FIVE TOP TOPICS
1. Can Ladarius Skelton pick up where he left off?
Southern may have been an ankle injury away from beginning 2019 as the reigning SWAC champion. Skelton rallied the Jaguars to a fourth-quarter lead in the conference title game at Alcorn State before the injury set him down. Now he’s coming in with five starts’ worth of experience, spring practice and summer workouts. He’s got his offensive line back intact, the team’s top rusher returns along with a host of experienced receivers. He went 4-1 as a starter and should burnish his reputation as a winner.
2. How big a hit is the loss of WR Kendall Catalon?
Dawson Odums got a curveball when his offensive captain and top receiver elected to transfer to Arkansas to play alongside his younger brother. That means Southern is without its top two receivers from 2018. Odums is counting on production from Hunter Register, who sat out the season with an injury, and other veterans such as Cameron Mackey and Jamar Washington, who combined for 30 catches. Catalon’s absence will test the team’s leadership, but the offense has numerous seniors who could fill that bill.
3. Can the Jaguars shore up their run defense?
The Jaguars played solid defensively in 2018 but will need to be better against the run, especially on run-pass option plays. That comes through strong technique, discipline on assignments and understanding the playbook concepts. Having veterans up front like Dakavion Champion and a strong presence in the middle like leading tackler Calvin Lunkins should add up to improvement. Stopping the run was a focal point of spring practice without any significant changes in the scheme. Odums says its just a matter of knowing the scheme and handling in-game adjustments.
4. Will Lionel Washington be a success?
With his 14-year NFL career as a cornerback and previous coaching stops, Lionel Washington brings swag as the coordinator to replace the highly respected Trei Oliver. But Southern also lost linebackers coach Steve Adams and promoted from within to fill the spot. Washington’s presence helps in that the only two starting positions with new faces are cornerback, but he’s going to have to get a grasp of how he needs to run the defense. Odums said he likes Washington’s ability to communicate with the players, which is essentially what coordinating is all about.
5. Will the Jaguars break their SWAC title drought?
Alcorn State is bringing back the league offensive MVP in quarterback Noah Johnson and is the favorite for a fourth SWAC title in six years. But the Jaguars showed how much ground they made up in pushing the Braves to the brink in the title game. The two teams will likely light up the scoreboard when they meet. Alcorn’s personnel losses in the defensive line may be the difference for Southern, which has more returning starters than any other league team. And Southern also has the motivational edge after falling just short in the championship game last year.
FOUR POSITION BATTLES
1. WIDE RECEIVER
Parties involved: WR coach Chris Coleman, Hunter Register, Cameron Mackey, T.J. Bedford, Corey Williams, Jamar Washington, Daelon Richardson
The scoop: Kendall Catalon’s transfer left a void, but Odums wants Register as a stabilizing force in experience and size. Bedford, a transfer from Texas State, caught a 65-yard TD pass in the spring game, and Mackey caught 14 balls last year. Washington is the leading returning receiver (16 catches).
Our prediction: Register should be a big target for Ladarius Skelton, with Bedford catching on quickly enough to grab the X-receiver spot. Mackey should get the other spot but watch out for speedy freshman Corey Williams.
Parties involved: DC Lionel Washington, Robert Rheim, Glenn Brown III, Jordan Eastling, O.J. Tucker
The scoop: This is the area of most concern on the defense, but Rheims and Brown have looked good coming off their freshman seasons. Rheims missed the spring game but Brown had an interception and two PBU’s. Tucker is a transfer from Iowa who will push for playing time because of his size.
Our prediction: Brown made a huge leap from his freshman year and should pair nicely with Rheims, both of whom have shown great instincts. Tucker might spot start to match up with bigger opposing receivers.
3. DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Parties involved: DL coach Skyler Jones, Davin Cotton, Robert Square, Cejae Bryant
The scoop: Cotton is the newcomer as an LSU transfer, and he brings a big body with great quickness. Robert Square, now a third-year sophomore, was in the rotation last year and won’t give up this spot without a fight. Bryant backs up nose tackle Dakavion Champion but will be in this rotation.
Our prediction: Cotton should win this spot next to Champion, giving Southern the best tandem in the conference. With Square and Bryant, the depth will be the best in years, beefing up a somewhat leaky run defense. The Jaguars allowed an average of 4.6 yards per attempt last season.
4. DEFENSIVE END
Parties involved: DL coach Skyler Jones, Jalen Ivy, Jordan Lewis, Joe Davis, Brad Porter
The scoop: One of the offseason projects was getting Jordan Lewis into the lineup full-time and it looks like that’s going to happen — even with Lewis at 195 pounds. Last year’s starters are gone with Jalen Ivy stepping up from a backup role and the ends’ play will help determine how much Southern’s run defense improves.
Our prediction: Lewis may not start but will play most of the snaps because of his pass rush ability. Ivy is on the other side, and Brad Porter will bring more bulk on running downs in relief of Lewis.
Friday: First practice
Aug. 7: First practice in pads
Aug. 10: First scrimmage
Aug. 17: Second scrimmage
Aug. 17: Fan Fest, 2 p.m.