Joey Jones has done excellent work at South Alabama. The transition to the highest level of college football has been pretty smooth, considering the Jaguars have already reached a bowl game. However, a bizarre injection of game-ready players from defunct UAB could make summer camp interesting in Mobile.
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Previewing South Alabama’s Offense for 2015
To help restock an offense that returns only three starters, South Alabama snatched up instantly eligible UAB players after that program disbanded. And as a bonus, UAB offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent, a former USA quarterbacks coach, followed some of his players to Mobile to call plays for the Jaguars.
Quarterback Cody Clements, slot receiver D.J. Vinson and guard Cameron Blankenship, all UAB transfers, should start immediately. Clements, who sat out spring practice due to an injury, passed for 2,227 yards and 14 TDs last season. Vinson, an all-purpose threat, rushed for 670 yards at running back at UAB, but his services are needed more as a receiver at USA.
Blankenship is already among USA’s top linemen, and more UAB transfers could contribute or even start.
“Not only are they good players, but they have been in the system we’re running because of (Vincent) coming here,” USA coach Joey Jones says. “The learning curve is good for them, and they could be a good plus for our offense.”
Running back should be strong, as the returning duo of Terrance Timmons (403 yards) and Xavier Johnson (438 yards) is supplemented by junior college All-American Tyreis Thomas.
Right tackle Chris May is a returning anchor on the offensive line, but there are otherwise experience and depth concerns up front. Similarly, the wide receiving corps must develop role players into standouts.
Previewing South Alabama’s Defense for 2015
USA’s defense returns only two starters in safeties Roman Buchanan (74 tackles) and Antonio Carter (54 tackles). And six USA defensive players who earned some type of All-Sun Belt honors last season have graduated.
The secondary could be solid, but only if two cornerbacks and a nickel spot can be solidified. E.J. May should fill one of the cornerback roles well, but freshmen and junior college transfers will take turns trying to fill the rest. Texas Tech transfer Blake Dees and UAB transfer Kalen Jackson may be the best options at linebacker. Both have talent.
Defensive end Jimmie Gipson returns as a proven edge rusher after recording 6.5 tackles for a loss and a team-high seven QB hurries last season. But questions are stacked high up front, especially in the interior line, where Tre Alford and Caleb Butler, both backups as freshmen, enter the season as the best options amid an inexperienced group.
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Previewing South Alabama’s Specialists for 2015
Placekicker Aleem Sunanon and punter Brandon McKee are both back, providing a little relief for a roster with plenty of unknowns. Sunanon is the Sun Belt’s most accurate returning placekicker, making 15-of-18 field goals last season. Filling the kick returner and punt returner roles may be trial and error early on.
The young USA program broke through last season with its first bowl appearance, but its evolution takes a curious turn with the instant influx of UAB transfers. Quick fixes will impact what would have otherwise been a rebuilding year. But Jones knows talent alone will not win games. “This will be a different year than we’ve had. We’ve lost 55 players (to graduation) over the last two years,” Jones says. “Some of our veteran guys are not here anymore. We probably have more talent now. But with so many new guys, we have to mold this thing together pretty quickly.”
Three straight September non-conference games — against Nebraska, San Diego State and NC State — could challenge a team lacking chemistry. Eight straight Sun Belt games follow to finish the year. If the Jaguars have any chance at snagging another bowl bid, they’ll have to make some noise in the league race again.