Southern is getting close to figuring out its starting offensive line and its rotation.
It’s also preparing for the unexpected.
Offensive line coach Chennis Berry insists on players practicing on both sides of the line and sometimes at multiple positions to be prepared for unexpected, though not necessarily unlikely, developments.
“His motto is you stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” tackle Eric Janeau said.
The importance of that approach was driven home to the Jaguars last season.
“It came in very handy,” guard Jamal Boulden said.
All-Southwestern Athletic Conference guard Anthony Mosley was declared academically ineligible before the season started. Two linemen were pulled from the team bus before it left for the season opener at Louisiana-Lafayette because they weren’t academically certified. Tackle Reginald Redding missed several games because of a concussion.
Berry prefers to rotate seven or eight linemen, but the mixing and matching last season led to 13 linemen playing and 11 starting at least one game.
Last summer, Boulden prepared to play left guard, then was switched to right guard at the last minute for the opener, then switched back to left guard for the rest of the season.
“Coach Berry likes guys to be able to play the left side and he right side,” Boulden said. “He also wants guys that can play guard, center and tackle, so if something happens in a game and someone has to move, the ship doesn’t slow down.”
Boulden remains the starter at left guard, though Allan Spry is pushing for playing time. The most competitive spot has been at right tackle where Janeau, who played more left tackle than right last season, began preseason camp as the starter and Skyler Prol has been the starter the past few days.
“The competition is intense every day,” said Janeau, whose footwork reflects the fact that he arrived at Southern as a tight end. “I’ll be with the ones one day and Skyler will be the ones the next. We switch to make sure everybody is up to speed.”
Berry said Prol, a redshirt sophomore from Pendelton, Indiana, “has a chance to be something special.”
“He’s very athletic,” Berry said. “He can bend, he can run, he can move in space.”
Prol, 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, redshirted two years ago and played primarily on the punt team last season. Since the Jaguars didn’t have spring practice because of NCAA sanctions he tried to prepare for an expanded role by working during the offseason on “technique, technique, technique.”
“This is my year to shine,” Prol said.
Berry has the rest of the preseason to sort out left guard and right tackle, but the other three spots are settled. Redding is the left tackle, Terrell Lee is the center and Mosley is back at right guard.
The only linemen to start all 13 games last season — right guard Zach Brown and right tackle Dewayne Houston — ran out of eligibility. But their loss was mitigated by the return of Mosley.
“Mosley is the heart and soul of the whole group,” Berry said. “Mo is the emotional leader as well. Getting Mo back is huge. Losing Zach and Houston is huge as well but getting Mo back adds that emotional lift that we need.”
A few freshmen could wind up on the two-deep, including Collin Lagarde, who Berry said, like Prol, has a chance to be special.
Lagarde is working at both guard spots, but primarily at right guard.
Jaylon Brinson is the No. 2 center and Mason Sims and Jodeci Harris are working at tackle and guard.
“I’m so excited about the young guys, the new guys that I got,” Berry said.” We’ve got depth and competition.”
Berry said that having backups he has confidence in allows him to move players around — and not just to get them experience at different spots.
“You either have a good rep or a bad rep,” Berry said. “If your bad reps start to outweigh your good reps, then I apply a little bench therapy — and bench therapy will get you mind right.”
The Jaguars returned to practice Wednesday afternoon after taking a break from the heat by cancelling Tuesday’s scrimmage. “We had seven straight days of work in 100-plus (temperatures),” coach Dawson Odums said. “They were fatigued. They needed a day. It’s back to business as usual.” … Southern’s practices Thursday and Friday will be closed, but Saturday’s scrimmage will be open to the public. It’s scheduled for 9:15-11:15 a.m. at the Louisiana Leadership Institute.
Follow Les East on Twitter: @EastAdvocate.