South Alabama ended its spring football drills April 11 on a dramatic note — Aleem Sunanon kicking a 42-yard field goal on the game’s final play to give the Red team a 24-21 over the Blue team at the Jags’ annual spring game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
But the real drama is still ahead for the team’s 2015 season. The loss of 32 seniors from last year’s team, which earned the program’s first-ever bowl invitation, placed importance on the team’s 15 practice sessions this spring.
“I thought it was a real good day,” Jags’ head coach Joey Jones said following Saturday’s game. “I thought offensively we did some good things during the spring overall, and defensively I thought we got better; we weren’t very good on defense early in the spring. I thought the coaches started pushing them to play at a faster level and I think they’re starting to realize what South Alabama defense is all about. They’re starting to get there, so we’ve made some improvements. I’m excited about how the whole spring went, not just today.”
Jones said steps forward were made this spring in all areas but more are needed in order for the team to be ready for its season-opener Saturday, Sept. 5 at home against Gardner-Webb.
“I’ll be honest with you, there were so many guys who made plays on offense (Saturday), I don’t want to talk about just a couple,” he said. “We’ve got a great corps of running backs, probably the most depth we’ve ever had in terms of quality running backs. Receiver-wise, there’s more depth than we’ve ever had. At tight end, we’ve got Braedon Bowman who’s not even out there (injury) and he’s a very talented guy. So I feel like we’ve got guys who can make plays.
“I think our biggest question is who’s going to be our quarterback and that’s going to be something we’ve got to solve over the next three or four months. I’m going to get out of this by saying they’re all tied right now. Nobody to me really rose above the others. They all have some good qualities, but between those three I think it’s still very close. And we’ve got Cody Clements, who is a good football player. He wasn’t out for spring but he’ll be in the mix this summer. There will be some good competition.”
The defensive front is the area of greatest concern, Jones said. He noted there are some good players at the position, but others are needed to gain depth. He also said more help is on the way, not just at defensive tackle, but other positions as well. The team that was on display Saturday is not the team that will take the field for its first game in September.
“We’ve got some really good defensive tackles coming in, we think, some junior college guys that are very talented and some guys who have a chance to play on the offensive line,” Jones said. “There’s a couple of transfers that we can’t mention right now that will be coming in at the defensive end position that I think have a chance to come in and help some, and also at defensive tackle. Our recruiting’s not over right now.”
Offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent said, “I think overall we got a grasp of the offense and how we’re going to run our system. It’s just the beginning phases of where we’re at. The work that they do themselves over the summer and the first of fall camp is critical … Overall, I’m really pleased with the effort and the work ethic, we just have to continue to work to get better every day.
“With all the guys we had coming back from last year’s team, we had a really good group. I think when we added some guys, whether from UAB or JUCO guys, that picked us up another notch and made us deeper, because we already had some really good players here. Then you’ve got (wide receiver) Marvin Shinn, who’s going to be back, and you’ve got Braedon Bowman, who’s going to be back, as well as (offensive lineman) Steven Foster, Cody Clements, (offensive lineman) Clay Machen. If they’ll understand who we’ve got to be, which I think they are starting to do, we’ve got a chance in the fall.”
Several starters from last year’s team were seniors last season, forcing defensive coordinator Travis Pearson to work toward developing his starting lineup and reserves during spring practice.
“I’m going to tell you, we’re a lot better than when we started,” Pearson said. “We had to replace a lot of guys — six that were some sort of all-conference (award winner). Just to see these kids grow up a little bit, and you’re talking about some guys who haven’t been on the field much, so it was real good.
“I think it’s going to be huge. You look at some of the incoming freshmen like the ones that were here today — the JarMarkus Sims (safety) of the world, the Nigel Lawrences (defensive back), the Roy Albrittons (linebacker) — those guys are going to give us immediate depth. Travon Cox is going to give us immediate depth at linebacker; he can play. The young guys that we have really grew up. (Linebacker) Blake Dees is Blake Dees and he knows what he has to do. We have some guys. I think the energy level is group. This group has become really close and the communication has been pleasing this spring.”