Southern’s back and ready to run the SWAC again

Whoever plays quarterback for Southern this season will be learning on the job.

Whether it’s Deonte Shorts, who was the front-runner early in camp, fellow redshirt freshman Francis Kanneh or one of two first-year freshmen — Austin Howard and Jarrad Hayes — the Jaguars offense will be in the hands of someone who hasn’t played college football before.

It’s not the ideal situation for a team expecting to compete for a second consecutive Southwestern Athletic Conference championship, but Southern has been picked to repeat at least as West Division champs.

That’s because there is so much talent surrounding the young quarterbacks.

If you have to start an untested quarterback, you’d like him to operate behind an experienced, proven offensive line.

Check.

You’d like him to have multiple talented running backs who can take advantage of the holes that line creates and keep the offense ahead of schedule, providing the quarterback with favorable down-and-distance situations.

Check.

You’d like him to have numerous talented receivers who can get open and do so quickly so the decision-making and throws are easier for the quarterback, leading to big plays that don’t necessarily require long throws.

Check.

You’d like to have a talented defense and effective special teams that can complement the offense and provide shorter fields and above-average scoring opportunities.

Check and check.

In other words, even though the quarterback position is a question mark for the Jaguars because of the lack of a proven player on the college level, it’s about the only major question mark for a team that returns 17 starters from last year’s 9-4 team that finished on a five-game winning streak that climaxed with a 34-27, double-overtime victory against Jackson State in the SWAC title game.

“I’m really excited about where we are, because I think everything is there for the quarterback to be successful,” head coach Dawson Odums said. “You don’t have to make great plays — just get the ball to a guy that can make a great play for you.

“A 5-yard pass that goes 80 yards is still an 80-yard pass. He still gets credit for it. The big thing is decision-making, making the right reads and the right throw, taking what the defense gives you and live to play another down.”

Southern’s offensive line features three juniors — tackles Dewayne Houston and Reginald Redding and guard Anthony Mosley — and two seniors — guard Zach Brown and center Brandon Thibodeaux, the only one in the unit who’s not a returning starter.

“Pretty much everybody has at least two years of experience now,” Brown said. “We all play as a unit and we all count on each other and we expect each other to play great and get the job done.”

The Jaguars have added a trio of transfer running backs in Jamarcus Jarvis (North Texas), Malcolm Crocket (Pittsburgh) and Tyre Bracken (Southern Miss) to complement returning starter Lenard Tillery.

Brown was asked recently about the potential of the offense, and he answered three different questions by saying, “We’re going to run the ball.”

“We’ve got a lot of running backs,” he continued. “We’re going to make it happen some kind of way.”

One of the ways the Jaguars plan to do that is running the quarterback more as Shorts and the others are all better at running the read option than last year’s starter, Dray Joseph, a record-setting pocket passer.

The backfield also features senior fullback Brian McCain, a team leader who missed all of last season because of a broken foot.

“He’s been here ever since I’ve been here, and he’s always been the go-to guy for anything,” Brown said. “He’s always pushing everybody. For the conditioning test, when we were running he was out there pushing me across the line making sure I finished. He’s a big guy. We respect him a lot. He makes sure things get done the way they’re supposed to get done.”

The wide receiver group is the deepest on the team, led by second-team All-SWAC player Willie Quinn, big-play man Randall Menard and a host of others, including Nico Talbert, Mike Jones, Samuel Altman and Justin Morgan.

Southern doesn’t often feature the tight end — the position isn’t even listed on the official depth chart — but veteran Bradley Coleman (the fourth-leading returning receiver) and newcomer Montrell Jones are capable.

The Jaguars defense hopes to continue the success it had after a woeful start last season. It allowed an average of 59 points in the first three games and 20 in the last 10.

“(After the first three games) we focused on the little things — tackling, assignments, just the basic keys of the defense,” senior end linebacker Daniel Brown said. “Everybody got more in depth in their playbook. We realized that we had to be more mentally intoned into the game.”

Brown is the vocal leader of the defense and senior end Arthur Miley is his lead-by-example sidekick.

The secondary features 17 players and quite a bit of quality depth, which comes in handy during practice against that deep receiving corps.

Southern begins the season by playing all of its nonconference games in a row — visiting Louisiana-Lafayette (Aug. 30) and hosting Central Methodist (Sept. 6) and Northwestern State (Sept. 13).

That gives the quarterback time to grow into his job before SWAC play begins Sept. 20 at Prairie View.

“We’ve got to up the intensity,” Daniel Brown said.

“We could do a lot of things last year that we can’t do yet with the freshmen, but we’ve got a lot of backs and we’ve got bigger, better defenders so we’re going to help those guys out.”