Currently on Southern coach Dawson Odums' mind: the holes he needs to fill on his roster and his excitement for his team to go through spring practice for the first time in a long time.
The departure of a large and productive senior class will be the latest hurdle for Odums and his coaching staff to fill, and it will have to do so with limited scholarship numbers, making it even more challenging. Odums hinted at the type of players he may try to find to fill those gaps.
One thing that will ease that burden is the return of spring practice, which Odums believes will allow him to develop some players that he believes were undernourished from a training perspective because of the lack of spring drills.
Odums spoke with the Advocate about what he expects to happen over the course of the offseason.
Southern's 2017 season ended the same way its 2016 season did: The Jaguars got to the final week of the regular season with a chance to reach …
The Advocate: What is your top priority this offseason?
Odums: We’ve got to get longer receivers. In 2017, we spent time trying to get slot receivers. This class will be about long, outside receivers. We’re going to go from there.
The Advocate: Do you know how many players you are going to sign in this upcoming class?
Odums: I don’t know. We’re going to try to stretch it out. We’ve got scholarship reductions, so what you’ve got to figure out is you’ve got 58 (scholarships), and 58 don’t go a long way. We’ve got to figure out who is leaving, who is on (scholarship), and you’ve got to try to take that money and get the best 10-12-13 guys you can get.
We’ve got to get the right guys. It puts a lot of pressure on us not to miss in recruiting. We’ve got to have the right chemistry, the right locker room, the right guys. You look at the class we just signed — a lot of those guys got redshirted this year. That is a plus. This offseason, having spring (practice), is going to pay dividends for those guys.
The big loophole for our football team is that each year, I redshirt guys, and our guys who were sitting out never had spring ball to develop. We never got a chance to see what those guys were about.
This will be the first class that sits out where we’re able to go through spring ball and work on fundamentals with these guys. We can tackle in the spring now to where we don’t have to go November to August without putting on pads. That is going to help our football team. You should see a lot different team at the start of the season versus what you’ve been seeing with us at the beginning of the season. We don’t have to figure it out in August now — we’ll have a better idea of our team going into August.
I think we’re going to get long receivers. We’re going to have to address the quarterback issue. Those are the two biggest positions. You’re always looking for quality O-linemen and D-linemen. We lost a tight end; we’re going to have to address the issue of getting another tight end. At running back, we’ve got four or five running backs; we’re going to have to address the issue of maybe looking at a different kind of running back. But for the most part, we’ve got all the pieces here.
We’re going to have to address quarterback. I think we’ve got good ones here. We want another one in the mix. We’re going to have to look at whether or not we look at a guy that’s got some experience, a transfer or a JUCO, but a lot of the pieces of the puzzle are already here. We’re a few guys away from making this thing enjoyable again.
The Advocate: How do you see that quarterback competition shaking out this spring? Are all four guys you currently have returning?
Odums: I do (anticipate the quarterbacks returning), but you never know. Nobody has said anything to me about not coming back, so I think they know it’s going to be wide open. We’re going to go from there.
The Advocate: Does Lampley serving as the backup in the latter portion of the season give him a leg up going into the spring? Does that even matter?
Odums: We won’t know more about those guys until the spring to see how they process information, to see how much they recall, to see how much better they get in the weight room between now and spring ball. We’ve got time, but it’s going to be a position we watch in the spring.
The Advocate: Just so I’m clear, there is no guy right now who will go into the spring as the top guy at quarterback?
Odums: No. It’s a piece of paper with a bunch of names wrote in pencil.
The Advocate: Do you have an update on Randall Menard? Is he still going to look for a sixth year of eligibility?
Odums: That’s the plan, but I don’t know the ruling on it. I haven’t gotten anything on it.
The Advocate: With those four head coach openings in the SWAC, do you anticipate any members of your staff getting looks?
Odums: Not really. I think the four jobs that are open are probably looking for someone that is proven as a head coach, because you’re behind. You’re behind and you probably don’t have a lot of resources. You’re probably struggling a little bit. So you’re probably looking for a coach that can build a program. I don’t know if they are looking at any coordinators for those jobs. Those are tough jobs, man. You’ve got to have the right philosophy to turn around a program, and you’ve got to be proven that you can get a culture to buy in and turn it around. That is the biggest thing, to change the culture.
The Advocate: Your team took a step forward defensively this year, especially toward the end of the year, and you are bringing a lot back. What can you tell me about that unit going into next year?
Odums: They’ll get better, because they are going to have spring ball. We’ve got a lot of guys coming back. You’ve got to also remember we had an interim strength coach from January to July, so we missed some quality time in the weight room. We had our deficiencies. But I think the weight room is going to pay off and pay dividends.
The Advocate: Special teams were kind of an adventure at times this year. Are you looking for the specialists in particular to take a step forward this offseason?
Odums: Yeah, I think we’ll do some evaluation and see where we go from there. It’s a combination of things. Our field-goal kicker, for him to be a true freshman, he didn’t do a bad job for us. I think he’s going to get better. It means something to him. Punting, we’re going to have to evaluate. We finished the year with a walk-on punter. It was just inconsistent. We are going to have to decide on what we’re going to do going forward and do a better job evaluating and making sure that we’ve got the right guy back there. We’ve got some guys; they are just inconsistent.