Southern began the preseason with few doubts about who would be in its starting lineup.
Now that the preseason is winding down, the few preseason competitions at the top of the Jaguars depth chart seemed to have been settled — at least for the time being.
Performances in games and in practice can always produce promotions and demotions, but barring something unforeseen between now and Sept. 5, Southern seems to have settled on its first unit for the opener at Louisiana Tech.
Junior Nicholas McDonald, a native of New Orleans and incoming transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College, has passed Blake Monroe as the starter at strong safety. That spot was unexpectedly thrown into a competition when incumbent starter Bryan Anderson was declared academically ineligible before the start of preseason camp.
Redshirt sophomore Jamar Mitchell from Covington has held off a challenge from freshman Demerio Houston and sophomore Ki-Jana Curtis from Holy Cross to grab the second starting cornerback spot opposite Danny Johnson.
Eric Janeau will get the first crack at starting right tackle, but Skyler Prol continues to share first-team reps as the pair has done all preseason.
“Skyler’s going to get a lot of playing time,” coach Dawson Odums said.
Senior place-kicker Greg Pittman is expected to punt against Tech, but freshman Taylor Merritt is still in the mix.
Experienced starters on D
Overall, the Jaguars offense has more experience than the defense on the team’s two-deep.
But the projected starting lineup against Tech has defensive players who made a combined 82 starts last season and offensive players who made a combined 81.
That doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s harder to project the starting offense because aside from the offensive line and quarterback Austin Howard, the other five starters on offense could come in a variety of combinations among the wide receivers, tight ends and running backs depending on the formation Southern chooses to begin with. The starting 11 on defense is pretty well set.
Additionally, starting right guard Anthony Mosley was ineligible last season and would have started all 13 games if he had been eligible and stayed healthy. Starting wide receiver Randall Menard would have started every game if he had stayed healthy instead of suffering a season-ending toe injury in the season opener at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Starting linebacker Daniel Brown’s situation mirrors that of Mosley.
The bottom line is the young players on the second-team defense, including three freshmen, will have time to grow into their roles because of the experience ahead of them.
One game at a time
The first game week doesn’t begin until Monday, but the Jaguars already are focused on the Bulldogs. Southern’s second game — the Southwestern Athletic Conference opener at Mississippi Valley State — comes just five days after the opener.
But Odums said the Jaguars aren’t getting ahead of themselves by squeezing in any early work on Valley.
“We don’t have time to worry about that,” he said. “We’ll worry about them when we get to them.”
CST will televise live the Jaguars home game against Prairie View at 4 p.m. Oct. 17; the network will also show three Southern games on tape delay.
The tape-delay broadcasts feature the season opener at Louisiana Tech on Sept. 5 and home games against Alcorn State (Oct. 31) and Alabama A&M (Nov. 14). Each of those games will be shown at 7 p.m. the day after the game.
The Sept. 10 game at Mississippi Valley State will be shown live on ESPNU, the home opener against Jackson State (Sept. 19) will be shown on a tape delay on ESPNU, and the Bayou Classic against Grambling (Nov. 28) will be shown live on the NBC Sports Network.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.