This week, practice for the spring football season gets real for the Southern football team as the Jaguars work toward their first full-contact scrimmage Saturday.
Coach Dawson Odums said the scrimmage won’t be the usual 100-snap outing his program normally runs in fall camp, but scaled down appropriately with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and less preparation time in mind.
Southern opens its seven-week spring season Feb. 26, three weeks away, at Alabama State.
“It’s going to be 65-70 plays,” said Odums, who is entering his ninth season as head coach. “We’re going to work on simulating a football game, moving the ball in different areas, having officials out there, chains ... it’s been so long.
“The guys have to understand how to get lined up and get polished. We’re going to give our 1s (first team), 2s and 3s some live reps and reps with punting and field goal just to see our guys perform under pressure, hear those pads bang a little bit and see where we are physically. Are we ready to play a game? We’ll find out a lot about our team.”
Working around the pandemic restrictions, testing, time limits and players' classes has worked well so far. Odums said the team has had only one positive test for the coronavirus. He’s had some players return this week, including preseason All-Conference guard Jonathan Bishop, from injury and quarantine.
Odums said he was going to interchange his top three quarterbacks — Ladarius Skelton, Bubba McDaniel and John Lampley — and play by ear how the snaps are doled out.
“We’ll just rotate the quarterbacks through it, by series, by play count,” Odums said. “We want to give the top-tier guys a chance to go with the 1s. They each make get one series with the 1s or one series with the 2s, depends on the play count.
“It’s not going to be the type of scrimmage our guys are accustomed to. We’re not going to knock each others’ helmets off. We’ve had enough reps at practice to gauge where we are.”
Odums said he’s looking for players to emerge in two particular position groups: wide receiver and safety. The Jaguars lost go-to wide receiver Hunter Register, and several are vying for the role. He’s also looking to replace safeties Montavious Gaines and Benjamin Harris.
The Jaguars will also be breaking in five new assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Zach Grassi.
Odums said the most of the preparation work for Alabama State has already been done since the Jaguars were scheduled to play the Hornets in the fall. Specific game-planning will begin a week before game week, which will be shortened since the game is set for Friday.
“We did some offseason scouting already,” Odums said. “We’ll look at the coaching staff to see if there are any changes and if they have pretty much the same staff, we can get a good gauge. This year is different; you have to have a good understanding who you are.
“That first game is always a little scary. You speculate someone is going to do something (different).”
The Hornets return one of the tops backs in the league, Ezra Gray, who rushed for 654 yards and two touchdowns in 2019. Defensive lineman Christian Clark and defensive back Naytron Culpepper were both named to the preseason All-SWAC team.
Bayou Classic notes
Kickoff for the Bayou Classic in Shreveport has been set for 1:30 p.m. April 17 at Shreveport’s Independence Stadium. The Classic is scheduled to return the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Nov. 27.
Odums declined to comment on the rumors that Alcorn State will opt out of the spring season, depriving Southern of one of its two home games March 27. The SWAC office has not received word from the school on the matter, although at least two media outlets citing anonymous sources said the Braves won’t play the spring season.
“I haven’t thought that much about it and haven’t heard any kind of confirmation,” Odums said. “I’m concentrating on the Jaguars. It’s unfortunate. I think each school, each state, each city has its own challenges.”