe has prepared the sophomore for the possibility of starting.
“It allowed me a chance to see and feel what it’s like going against the (first team),” Preston said. “Most of camp and early fall practice, I was going with the (second team), so when Carter went down, (linebackers coach Lorick) Atkinson told me it was time to step up. ... It gives me a boost of confidence, but it also lets me know that I have to do a lot more to get where I want to get.”
Preston isn’t completely without experience. As a freshman, he totaled 20 tackles while playing in all 13 games. He also posted 4.5 tackles for loss and an interception.
Preston is back with the second-team defense following Carter’s return Monday. Atkinson said he has seen significant development in Preston since last season and wouldn’t have any hesitation putting him in a game if needed. But Atkinson also said Carter is in no danger of losing his starting job.
“Kentavious is still going to get a lot of work,” Atkinson said. “We’re going to need that physical presence, especially (at Georgia) because they get downhill between the hedges, so we better have a more physical presence. I have no problem putting Kentavious in there.”
Atkinson said the biggest area for improvement for Preston is his weight. Preston is listed as 240 pounds but said he’s down to 236. His goal is to be at 230 by the season opener Sept. 5 against Louisiana Tech
“If he’s not careful, he’s going to have to put his hand down, and (defensive line coach Myron) Jackson will take him right now,” Atkinson said. “He’s had to work on his weight, but now he’s lost some weight and he’s in shape. If we get him to about 230, he’ll be a real physical presence for us.”
Looking to the future, Preston’s work with the starters is crucial because the Jaguars are set to lose seven linebackers to graduation. Freshmen Calvin Lunkins and Jordan Williams have received praise from the coaches for their high level of play during camp. While Williams is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season with a dislocated thumb, coach Dawson Odums said he was particularly impressed with the toughness he showed by trying to pop the joint back into place and return to practice.
“I think (the situation at linebacker) is unique because we have backups — we have talent here,” Odoms said.