The Southern football team’s depth chart has been revised over and over again since the start of preseason camp in August.
Much of it is the result of the usual emergence of players who earn additional playing time, as well as attrition after injuries.
But Southern also has lost several players to academic ineligibility or pending academic certification. A few players who were withheld while awaiting certification have been reinstated.
The competition for playing time and injuries could provide more changes during the last five games of the season, but the certification drama has pretty much played out.
So when Southern returns from an open date to visit Jackson State on Saturday (6 p.m., CST), it will have its strongest and most stable depth chart of the season.
“If you look at the pieces of this puzzle,” coach Dawson Odums said, “we get a new piece each week, and we keep trying to put it together. We’re growing together.”
Here’s a position-by-position look at where the Jaguars (4-3, 3-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) stand at their first open date:
Though former starter Deonte Shorts might be healthy enough to play Saturday after missing the past four games with an injury, freshman Austin Howard has emerged as the leader of the offense.
Howard has had ups and downs and has turned the ball over eight times, but his passing ability gives him an important edge on Shorts, and he showed poise in driving the Jaguars to a last-minute, game-winning touchdown at Alabama A&M on Oct. 11.
Shorts, who is a more athletic runner than Howard, isn’t out of the picture, but Howard is the primary guy under center.
The deepest position on the team became one of the thinnest, and now it’s getting deep again.
The arrival of three talented transfers — Malcolm Crockett, Jamarcus Jarvis and Tyre Bracken — to join last year’s top rusher, Lenard Tillery, gave Southern remarkable depth in the backfield to begin the season.
But when Jarvis, Crockett and Bracken went down with injuries, it was left to Tillery to carry the load, with help from John West and Herbert Edwards. The running game remained relatively effective, and Crockett and Jarvis have returned. So the Jaguars head into the stretch run with plenty of depth, and they hope to get Bracken back at some point to return to full strength.
Brian McCain has been the primary fullback, though he has moved into the starting lineup at linebacker and gotten fewer snaps on offense.
This position has been much like running back. Its depth was put to the test by key losses, but the worst appears to be over.
Randall Menard was lost for the season when he suffered a toe injury on the first possession of the season, and Mike Jones later missed three games with an ankle injury.
Jones returned against Alabama A&M to bolster a group that has gotten big plays from Willie Quinn, Justin Morgan and Reggie Travis. Sam Altman also has contributed.
The Jaguars began SWAC play with an impressive 34-24 victory at Prairie View on Sept. 20, and one of the keys to that win was a power running game that featured the tight ends as blockers.
The tight ends aren’t frequent targets in the passing game, but Bradley Coleman, Dillon Beard and Montrell Jones have proved capable of making plays when given an opportunity.
This unit was expected to have four starters back from last year’s team, but only right tackle Dewayne Houston is starting at the position he was projected to occupy.
The maneuvering began when right guard Anthony Mosley, a preseason All-SWAC first-team selection, was declared academically ineligible. Zack Brown moved into his spot from left guard, and Jamal Boulden took over there.
Left tackle Reginald Redding was sidelined by a concussion and uncertainty about his eligibility, so Eric Janeau took over there. Center Brandon Thibodeaux was sidelined by an injured ankle early in the season, putting Terrell Lee in that spot.
Redding, Thidobeaux and Brown, who was sidelined by a neck stinger in the second half at Alabama A&M on Oct. 11, are healthy, and the improving depth has contributed to the line playing its best the past two weeks.
This has been one of the more stable areas of the team, with ends Arthur Miley and Donald Phillips and nose tackle Gabe Echols starting. The last remaining certification issue involves nose tackle Jaylen Jordan, whom the Jaguars hope to have back soon.
One of the biggest academic losses was that of outside linebacker Daniel Brown. Aaron Tiller got the first opportunity to replace Brown, then Roshaud Turner stepped in and Martin Henry started against A&M. Southern is looking for more stability.
Middle linebacker Javon Allen has been sidelined after hand surgery, and McCain has stepped into the starting lineup. The other outside linebacker, Demetrius Carter, leads the team in tackles.
This area was weakened by eligibility concerns, then strengthened by reinstatements. Freshmen Danny Johnson and Brian Anderson quickly emerged as playmakers, and veterans D’Andre Woodland, Dionte McDuffy and Kevin King have been reinstated to round out a unit anchored by Rhaheim Ledbetter.
Quinn and Johnson both have 98-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns, and the Jaguars lead the SWAC in kickoff returns. Paul Randle Soden and the punt team are third in the SWAC in net punting.
Kicker Greg Pittman missed the first three games after arthroscopic knee surgery, but the open date should help him get stronger.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.