Southern coach Dawson Odums established the theme for spring football practice at the outset.
When the team convened before dawn last Wednesday for the first of 15 practices, Odums mentioned the theme and continued to through the first week of practice, which concludes Sunday.
“Our theme this whole spring is your ‘get to’ versus your ‘go to,’ which really works the mindset,” Odums said. “The difference is, you say, ‘I get to go to practice and get better today. I get to go to class and get better today,’ not that ‘I’ve got to go, so I’m just going to go and not do what I’m really supposed to do.’
“It’s your ‘get to’ versus your ‘go to’ so it’s a big mindset point. Everything else just comes down to discipline, execution and fundamentals.”
In addition to working on their mindset and fundamentals, several Jaguars are adjusting to expanded roles for next season.
The offense gets to replace the All-Southwestern Athletic Conference pitch-and-catch tandem of quarterback Dray Joseph and wide receiver Lee Doss.
Joseph’s replacement will emerge from a battle of inexperienced players, meaning the wide receivers not only have to replace Doss’ production but they have to help a young quarterback develop.
“We all come together and fill in for lost spots, fill in the blanks,” wide receiver Justin Morgan said. “When (Doss) left, we lost a whole combination. We have people coming in and stepping up to fill in the blanks. We have more people to incorporate into the offense.”
The Jaguars return their next seven leading wide receivers after Doss from last season, which should be a comfort to the new quarterback.
“We just need to get the quarterbacks on the same page with us,” Morgan said. “We need to get our timing down on routes and make sure they’re comfortable with us. We need to let them know we’re 100 percent behind them and stay after practice and run routes until they’re comfortable.”
Morgan said the first practice went “very smooth” despite “a little rust.” He said there’s a different mood this spring as the Jaguars come off their first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in 10 years.
“It’s like we got a monkey off our back,” he said. “There’s a little more upbeat tempo because we finally accomplished something. It’s definitely more lively out here.”
The running game should also help the quarterback grow into a starting role. It should get a big boost with the return of fullback Brian McCain, who missed all of last season after breaking his left foot in fall camp.
“It’s just exciting for me to be back out here with the team,” McCain said. “I’m just trying get better every day and provide any help where it’s needed.”
McCain, a senior from Chicago, was used mostly as a blocking back two years ago but was poised to take on a bigger role before the injury.
“He provides leadership, and he’s a great guy in the locker room,” Odums said. “You know he’s going to do everything in class and on the field and you’re getting a captain back. We would have run a lot more last year if he had been around.
“He has Sunday potential. He’s as strong as an ox, has decent 40 speed and he doesn’t mind sticking his nose in there. He can catch the ball out in the flats. He brings an added dimension to our offense.”
Linebacker Daniel Brown also is ticketed for a bigger role even though he had a significant one last season. He is the leading returning tackler, having finished second to fellow linebacker Anthony Balancier and just ahead of fellow linebacker Franchot West in 2013. Both Balancier and West exhausted their eligibility.
“I’m a senior this year, so I’ve got to take on more of a leadership role, being more of a coach on the field,” Brown said. “It’s about getting everybody to cooperate and getting the communication down while we’re on the field. I’m trying to coach up the younger players so everybody’s on the same page and buying into coach Odums’ philosophy.
“We know we have the talent; we just have to make sure everybody is focused. People are more in tune with everything we’re doing. We saw last year that everything we worked on to make the program better worked, and we’re going into it more in depth.”