When two of Southern’s top offensive linemen missed preseason practice with minor injuries last week, freshman guard Zach Brown got an instant promotion to the first team.
So far, coach Stump Mitchell said, Brown has made the most of his opportunity.
“No question,” Mitchell said.
“Zach Brown was here all offseason. He was in summer school. He made two As and one B in nine hours. So he did a fantastic job there, and he’s doing a fantastic job now, stepping in for some injured guys.”
Brown’s promotion came when sophomore left guard Taylon Jones suffered a minor wrist injury and missed several practice sessions last week. Though Jones returned in time to play in Saturday’s first preseason scrimmage, Brown, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound Houston native, played mostly with the first team.
“Guys missing practice - that’s giving this guy an opportunity to play,” Mitchell said. “He’s a competitor. He wants to be successful in every thing he (does). He really doesn’t want to settle or even redshirt. He wants to play.”
Another true freshman, Isaiah Webster, spent much of his time with the first team at right guard. Offensive line coach Paul Lounsberry said last week he’d tinker with the right side of the line, in part because right tackle Clinton Boyd missed three days with a minor shoulder injury. Since then, redshirt freshman Dwayne Houston and sophomore Aaron Hall both practiced at right guard and right tackle.
During Saturday’s scrimmage, Webster was with the first team at right guard. Houston was the first-team right tackle.
Asked about Brown and Webster, the true freshmen, Mitchell said: “Those guys are big bodies. If they get an understanding of the offense and coming off the ball (in) the first couple steps, they can wear some guys down in the first couple quarters - and then, in the third and fourth quarter, we should be able to move the ball the way we would like to do it.”
More rugby punts
Although Southern continues to work on a conventional punt formation, Mitchell said his team will occasionally utilize the rugby-style punt with strong safety Demetric Rogers - especially when the team is near midfield.
In the rugby-style formation, Rogers runs diagonally, toward the right sideline and the line of scrimmage. Rogers usually has the option to take off to try to make a first down or kick a low line-drive punt, designed to roll toward the goal line.
Although Rogers botched one punt attempt Saturday afternoon, hitting the ball off the side of his foot, Mitchell said he’s been pleased with most of Rogers’ kicks.
“The advantage of the rugby punt is to allow your cover team to get down there faster. So we’re going to take a chance,” Mitchell said. “We think we’ll have guys down there to cover. We gave up some big returns last year in punt areas. So it’ll be a part of what we do.”
Good day for Pettaway
Defensive coordinator O’Neill Gilbert said he liked what he saw Saturday from freshman cornerback LaMarkius Pettaway, who broke up several passes and had a chance at two interceptions (although he dropped them both).
“He has to get into a little bit better shape,” Gilbert said. “He got his hands on the ball three times, I think, and one of them would’ve been a pick-six. So he’s going to be a great addition for us.”
Pettaway, a native of Chattanooga, Tenn., enrolled at SU in January and joined the team in time for spring practice.
DT Williams to play
Freshman defensive tackle John Williams, a graduate of Dutchtown High, will almost certainly play this season, partly because Southern is thin at the position, Gilbert said.
“We have no choice. I mean, John’s a big body, and we’re short on big bodies,” Gilbert said.
“He’s an as-needed player. He’s a guy that we’re going to need to give us two or three good plays on a drive - just a big body who can hopefully lean on some people, keep the other team from pushing us around.”
At the moment, SU has only three defensive tackles - Dexter James, Brandon Turner and Casey Narcisse - with college experience.