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Southern quarterback Ladarius Skelton holds the ball out as he crosses the goal line during their game against Jackson State on Nov. 16, 2019, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Miss.

Don’t expect many changes from the spring version of Southern football. The Jaguars will be built around a strong running game and line on offense and a defense looking to plug replacements into some key spots.

The Jaguars are halfway through their six-week practice schedule moving toward the Feb. 26 season opener at Alabama State. Saturday gave the coaching staff its first look at live scrimmaging and coach Dawson Odums expects to lean on a strong running game and solid defense when the pieces come together.

“The rushing and passing games will be complementary,” Odums said. “We have really good running backs. We have to find a way to get those guys the ball. When we get them the ball they’ve been very productive.

“Defensively, we’re making sure it’s not complicated, and we give our guys a chance. We’re making sure communication is where it needs to be. You can see the shell of the team, we’re trying to get it to come together. We’re trying to get guys back that have been out for a while.”

Southern was the SWAC’s No. 1 rushing team in 2019, averaging 228 yards per game. With Devon Benn, Jarrod Sims and Craig Nelson returning in the backfield, that position group is the strength of the team. Benn is a preseason All-Conference pick after rushing for 806 yards and seven TDs. Sims added 397 yards and four TDs in a late season push. Nelson is expected to make a bigger contribution as a third down back because of his receiving skills.

Quarterback Ladarius Skelton is actually the biggest running threat as an option quarterback. Skelton led the Jaguars with 870 yards and 14 touchdowns but his struggles in the passing game have created stiff competition from Bubba McDaniel and John Lampley, both of whom have seen significant playing time in the past two seasons.

The offensive line has been in some disarray with key members out, but Odums said guard Jonathan Bishop, a preseason All-SWAC choice, was set to return for Saturday’s scrimmage. He and tackle Ja’Tyre Carter are the only returning starters. Bishop’s absence has given multiple backups a chance to get noticed.

“That will give us more stability,” Odums said. “Bishop is one of those nasty guys and there are probably not many tackles in the country as athletic as Ja’Tyre Carter. He’s as good as advertised.”

Junior Dallas Black, whom Odums refers to as another starter based on his experience, appears to be a lock to replace All-Conference center Jaylon Brinson, but the other guard and tackle spots are up for grabs.

Third-year sophomore Bernard Childs (6-foot-3, 325) is trying to hold off freshman Tre Newsome (6-1, 295) at guard while Brian Williams (6-4, 315) and Maurice Campbell are dueling at tackle. Jeremiah Stafford (6-4, 320) is also in the mix at both positions.

“Childs and Newsome are really coming on, and Stafford has come in and is getting a chancxe,” Odums said. “Campbell has to come on, he’s one of those guys right on the fence. Newsonme has been working at guard. Not many freshmen have a chance to start. We have a lot of gujys fighting for two spots. Getting the offensive line together has been one of the tougher challenges.”

On defense, Odums has plenty of bodies. Robert Rehm and Glen Brown were set to start at corner last year but neither played a down. Rehm was injured early and Brown had some academic issues. In their place, Tamaurice Smith emerged as an All-Conference player and Jordan Eastling and O.J. Tucker played a lot of snaps.

“Brown and Rehm are both really physical,” Odums said. “Every day you see it. Smith has continued to improve, and picked up where he left off. Eastling having his best camp. We should have four corners that are really good. I like where they are mentally. Coach (defensive coordinator Lionel) Washington has done a fantastic job getting them up to speed.”

Odums said he’s experimenting at rover, a position similar to strong safety where the Jaguars lost Benjamin Harris to graduation. Senior Kordell Caldwell and freshman Luke Rose are getting reps there with Kaymen St. Junious swing back and forth from there to free safety. Odums said he might consider playing Sam linebacker/nickel Jakoby Pappillion.

“We have some new guys in the mix, Caldwell is playing well, Luke Rose, swing guys that play swing and rover. The depth is very good. If we can get healthy, not opposed to Papp playing back there. He’s been the nickel/Sam. Kaymen St. Junious is another game but has been playing free, may mix him in at rover.

We have some new guys in the mix, and the depth is very good,” Odums said. “If we can get healthy, I’m not opposed to Papp playing back there.

“There won’t be many changes on defense. We are who we are. We’ve been playing pretty much the same defense since 2012. We’ve tweaked it a little here and there, but the philosophy is still the same.”