The Southern passing game has featured a large cast of characters so far in preseason camp.
Even though three top receivers are sidelined, the permutations are nearly countless.
The Jaguars are trying to give four quarterbacks — Deonte Shorts, Francis Kanneh, Austin Howard and Jarrad Hayes — a fair opportunity to see what each can do before choosing a starter for the season opener at Louisiana-Lafayette on Aug. 30. So the reps are being divided four ways, and the quarterbacks are floating up and down the depth chart in the early days of preseason camp.
Wide receiver is arguably the deepest position on the team and that depth has been on display during the first eight days of practice. The sidelined veterans are Willie Quinn, who has yet to practice because of a jaw injury, Randall Menard (foot) and Justin Morgan (ankle), who were hurt earlier in camp.
“You just have to make sure you have the timing down because you get used to guys, then they get hurt,” Shorts said. “The new guys are stepping up. We just have to get used to them.”
Last year’s leading receiver, Lee Doss (78 catches, 1,172 yards and 11 touchdowns) is in training camp with the Washington Redskins. That leaves Quinn (57-753-7) and Menard (19-366-4) tops among the seven returning receivers who caught passes last season.
But in recent days, the primary targets have been Nico Talbert (10-134-3), Samuel Altman (15-212-1), Mike Jones (12-319-4) and Reggie Travis, a transfer from Memphis.
Others who have been in the mix are William Nolan-Waddel (5-85-0), Chuck Baker, Keith Miller, Devon Gales and Mason Ceasar.
With groups of two, three and four receivers being used, depending on the number of running backs and tight ends, keeping track of the receivers can be a challenge.
“We’ve got pretty good depth at the wide receiver positions,” Talbert said.
Altman said the receivers have been sticking to one position, whether it be one of the slot positions (H and Y) or one of the wideout positions (Z and X).
“We’re trying to master one position rather than trying to go at each position and not learn and of them best,” he said. “We’re focused on learning the plays and running the same routes day in and day out to develop muscle memory, so when the games come it’s second nature.”
Quinn is second-team preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference pick, Menard proved to be a big-play receiver as a first-year freshman last season and Morgan has been versatile, playing inside and outside and even rushing the football. His productivity in the running game last season (17 carries, 107 yards and one touchdown) surpassed his receiving statistics (9-61-0).
The quarterback competition is the marquee battle and is crowded with four participants, but the competition at receiver is pretty intense as well.
“The way I look at it,” Talbert said, “even though I’m a starter, I still have to prove myself every day. I have to keep working and show why I’m a starter. As long as I keep working I can keep starting.
“We’re all dangerous weapons. We all have an opportunity to do what we do best and we all can accomplish the same thing.”
Southern will have its first preseason scrimmage Saturday. The quarterback competition will be the center of attention, as will their targets in the passing game.
“During the summer, I worked with every receiver we have so I’m used to everybody,” Kanneh said. “We’ve got our timing down.”
The quarterbacks, each of whom is expected to get a chance with the first-team offense, will be working without some of the top weapons they figure to have once the season starts.
“The main thing is handling adversity when it comes to you,” Kanneh said.
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