The Southern football team held its final preseason scrimmage Saturday inside A.W. Mumford Stadium, and as head coach Stump Mitchell said, it wasn’t your typical take-it-easy dress rehearsal.
Unlike last season, when starters barely participated with one week to go before the season opener, this year’s final rehearsal was more comprehensive, for two major reasons: 1) the team needed a little extra work, and 2) during the regular season, Southern must take Sunday and Monday off because of NCAA-mandated practice limitations.
As it turned out, Southern’s coaching staff also had a few things to work on during Saturday’s scrimmage, as well.
Mitchell said he’ll have four assistant coaches in the LP Field press box at 6 p.m. Saturday, when the Jaguars face Tennessee State. They are administrative assistant/offensive coordinator Ricky Diggs, quarterbacks coach Chad Germany, defensive line coach Tayrone Odums and secondary coach Donnie Henderson.
With his two defensive assistants in the press box, coordinator O’Neill Gilbert might feel a little lonely.
He’ll be the only defensive coach on the sideline.
“I’m experimenting with it,” Gilbert said, “because the fact is, we need more eyes up than down.”
Gilbert and his staff used the scrimmage to figure out how quickly he and his assistant coaches can handle their duties between snaps.
The real trick, he said, is getting the right players on the field.
“We personnel-match everybody,” Gilbert said.
In other words, if the other team comes out with four wide receivers, Gilbert wants to counter with six defensive backs.
So the press-box coaches must identify the opposing team’s personnel, then relay it to Gilbert, who must then decide his personnel package and make a play-call.
The task was a little easier last year, when the team had then-linebackers coach Mike Jones and graduate assistant Mark Frederick in the press box, with Gilbert and then-secondary coach Otis Flowers on the sideline.
But Jones left to become head coach at Lincoln University, and he hired Frederick as offensive coordinator.
The Jaguars never replaced Frederick, leaving the defensive staff without a graduate assistant. In other words, they’re a man short.
Since preseason camp began, Gilbert has used strength-and-conditioning coach Lavell Williams, a former Texas Tech running back, to help get the right players on the field.
“He’s getting better, and we’ll have less players on the sideline, so that’ll be easier,” Gilbert said. “But it’s like anything: A game run will tell the story. Everything speeds up.”
OL Jones up to first team
Sophomore guard Taylon Jones returned to the first-team offense during Saturday’s scrimmage and could start the season opener at right guard, Mitchell said.
Jones, a starter last season at left guard, practiced for most of preseason camp with a wrist injury and lost his starting job to true freshman Zach Brown.
But the team struggled in pass protection for much of the past week, trying Isaiah Webster, Donald Glover and Aaron Hall at different points.
“I think the offensive line got better,” Mitchell said. “I thought Taylon Jones did a good job at right guard. He moves well. He comes off the ball.”
Playing time for LB Brown
Another true freshman, linebacker Daniel Brown, saw plenty of action with the first-team defense Saturday.
Evidently, that was more than just an experiment.
Though Gilbert didn’t say Brown will start, he made it clear he intends to play the 6-foot-2, 235-pound New Orleans native at middle linebacker against Tennessee State.
Fifth-year senior Corey Ray is known as a hard hitter, but he had offseason surgeries on both shoulders.
“We need depth to go along with experience,” Gilbert said.
“Tennessee State is going to run the football at us, and we need to match their intensity with our middle linebacker against their fullback. The game is going to be won between the Mike linebacker and the fullback. They’re going to run the Iso (isolation, a power-running call that employs a tailback lined up behind a fullback with the offense in an I-formation) at us all day long. That’s what they like to do.”
Southern in openers
Southern is 4-6 in season openers over the past 10 seasons, with wins over Mississippi Valley State (2003), Bethune-Cookman (2006), Florida A&M (2007) and Delaware State (2010).
SU lost openers to Northwestern State (2001), Tulane (2002), McNeese State (2004), Mississippi Valley (2005), Houston (2008) and Louisiana-Lafayette (2009).
The ’05 opener was supposed to be at McNeese State, but the game was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina.
Mitchell is 1-3 as a head coach in season openers, his only win coming last season against Delaware State. Mitchell was 0-3 in openers while at Morgan State from 1996-98.