After the first preseason practice at Southern, defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said he was thrilled with the sheer number of linebackers he has on hand — a stark contrast from last season, when injuries and attrition left the Jaguars paper-thin at the position.
“We’ve got so many linebackers now, I think they’re going to try to move a couple of my guys over to the safety spot,” Gilbert said.
Apparently, he wasn’t joking.
Sophomore linebacker Anthony Balancier spent much of Friday morning’s practice at strong safety — a move suggested by head coach Stump Mitchell.
Is it permanent?
“I want it to be,” Mitchell said. “It will be for now, because I want to get the best 11 guys on the field.”
Mitchell said the move is at least possible because two other newcomers, Jamie Payton and Corry Roy, have proven to be starting-caliber linebackers so far.
Payton, a former Dutchtown High School standout, played the last three seasons at Lambuth University, which closed this summer. Roy is a junior transfer from Eastern Arizona Community College.
“Jamie Payton, Corry Roy and Anthony Balancier are three of the top 11 players that we have on defense,” Mitchell said. “There ain’t a question in my mind about that.”
Balancier was an out-of-nowhere surprise last season. A New Orleans native and the son of an SU alumnus, he walked on to the team as a true freshman and quickly moved toward the top of the depth chart, playing extensively as a weakside linebacker.
Though only a part-time starter, Balancier finished with 45 tackles, one interception and one fumble recovery.
Mitchell said he believes the position change can work because Balancier (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) was a safety at McDonogh 35 High School.
“Anthony, he and I talked. He said he prepared all offseason to be at outside linebacker,” Mitchell said. “But Anthony — even though he played OK here, he didn’t play as well as Jamie played at Lambuth. And Anthony has three years left. He’s got the body of a grown man.”
Rough day for punters
Mitchell, who observed kicking specialists Jamie Galvin and Matthew Hill for much of Friday’s drills, said he was none too pleased with their punting performances on the second day of camp.
If they don’t improve, Mitchell said, the team might utilize a rugby-style punting formation, in which the punter runs diagonally toward the line of scrimmage, then kicks a low line drive toward the receiving team.
“I’m not a big fan of the rugby punt,” Mitchell said, “but if we have to do it, that’s what we’ll do.”
Of the two kickers, Hill, a sophomore, has the stronger leg — but he only played soccer at East Central (Miss.) Community College last season, and to Mitchell’s knowledge, Hill has never punted before.
“All we need to do is get his mind up to where his leg is,” Mitchell said. “And I think he’s going to be pretty darn good.”
Missing from camp
After two days of preseason camp, senior defensive tackle Jonathan “Tank” English has not yet joined the team. Mitchell said English “had some academic work to do” this summer and took classes “at another school,” though the credits should be transferable to Southern.
“Hopefully, in a couple weeks, he will be eligible,” Mitchell said.
English had 15 tackles in six games last season.
Elsewhere, linebacker John White, who had 48 tackles as a freshman, will be academically ineligible this season, Mitchell said. So, too, is receiver Richard Wilson, who led the team with 30 kickoff returns as a sophomore.
Tickets for the Nov. 26 Bayou Classic will go on sale Monday at the SU ticket office inside the A.W. Mumford Field House, as well as Ticketmaster outlets and the New Orleans Arena box office. ... RB Brandon Rice, LB Demetrius Bentley and WR LaQuinton Evans battled cramps Friday, though only Bentley missed the entire practice. ... TE Javon Jordan (tendinitis) missed practice for the second day. ... The team will practice at 9 a.m, Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, then at 9 a.m. Monday and Tuesday. The first full-gear two-a-day session is Wednesday.